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EPL Match Day 19: Arsenal v Chelsea: Match Day Preview

Merry Christmas everyone. Well, let’s hope that after today, Monday – it remains as such. Today, the eyes of the EPL are on this match as it is the only match on the calendar and because of its implications.

Merry Christmas everyone. Well, let’s hope that after today, Monday – it remains as such. Today, the eyes of the EPL are on this match as it is the only match on the calendar and because of its implications.

With the Boxing Day action in the bag, Arsenal v Chelsea takes on significance for both clubs. Both the Manchester clubs continued their impressive form. With United notching a 2 -0 win over Sunderland and Man City fighting for a 3-1 win over Newcastle. That means that as all things stand right now, United lead the league followed by Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea. Additionally, Spurs won 2-1 against Aston Villa and are knocking on the door of the top 4. A loss for either club and they can a.) kiss title aspirations goodbye and b.) plan on worrying about the clubs behind them for the remainder of the season.

It’s pretty much a must win for both clubs. And coming into this week both clubs look less than stellar. For Chelsea they fought for 1-1 draw against Tottenham. By all accounts they should’ve probably won, but if not for Gomes saving a PK after his collossal Almunia impression.  For Arsenal, they did not bathe themselves in glory as they drudged along to a 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford (for what its worth neither team deserved anything from that match – in all the years of history between the two clubs that was the worse match of my memory.)

There has been two weeks between now and when both clubs both played. The EPL whether the FA wanted it or not got a pseudo winter break when snow shut down fixtures a week ago. For Arsenal they will have to make up a lost match against Stoke. For Chelsea they have a date with United to make up.  So both clubs are well rested. Something needed for both of them

The fact of the matter is this – neither of these two impressive clubs, look all that impressive. Arsenal’s issues are well known to all of us, no need to go over them all again. Suffice it to say, Arsenal seem to have a fear of the big match, the big moment – or whatever you want to call it. Whatever it is they don’t seem to grasp the key when it is dangled in front of them. In fact they right close up shop, go into a shell and let others walk all over them. Whether that is from inexperience, pressure or lack of leadership are all open to debate but the team has failed to show up on at least 4 occasions alone this season when greater things could’ve been achieved.

The visitors on the other hand, well, let’s just say, Petr Cech who on his day is the best ‘keeper in the league, has been doing his own impressions of Manuel Almunia, and the once terrifying Chelsea squad that were going to stroll to the title this season, can’t score and look at times more fragile then we do.

Which leads me to point of this whole preview today – If any of you have watched Chelsea during this slide, there is one resounding thing that pops up to me. When they go down now, the don’t seem to have the answers or wherewithal to get back into the match. With Arsenal we know when a team draws even our boys are likely to start thinking- “here we go again.” For Chelsea it seems that when they go down or concede a point right now, they are saying the same thing right now.  They do not exude the confidence or fear factor they once did. In order for Arsenal to beat this club at home it must get on them early and often.

I truly believe that had Koscielny or Chamakh converted on those opening early attempts at Stamford Bridge we would’ve been looking at a different result than what we did see. Let’s not forget the Chelsea loss prior to that was the official start of their slide. The win against Arsenal was their only win in five matches. That was and this is not the Chelsea we are accustomed to seeing. And I feel the time is ripe now for Arsenal to break the winless streak we have had against this club.

We are coming back healthy. With the exception of Almunia, Frimpong, and Vermalen, everyone is back with the squad. I don’t remember the last time we only had three players out. The unintentional winter break means that some of our gassed players have been rested. For me this means we might see an Andrei Arshavin on the pitch that we haven’t seen on a while. He has shown that the match after a rest for him he is there in heart and soul. I have been very critical (and rightly so) of Arshavin’s performance this season. He hasn’t been the big match guy we need him to be. Well, on this type of rest he could very well be the x-factor in this match.

Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott, have had 2 additional weeks of straight training to get match fit – this may be even the longest Van Persiee has now gone without a knock  (I jest really). Fabregas is also back in health. This is the healthiest we’ve been in the last two seasons. It’s time it paid off.

