Thursday, December 13, 2007

Arsenal vs. Chelsea: Match Preview

Avram Grant's Chelsea travel to the Emirates to face cross-town rivals Arsenal this Sunday. The day's fixtures, which also see Manchester United face off against Liverpool, could very well decide which team is at the top of the table at the halfway point of the season.

Arsenal are in a bit of a rough patch of form right now, but a win over Steaua Bucharest in the midweek, in conjunction with the return of Abou Diaby and Robin van Persie, will ensure that the Gunners are confident coming in to this match.

The opposite is true of Chelsea. The Blues have won four of their last five Premier League matches, but an injury to last season's top scorer Didier Drogba, and a poor home draw against Valencia on Tuesday won't be doing much to boost morale over at the Stamford Bridge.

Both teams could see many players return from injury for the big London derby though, with Petr Cech, Florent Malouda, Ricardo Carvalho, and Paulo Ferreira all back in contention for the Blues. Didier Drogba will be sorely missed though, regardless of other players coming back.

Arsenal's van Persie and Diaby both came back into action in the midweek, and the squad could be further boosted by Cesc Fabregas, Alex Hleb, and Mathieu Flamini, all of whom Arsene Wenger could be willing to gamble on.

After resting some key players on Wednesday, Arsene Wenger will field a rejuvenated full-strength squad against Chelsea.

Manuel Almunia is likely to return in goal, after Jens Lehmann had a decent, but not spectacular, game against Steaua Bucharest.

In front of the Spaniard, Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, and Gael Clichy look set to deal with the blunted front line of Chelsea. They will still have their hands full in spite of Drogba's absence, as their London rivals can rely on Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Anriy Shevchenko and many more of their players for goals.

If all three of Arsenal's midfielders are judged to be fit for the match Arsene Wenger's most likely lineup would include Tomas Rosicky, Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini and Alex Hleb. However, Abou Diaby will most likely feature if Fabregas or Hleb are out, although Neves Denilson could also see some time in the place of Fabregas. Either Gilberto or Lassana Diarra could deputize for Flamini.

Up front Arsenal will see their first-choice strikers in action together for the first time in months. Emmanuel Adebayor, who is currently tied with Cristiano Ronaldo as the Premier League's top scorer, will be especially dangerous in combination with the incredible Robin van Persie.

The two will have trouble breaking down a tough Chelsea defense though, but hopefully some spirited jeering will steer former Gunner Ashley Cole off-course. If Hleb and Fabregas are fit, our strikers should also be able to latch on to a large number of defense splitting passes.

Arsenal are in for a real challenge, but Chelsea are far less potent without Drogba, and I think the Gunners can win this one 2-1 to stay at the top of the Premiership regardless of other results.