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Monday, 23 December 2013

Wind, rain and Chelsea at home

Got an early 3 points in that sleigh?

Thirty-five years ago today Arsenal did this to Spurs at White Hart Lane. Twelve years ago today Arsenal did this to Liverpool at Anfield. Seven years ago today Arsenal beat Blackburn 6-2 at home with Cesc Fabregas doing this to Robbie Savage (sorry for the poor quality video). Tonight Chelsea are the latest team to play us two days before Christmas. I hope they get what the others have got.
The weather will have a huge bearing on this evening. It's already had a huge bearing on me as I've chosen not to travel to London for the game in these conditions. Unfortunately the gale force winds and torrential rain are likely to wreck any spectacle the game might have produced in terms of quality football which will be far more to Arsenal's detriment than to Mourinho's Chelsea. I'm very surprised The Met haven't told the Clubs that the game is not going ahead in the circumstances. With this kind of storm affecting London and it's road/rail network I'm sure the Law have more important things to be doing two days before Christmas than marshalling 60,000 tired and emotional football fans at a London derby.
The team news for us sees Lukas Podolski likely to make a return to the squad following his very long lay-off. We're going to need Podolski and his goals in a big way over the next few months. To have a player of his quality back in the fold ahead of the busiest of busy periods can only be a good thing for Arsenal. Laurent Koscielny appears likely to miss out tonight with his badly cut knee so Thomas Vermaelen will lead the side in the Premier League for a rare occasion. I certainly believe this makes us weaker as Koscielny's pace is a big part of our defensive game. I only hope that Vermaelen allows Mertesacker to order him around throughout the game. Whether it's Torres, or Ba, or whoever up front for Chelsea they provide our centre-backs with a formidable test. Torres is unfairly targeted by the press for a perceived lack of form and goals. Make no mistake, class is permanent. Torres is a player for the big occasion and he has an exceptional record against Arsenal.
Kieran Gibbs must surely come back in to the side tonight, as must Santi Cazorla. Much of the reason we got done at City last week was our weakness on our left hand side. Monreal simply doesn't have the pace to be effective against top Premier League wingers (and even some average ones). Sagna, meanwhile, will have his work cut out if Hazard plays for Chelsea. Arsene may well decide to play Arteta and Flamini together, but I'm not a fan of that in general as it moves Aaron Ramsey out of position. We can't afford to lose Rambo from the centre and we certainly shouldn't be going in to the game without Theo Walcott in the side. Mourinho's decision to leave out Ashley Cole says a lot about how Cashley's career is beginning to taper off, but I certainly feel Chelsea are weaker without him. Theo must exploit that, and with Ozil's help he might well be able to. Up front Giroud must put in his best physical display of the season and really take on John Terry.
Normally it would promise to be a potential classic tonight, but big games involving a Mourinho side rarely are as they are generally sent out to contain on such occasions and rely on Lampard or somebody nicking a goal or two. The weather, as I said at the top of this piece, will be a huge problem as well.
If tonight isn't a "must win" for Arsenal it is certainly a "must not lose". To be beaten by City and then Chelsea in consecutive games would be a huge blow. It would mean one point out of nine. It would also mean being fourth at Christmas, having been top on Saturday morning. League Titles are not won at Christmas, but can certainly be lost. The confidence in this side has been huge since they won in Munich. That confidence could be eroded completely with another defeat tonight. To be top at Christmas is a psychological boost and it means you're really in the thick of things. Ahead of four games in nine days we must not get off to a bad start. The crunch is starting. Arsenal must embrace it.

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