The big question as always remains the back four and who Wenger picks. None of us expected Vermaelen to out this long. We head into this match with Koscienly, Squillaci, Djourou as our choices. For me its a case of Djourou and either of the other two. Djourou should be rested and healthy and should get the start.  When he plays in the back, he is calming influence back there mustering the troops. When it is Squillaci and Koscielny, it often times seems as disaster waiting to happen. But I should add that pairing did fairly wellint he first match up. Drogba’s goal was a fluke, freak thing that no defender or keeper (for that matter) would’ve been able to stop. Drogba doesn’t hit that 9 out of 10 times. Unfortunately that one time was against Arsenal ( isn’t it always.)

Will this be the match Drogba DOESN'T score on us?

Of course let’s not forget that our opponents are rested too. Lampard will likely get his first fledged start since August. Though I don’t expect him to be completely match fit yet. Drogba, I don’t know what’s going on there but ever since he contracted Malaria he hasn’t been the big threat he normally is (and my fantasy league has suffered through it). But he is an Arsenal bogey player scoring 13 out out of his last 13 matches against the Gunners. Malouda and Mikkel are getting back and Le Sulk if he can be bothered can be dangerous on his day. All in all the task at hand is not an easy one.  And with fixture congestion over the next week (matches this Wednesday and Sautrday, and next Wednesday) this is the prime time to make a move in the league.

I believe Arsene Wenger knows the stakes. What I am not sure of is how he gets his players past the mental block that arises during big matches. We’ve seen what this club can do when it is up for a match, it can dismantle a club with the best of them. It really is a thing of beauty when this club hums along. I am not saying I expect this match to be a cake walk for either side, but Chelsea can be beaten and they can be made to look stupid (as can we). We need to get past the mental blocks rely on our talent and skill and push the Blues back. A win and people will have to pay notice. A draw goes some way to alleviating some of the worries – and a loss well, a loss is going to bring out a whole other conversation isn’t it. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that.

How the Match Should Play Out:
With all the rest these clubs have had, I do not expect this to be a snooze fest that we saw at Old Trafford. I expect both clubs and both sets of fans to be up for this match – even in the cold.
A quick controlled tempo could be what the doctor ordered. Once thing Chelsea has shown this year is that their speed isn’t nearly as good as it has been. I suspect we’ll keep things buzzing early and press on the attack (while keeping the defenders home) Our attacking options are more plentiful and we have a few finishers in this match and when called upon early, I suspect that they will bury the biscuit. It wouldn’t be an Arsenal and Chelsea tie if Drogba scored but I look for the win to come late off a Van Persie PK from a Chamakh penalty in the box. Arsenal will break the long drought against this club.

Players to Watch:
Aresnal: Samir Nasri. I really think one of the keys to match is pressing John Terry into making mistakes. We have enough players who can do that but if the 2 week lay off didn’t have any effect on Samir, I suspect he to be the one who forces JT into some errors that are going to result in opportunities.

Chelsea: Didier Drogba 13 goals in 13 matches. I mean come on the guy needs a break. But there is no doubting his power when he plays against us.

Probable Starting XI:

Arsenal: 4-2-1-2-1 Chelsea: 4-3-3

Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Almunia (ankle) Frimpong (knee), Vermaelen (Achilles)

Chelsea: Alex (leg), Benayoun (Achilles), Zhirkov (calf)

Leading Scorers:
Arsenal: Nasri12 (8 league) Chamakh 10 (7 league) Walcott 8 (5 league)

Chelsea: Anelka: 10 (3 league); Drogba 8 (7 League) Malouda: 8 (7 league)

Last Meeting: (EPL)
Arsenal: 0
Stoke: 2

Goals For:
Arsenal: 2.4(home)

Chelsea: 1.4 (away)

Goals Against:
Arsenal: 1.3 (home)

Chelsea: 0.9 (away)

Goal Difference:
Arsenal: 15

Chelsea: 19

Match Officials:
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistant Referees: Scott Ledger & Martin Yerby
Fourth Official: Lee Probert

Broadcast Information:
US: ESPN 2 1500 EST

UK: Sky Sports 1 2000 GMT


GAMEDAY CHAT: It’s Open!!!!!!

YAMA Prediction:
Arsenal: 2

Chelsea: 1


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