For most Arsenal supporters these days the upper hand that Chelsea have had over us in the last decade is unprecedented. There is a correlation between the arrival of Roman’s roubles and the bus stop in Fulham’s upturn against us. Some in the drinks though will recall the swinging sixties when Chelsea teams managed by Tommy Docherty and Dave Sexton invariably held bragging rights over us.
Guus Hiddink is the 28th managerial appointment at the Bridge since Dave Sexton was sacked in October 1974. In Arsenal’s case that number is ten, which includes four caretaker spells while the next full-time appointment was made. Chelsea have thrown money at their squad while Arsenal have built a new stadium and training facility. What was once a good natured rivalry has taken on a darker edge among the younger followers of both clubs, although thankfully we still share an abhorrence of Tottenham.
Chelsea arrive as reigning Premier League champions, a true test of our ambition to succeed them, although the discontent apparently sewn by Mourinho at the start of the season still has them in the grip of an astonishing dip in form. If in August someone had suggested when they made this visit that they would be in fourteenth place in the table, just four points outside the relegation places, one would have been forgiven for calling the men in the white coats for them.
The visitors have won just six of twenty-two league starts this season, and one of those was in the reverse fixture against us that resulted in a red card for Gabriel being overturned and the incompetent referee Mike Dean being temporarily relegated to the Championship for his ‘performance’. We weren’t at our best that day it is true, but that has been the case many times this season, and the spirit in the side is such that we have battled our way to a number of points that we might not have taken in seasons past.
Arsene’s press conference on Thursday gave hope that the injury situation that has plagued us may be coming to an end. Mesut Ozil and Alexis are set to be available on Sunday, although I suspect that only the German will start. Tomas Rosicky and Francis Coquelin are back in training and closing on a return to full fitness. Danny Welbeck is due to resume training next week. The infirmary card school may be reduced to just Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla this time next week if all goes according to plan.
That said Ozil for (probably) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is likely to be the one change from the side that scrapped their way to a point at Stoke last week. Theo Walcott is the other player who must be looking over his shoulder as the walking wounded look to return in the coming days and weeks. He has celebrated a decade with the club this week and has come in for some harsher than necessary appraisals on social media, I think. Much of that is sparked by his lack of form of late, but he has enjoyed matches against Chelsea before, and he is more than capable of exposing their defence again this weekend. Score da ting!
After reports earlier in the week suggested otherwise it is no surprise to see confirmation today that Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are fit for Sunday. How we deal with the latter is probably the key to the contest. With the aid of the ineffective Dean Costa was able to create havoc in the Gunners back line at the bus stop. Discipline will be our friend this weekend, and of course the fact that in Mark Clattenburg we have one of only two referees on the PGMOL list who look capable of handling matches as big as this.
The ‘holic pound
I have had to change my gut feel for this one. I was all for a 2-1 to the Arsenal until I saw that the buffoon Lawrenson had tipped that outcome. Duly warned off I will have to switch the magical quid over to the famous one-nil to the Arsenal. Shop around for 15/2 which seems a decent price to me in what could be a very tight contest that we should just shade.
So that is it for another preview. I know I will see a fair few of you in the usual place pre and post-match. There is a bit of a birthday celebration going on for one fine Dubliner, and I will be making my return to street level after twelve days on the wagon. It promises to be quite a day, and here’s to the post match celebrations. Sláinte.
Have a good one, ‘holics.