Sunday, 26 April 2015

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Match Preview

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

Mathematically, this match is almost an irrelevance. We won't miss out on Champions League nor snatch the crown from Jose Mourinho's hooked nose based on today's result. Today's not a day for sealing top four or having a go at the title. In the context of the present season, absolutely nothing hinges on this game.

However, today could bear huge implications with respect to next season. There's indeed no use in crying over this season's spilled milk, but we could look to make amends by laying foundations for a title challenge next season. Winning against Chelsea could bring about a big-club perception Arsenal have been lacking for too long.

You don't need an expert to tell you that that's vital. We've been compared among the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham, even Everton for too long. Rising to a better class of football clubs does psychological wonders for the club. Smaller teams are too afraid to take a shot at causing an upset. Bigger teams exercise caution. The inferiority complex dictates that most home matches are won before the ball is kicked.

Arsenal terribly need some of the hubris, and breaking Mourinho's curse would go a long way to restoring that. Mourinho's record against Wenger is not a jinx or a curse, it's simply because he's a better manager.  Calling it a curse promotes the "luck" factor and invariably inaction, just like Arsenal's injury woes. Both of them were not down to luck, they were down to incompetence.

However, despite their managerial skills, Arsene still has a chance to put one over Mourinho today. Chelsea know they have won the title and they don't look too bothered about today, whereas Arsenal are in roaring form and know that this match is not about three points. The moral of the players could make all the difference today.

Arsenal and Chelsea have both been on phony runs of form lately, but the players of Chelsea seem to know that their performances have not warranted the results. Conversely, however, Arsenal believing that their run of form have been supported by brilliant performances reeks of ignorance, but provides the confidence that Arsenal needed to smash Liverpool away. That same confidence could help them overturn a skeptical Chelsea, not to mention provide credence to the "Ignorance is bliss" statement.

Having said that, I fear Mourinho may be leading Wenger into a trap. Having a whirl at Chelsea is all well and good and definitely characteristic of a "big team", but it must be exercised with caution. The whole world is rambling on how Mourinho would look to park the bus and hit Arsenal on the break. There is the possibility that, for the sake of catching that particular assumption off-guard, Mourinho might do something different.

Where is the guarantee that Mourinho will set up to merely get a point at the Emirates? Granted, he did that against Manchester United (at Stamford Bridge, no less), but that doesn't mean it's set in stone he'll do the same today. For safety's sake, Arsene at least needs to exercise caution at least for the initial minutes and then have a crack, should it transpire that Jose has indeed employed the expected gameplan. Be brave but not foolhardy, certainly not 6-0 foolhardy.

Most of the team pretty much selects itself. David Ospina should start in goal; I'm guessing Mathieu Debuchy would get the nod over Hector Bellerin; Nacho Monreal will take over from Gibbs, and presuming that Mertesacker won't make it, Gabriel should slot in to partner Koscielny.

I would have preferred Mertesacker to make it today. David Ospina is certainly the better keeper on form, but he still exudes a certain nervousness at set pieces, which Chelsea specialize in. Paulista and Koscielny would amount for terrific pace, but with Chelsea looking to start an aging Didier Drogba, that pace may not be all necessary.

Francis Coquelin is a sure starter in midfield, and based on current form, Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis and Giroud would play ahead of him. I don't see it happening, but I hope Cazorla is benched for Theo Walcott. The Spaniard has looked out of touch in recent games, probably because there are too many similar players in that team. Walcott would add a different dimension in terms of width, and his knack of scoring against Chelsea could be crucial today.

However, if Cazorla starts (which seems likely), I'd prefer him on the wing than Ramsey. While both of them do not have the skill set to provide Arsenal width, Cazorla is certainly more tactically aware than Ramsey. I've heard the argument that a more energetic Ramsey could stifle Hazard on the left but it doesn't rub with me, because Ramsey spends half the time in the centre of midfield. While Cazorla tends to drift in, he certainly does not do it to Ramsey proportions.

To me, though, it's only Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil who could make the difference for Arsenal. Mourinho had ensured Azpilicueta was onto Sanchez in the previous encounter which had hugely minimized his impact. Perhaps home support or the danger of having other players in form to mark would mean that Sanchez gets more space to work his magic, but I don't see it happening.

Alexis has been documented as Arsenal's runaway best player by everyone in the footballing world, so much so that they've overestimated his impact to the team. They're wrong - in the second half of the season, Cazorla, Ozil and Giroud have contributed more than Sanchez. However, Jose is likely to jump on the bandwagon and make Sanchez his top priority, which could be of huge advantage to us.

Mesut Ozil could have a screamer today because his run of form hasn't been caught on by the media yet. It's amazing that they still perceive him as some overpaid flop who doesn't run around enough to make the cut for Arsenal, but it could work to our favour today. There is the possibility that Jose could underestimate Ozil's (or even Giroud's) importance for Arsenal. He certainly has the ego to think that.

I have a feeling that Arsenal might draw, but I certainly know that today is winnable. Chelsea are uncertain and they don't have a lot to fight for, but we do. And while today would not have much inkling on this season's Premier League winner, it certainly could on next season's. Today is an important step in future Premier League (or maybe, maybe, Champions League) glory for Arsenal. We need to take it.

P.S. If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned the Cesc Fabregas subplot today, the answer is simple: I don't care much of him. He taught me a valuable lesson about loyalty and trust, but that's about it. He doesn't owe Arsenal anything and nor do we, him. I'd rather focus on the creative players who ply their trade for Arsenal than Chelsea. I suggest you do too.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]