Irrespective of league positions and points at stake, football is often at its very best when there are a few juicy subplots simmering away under the surface. The first meeting of the season between Chelsea and Arsenal is one such game where the background provides enough sparks to make this one of the most explosive Premiership games of the year.
The headlines have already been written; it is beauty versus the beast, high art against brutal commerce. Jose and Arsene, with his cheeky, voyeuristic smile. Billy and Ashley. Or hate and war, to paraphrase (expletives deleted) the bloke who sits behind me in the MHU.
In real terms, come Sunday afternoon the Blues could be nine points adrift of Manchester United if Sir Alex and his men triumph in the Manchester derby tomorrow lunchtime. With Sunday’s game and the visit of Newcastle on Wednesday, six points from the two games in hand would be the perfect way to get the leaders looking over their shoulders again.
The away fans are priming themselves to give Ashley Cole a warm welcome, complete with a few fake twenties and inflatable mobile phones. Such Wildean wit. Gallas is likely to be absent from the Arsenal lineup, but the Blue faithful are sure to make their feelings on his summer departure known in a rather more direct manner.
As for the teams, Chelsea have no new injury worries with Hilario likely to continue in goal for Cudicini who has a leg injury. Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry and Claude Makelele all return after missing the game against Sofia. Andriy Shevchenko and Didier Drogba will probably continue up front with Arjen Robben on the bench.
Arsenal are facing something of a defensive crisis with Gallas out and Kolo Toure suspended, which means Phillipe Senderos will face his nemesis Drogba while Johan Djourou has been passed fit after Wednesday’s game against Porto. Thierry Henry is apparently knackered and having a few weeks off to pout enigmatically to himself. Blimey, alright for some.
Elsewhere, Wenger has found a patch of rare common ground with Mourinho after the Blues boss suggested that teams should be allowed to enter a ‘B’ team into a lower league to improve younger players, a suggestion with which the Frenchman agrees. David Gold, Birmingham City’s porn peddler – sorry, publishing magnate – chairman isn’t keen though.
The suggestion came in Mourinho’s excellent interview with Henry Winter in today’s Telegraph which you can read here.