The labelling of this historic fixture as monumental would not be an exaggeration. The stakes riding on this game are hugely significant. Vital points, bragging rights and Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game in charge of the Gunners – Chelsea versus Arsenal is never dull.
This London derby has rarely been so important in deciding the destination of the Premier League trophy in May, with Arsenal settling for Champions League qualification in previous seasons. But with both clubs currently in with a chance of winning the title, Saturday afternoon will be crucial.
Wenger’s side would elevate themselves above Liverpool for a few hours at least with a victory, while we have the opportunity to extend our premature lead at the summit, with Manchester City boasting three matches in hand and Liverpool, along with Arsenal, possessing one. Following our defeat at Villa Park last week, a defeat here would be seriously damaging – defeat is not an option. A draw is much more preferable than a loss, but anything short of a victory would be widely deemed as a failure.
After we were accused of deploying anti-football strategies at Old Trafford in August, we comfortably won at Stamford Bridge. As Jose Mourinho was once again the subject of incorrect allegations when we secured a significant point at the Emirates in December, I would not be surprised if Arsenal suffered the similarly miserable fate as Manchester United at the Bridge. But truth be told, our London rivals will present a much sterner examination.
Wenger, despite his nine-year wait for silverware, is a top manager with skilled players at his disposal. While the Gunners will be deprived of Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tomas Rosicky and Olivier Giroud have the ability to pose our solid defence problems.
John Terry and Gary Cahill, conceding the least amount of goals in the Premier League, are the best centre-half duo in the top-flight. The pair showcased their excellent partnership on Tuesday evening against Galatasaray, complimenting each other superbly. Only the duo of Laurent Koscienly and Per Mertesacker come close to challenging them for the accolade of the most successful defensive co-operation.
Coping with suspensions
With Willian and Ramires suspended, I anticipate Nemanja Matic to be restored to the starting line-up after his ineligibility against Galatasaray to start alongside Frank Lampard. I would not write off John Obi Mikel’s chances of starting – the Nigerian could just prove to be the surprise Mourinho tends to produce in big games.
Predicted starting XIs
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Matic, Lampard, Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard, Eto’o.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscienly, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Rosicky, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud.
Chelsea will win by two goal to nil
There’ll be time for more serious thoughts later.** But for now may I be the first to say:
Wow. That first 15 minutes was impressive. Intensity and relentless pursuit of the ball when out of possession, followed by ruthless counters and impressive finishing. If only we could have mustered that sort of urgency at Villa. We’ll certainly need it at Liverpool.