By Chris Harris
Remember when Arsenal always seemed to beat Chelsea? For the record, Arsène Wenger's side clocked up 17 games without defeat against their London rivals between January 1999 and March 2004. The spell has been broken; now Arsenal are as long as 5/1 to get a result at Stamford Bridge this Sunday.
Chelsea's financial muscle and Jose Mourinho's shrewd management has proved an irresistible cocktail and the Blues show no sign of relenting. Within months of securing back-to-back titles earlier this year Chelsea bolstered their already impressive squad with Michael Ballack, Andrei Shevchenko and a certain Ashley Cole.
Rightly or wrongly, the former Arsenal star will be the centre of attention on Sunday. We asked Tim Harrison of the Kensington and Chelsea News about Cole's first few months at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho's tactics, Didier Drogba's dynamic form and the area in which the champions might be vulnerable.
THE STORY SO FAR
"They have been as solid as ever, as good as ever and as entertaining as ever. Drogba has been in stunning form up front, the midfield has been constantly changing but they are reasonably settled at the back."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Drogba. I'm not certain why he has done so well but his confidence is high and he signed a long-term contract with Chelsea. He seems to have relaxed into his role a lot more and he feels very confident and upbeat after a solid start to the season and his rate of scoring. He doesn't complain when he is substituted and he has definitely been Chelsea's man of the season so far. Shevchenko's arrival has helped. He came with a stonking reputation and even if he hasn't been scoring as freely as hoped he has still created more space for Drogba in the centre. Shevchenko draws defenders to him in and around the area."
"Cole says he has settled in very well. He says everyone was incredibly helpful and made him feel very welcome. I think his England colleagues - Lampard, Terry and Cole especially - helped him settle. I spoke to him recently and he admitted he had been nervous at first because he got a few kicks while playing for Arsenal against Chelsea and he wasn't sure how he'd be treated, but he seems settled and happy. He is coming up to speed with Chelsea's method of play, it is not quite as flowing as Arsenal's. As for Shevchenko, he scored a good goal on Wednesday and is under less pressure now. I have read all the rumours of him leaving but the fact is that Chelsea are scoring regularly, they are in a strong position in the table and Shevchenko has played in most of those games so there really isn't a serious problem. They have every prospect of challenging for the title."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"The goalkeeping situation is obviously a serious headache with Cech a long way from returning and Cudicini out so Hilario is likely to play in goal against Arsenal. He is perhaps not the most solid, he is a puncher rather than a catcher when it comes to crosses. You sense that John Terry sitting just ahead of him, doesn't have the same confidence as he does in Cech."
"I keep reading different things but Chelsea still have a back four, Makelele or Essien sitting just ahead of them and then Lampard and Ballack alongside each other. Shevchenko and Robben or sometimes Cole alternate either side of those two with Drogba at centre forward. It is sort of three up front but more like Drogba with two playing off him. The big accusation is that Chelsea have no width but that's not strictly true. Cole and Bridge seem to be alternating at left back and they both get forward a fair bit, so Chelsea's main route of attack is centre and left."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Well it's not that long ago since Kanu popped up to score that hat-trick [in a 3-2 win for Arsenal in 1999] and there is still a slight hangover from that. But Chelsea have got enough good results against Arsenal in the last two or three years to no longer fear them. There was a hang-up about them as recently as three years ago but not so much now and I think it will be a very tight game."
Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 8 Dec 2006