This fixture has become the one in which more frustration exists than ever before and it’s been like that over the last ten years or so because it doesn’t matter in what position the two teams are in, Chelski usually come out on top, or at least without defeat. It doesn’t matter if they’re flying high and on their way to a title defence, or looking pretty average and aiming to shut up shop against Arsenal, they usually get their way. Especially at The Emirates. Like our record against United in recent seasons, we’ve seen Arsenal get better and better in terms of squad strength, but still experience disappointment when it comes to our West London rivals. Arsene has said many times in football that previous results have no bearing on the current teams, but I don’t believe that, because I think psychology plays a big part in sport. And whilst he and the Arsenal players will tell each other – and us – that it doesn’t matter, deep down even in their subconscious, they will be aware of it. Conversely, so will those Chelski players be aware of it.
That’s why this game has such importance. That’s also why the win in the Community Shield does mean something. Not in terms of trophies, but in terms of a psychological believe that the players will have. They know that they can beat this Chelski team.
The reverse fixture left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and unless you were a Chelski fan, you’d find it difficult to argue that there wasn’t a slice of fortune about the fact that the awful Mike Dean was in charge of the match, that fateful Saturday lunchtime. The chief protagonist, Diego Costa, was centre stage for all of the wrong reasons and Arsene was right to highlight the fact that our defenders will probably face a battle against him today. But unlike with the baying home support he received last year, this time the home crowd will be more vociferous and will boo his every touch, so it’s important that our players don’t react to his provocation. We need to marshal him well, but also ensure that he doesn’t get supply from Fabregas, who will no doubt be up for this, especially in the face of the abuse he too will get today.
Chelski will set up to beat us on the counter. They’ll play two holding midfielders behind Fabregas and tell him to forget his defensive duties and express himself, so I expect him to sit a little deeper when Chelski don’t have the ball, then when they do receive it deep, I think he’ll play like an American football-style quarterback with long, raking diagonal balls for Costa, Willian or Hazard to run in to the channels for. That’s where Hector and Nacho need to be on their toes today. If Chelski sit deep there will be an impetus on our fullbacks to overload the wings and get in behind Chelski’s defensive line, but if a move breaks down they’ll need to be the ones scurrying back in to position quicker than anybody else.
It’s because of the way Chelski are set up that I have to be honest with you, I’m a little nervous about our middle of the park, because there’s been too much space between Flamini and Ramsey since those two have been playing together and I can see instances where Fabregas will pick up the ball deep and we might find ourselves either outnumbered or at least evenly matched as the attacking three of Chelski come forward against our back two and possibly Flamini. A lot will depend on how the first 15 minutes go I suppose, as an early Arsenal goal will settle the nerves and ensure we do not a too gung-ho approach, but should we fail to score early – we don’t seem to have got too many early goals this season – then i think the game will set up like I describe in the above paragraphs.
For us, this game has to be about how we start the game, as well as seeing our big players step up. Mesut Ozil needs to be at his best and by virtue of the fact he’s had over a week since his last game, you’d expect him to be up for this. Likewise to, Alexis, who I’m still not sure will start the game. I wonder if Theo will be given one more shot in the front three, with Alexis as an option from the bench, but if Alexis does start it certainly won’t be at the expense of Campbell on the right hand side. Campbell’s running and tracking back could be important as Azpilicueta will be eager to overlap on the left hand side when Chelski venture forward. More so than Ivanovic, so it’s probably good that we have somebody like Campbell on the right hand side of our trio.
At the top of that trio, it really is time Giroud scored against Chelski, because he’s been in England long enough and he’s scored enough goals to suggest that the statistical anomaly of not scoring against them is ended today. We need him at his strong and aggressive self in winning balls against Terry and Zouma and I’d love to see a little front post flick in from a corner today, I really would,I must say.
This is a massive test for Arsenal. Chelski have been pants all season but they will play like defending champions today and so the onus is on us to prove that we are not suffering a ‘blip’ at the moment. Defeat or a draw today will see us having taken two or three points from a possible nine. That’s not the form of champions, so a win would lay down a marker and get the believe going that we can really do it. This time.
I’m terrified. I’m terrified because I look at stats and read too much in to it. When I see that Arsenal have a fantastic record against a team I think “I don’t like that. The probabilities are that we’ll lose eventually”, but whilst I also think the same when we have such a poor record against a team, I almost half expect the fates to stick two fingers up to me anyway. That’s what it’s felt like the last three or four times Chelski have come to The Emirates, because I’ve felt that we’ve been the better side in most of the last few home encounters, yet we’ve still failed to beat them.
Let today be our day. Please.