After a pretty decent set of results yesterday, seeing both Spuds and Saints duke out a draw and Liverpool fail to score against West Brom away, we come to some proper football today and an opportunity to almost certainly confirm Champions League status against the eventual champions of this season in Chelski.
I think first and foremost we need to make sure the top four is secured. Aspirations on finishing second are all fine and dandy, but we need to make sure we hit our bare minimum target first, then look to win the FA Cup and go into the summer on a high.
We can’t catch Chelski, but we can lay down a marker for next season, as well as get that Mourinho monkey that is hanging over Arsène’s neck. And no matter what he says about it not being between them, he will be as frustrated as anybody with this record of no victory in 13 attempts. What probably annoys him the most – and it annoys us Arsenal fans too – is that it’s used as the tactical stick to beat Arsène with. For every game that Mourinho has not been defeated against Arsenal with, another aspersion is cast over Le Boss and his ability to counter the ways of the Portuguese one, so a victory today will give everybody more belief that Arsène and Arsenal can go into next season looking to make it a great one.
We know how Chelski will set up today. They will have their standard back five defenders, then Matic in front and probably the same tactic as last weekend, with Zouma also sitting deep. Mourinho will look to be solid defensively and frustrate Arsenal. He will want to give us the ball like he gave United last weekend, then use his creative players to counter or sucker punch us if we commit too many men forward.
That’s what we had to avoid: falling into his trap and playing the game he wants to play. We need to be as defensively resolute as possible and minimise the impact of Hazard in particular. Fabregas will be booed but he won’t be dissuaded and I fully expect Costa to have slurped down some elixir of life and suddenly be 100% fit from the start.
Our game plan has to be to utilise our skilful players to unlock a stubborn Chelski back line. Giroud will cut a loan figure up top if Alexis and probably Ramsey don’t get closer to him and if ever you need his little flicks and ’round the corner’s to come off, I think it’s a game like today.
I think this will be a very tight match up and when you have games that are probably decided by one goal, you need players with he vision of Mesut Özil to be able to see that eye of a needle pass, just like he did last weekend. Last time he was up against Chelski he was playing through injury and at he time was accused of playing poorly. I hope today he has a point to prove, because I think he and Santi can impact the game possibly more than anybody. When you’ve got players who can operate well in confined spaces and thread quick interchangeable passes in between opponents, you need them to be on song to taste victory, so I hope we see the best of the Spaniard and the German this afternoon.
Defensively I’ve seen talk of a recall for Bellerin, but I don’t think that’s something that Arsène will countenance, as he’ll want the experience of our French full back over the raw pace and enthusiasm of Hector. On the opposite flank there’ll no doubt be a return for Nacho and likewise in goal for Ospina. If Big Per is fit he’ll play but I wouldn’t risk it if there’s any chance he could exacerbate his ankle problem at all. Gabriel is more than capable of doing a decent job and with Le Coq in front and Kos behind him, I’d be happy enough that we’ve got a strong enough team to cope.
I’m never confident going in to games against Chelski, so why break the habit of a lifetime, but I am as desperate as you to see us win. It’s not an impossible feat. They are flawed like every team in the league, it’s just not often that those flaws seem to be exposed, so when we get our chances we simply must take advantage of them.
Come on Arsenal, let’s destroy the last bit of hoodoo that remains over the team, let’s win.