Friday, March 21, 2008

Chelsea vs. Arsenal: Match Preview

The Premier League's second and third placed sides will face off on Sunday as a day of giant battles concludes. North London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea are separated by only two points after a recent slump in the Gunners form, and the Blues could leapfrog the Gunners if they win on Sunday. Manchester United, who sit one place and three points ahead of Arsenal, play Liverpool at Old Trafford earlier the same day.

Arsenal have drawn their last four league games, falling from five points ahead of United to three points behind in four weeks, and would be seen as very long shots to win the title if they fall a further three points behind on Sunday. Although they are short on confidence, the Gunners have proven their worth in big games, beating holders AC Milan in the Champions League in between draws with Aston Villa and Wigan.

Chelsea have won three of their last four games, defeating West Ham, Derby, and Sunderland. The Blues will be gutted after failing to draw level with Arsenal on points against Tottenham midweek, though. Despite leading the game three times (once by a two goal margin) Avram Grant's side was denied three points by a late goal from Robbie Keane. Chelsea will also remember that Arsenal came out 1-0 winners in the reverse fixture at the Emirates this season, and that Arsenal were the last side to defeat the Blues at the fortress that is Stamford Bridge.

Neither team has too many injuries to worry about. Arsenal will be missing Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, and Eduardo da Silva. Chelsea are likely to be without number one goalkeeper Petr Cech, but have a strong replacement in Carlo Cudicini. Former Gunners striker Nicolas Anelka is also a slight doubt with a minor hamstring injury.

The Arsenal squad is likely to remain unchanged from the side that drew 1-1 with Middlesbrough last week.

Manuel Almunia will remain in goal, behind a defensive line of Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, and Gael Clichy. The back line will have a busy day against the likes of Joe Cole, Didier Drogba, and maybe even Nicolas Anelka. The defenders will also have to be strong in defense against set pieces with Frank Lampard a threat in dead-ball situations.

In the midfield Mathieu Flamini will be the invisible wall in front of the back four while Cesc Fabregas and Alex Hleb try to break through the Chelsea defense with their deft passing. Emmanuel Eboue is likely to feature on the right, although he could be replaced by Theo Walcott after an ineffective performance against Boro. The midfield holds the key to victory in this game, and if our midfielders can hold their own against Lampard, Ballack, and Cole, we should be able to win the game.

Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie will start up front again, with the Dutchman finally approaching match-fitness. Hopefully both strikers will regain their form in this game, as a stalwart Chelsea defense which includes former Gunner (C)ashley Cole, Ricardo Carvalho, and John Terry is unlikely to gift many goals.

Sunday's games could be hugely influential in deciding this season's title-winners. If Arsenal can overcome their lack of confidence against the Blues, I believe that they can end Chelsea's unbeaten home record this season. I predict that the Gunners will come out 1-0 victors in a tight game.