Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side travel to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea on Sunday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Dan Levene for their views.
Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge will see Arsène Wenger meet with a fourth different manager in Arsenal’s last five meetings with Chelsea.
Following Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo is Rafael Benitez, who has failed to win over the Chelsea support. The Blues have won five out of six away matches under the Spanish coach, but just two in seven at Stamford Bridge.
Benitez favours a 4-2-3-1 system, although there is more structure than under Di Matteo, and more caution than under Villas-Boas. His major decision for Sunday’s match is which striker to use, although it seems unthinkable that Fernando Torres will be favoured over the in-form Demba Ba.Michael Cox
The Senegalese striker, who hit two goals in Newcastle’s 7-3 defeat the Emirates in December, has so far played the role of a classic No 9 - a penalty-box prowler, thriving on crosses and pull-backs from the flanks.
In midfield, Benitez’s selection will be interesting. The absence of Victor Moses and Jon Obi Mikel, both representing Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations, robs Chelsea of their most natural winger and their most natural holding midfielder.
Against Southampton in midweek, Benitez fielded his three creative players - Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar - behind Ba, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him name Ramires on the right wing, given Kieran Gibbs’ excellent recent form. Ramires would be the perfect man to deal with Gibbs’ acceleration and clever timing of runs, and his inclusion would see Frank Lampard and David Luiz used together in midfield. The Brazilian has generally looked impressive in that role.
That would rob Chelsea of their most mobile centre back, however. Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry and Gary Cahill are more traditional defenders, competent in the air but not as comfortable against pace.
Terry’s struggles against Arsenal last season were obvious, and although that can partly be attributed to Villas-Boas’ unsuitable high defensive line, Theo Walcott - who has performed very well against Ashley Cole in recent years - will fancy his chances of getting on the scoresheet.
DAN LEVENE, FULHAM CHRONICLE
It’s an incredibly difficult one to call. You never know which Chelsea will turn up at the moment and, to a certain extent, you can say the same about Arsenal. Both teams are a bit lower down the table than they might expect to be. It’s almost the definition of a six-pointer.
I think Benitez has been quite clear that Chelsea play two different type of games. The game that they tend to play at home is one that only requires the opposition to unpick a fairly flimsy lock in order to get through.
Most fans will be hoping for Ba to start up front. He looks a bit sharper than Torres at present. The manager had a close association with Torres in the past and I think his choice on who starts will depend on match fitness.
When Mata is on form, he’s almost unplayable. He moves around so fluidly and his passing is incredible.Dan Levene
He can score from practically any area and he has a wonderful footballing brain. He’s a player who can get tired through a lot of football and Chelsea do rely on him quite heavily. It tends to be that when Mata plays well, Chelsea play well.
Chelsea have very looked vulnerable on the counter recently. They’ve not really known how to deal with a fast man running through the defence. They’ve been easy to frustrate lately too but I still think they will win 2-1. It could even be 3-2 - there will be goals.
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