By Declan Taylor
From one massive game to another. Arsenal are well and truly at the business end of this quite remarkable season.
Wednesday’s victory over Villarreal put the Gunners into a European Cup Semi-Final for only the second time in their history. On Saturday, less than 72 hours later, Arsenal face Chelsea at Wembley for a place in the FA Cup Final.
As expected, the Blues have returned to top gear under interim manager Guus Hiddink, thanks in no small part to the resurgence of Didier Drogba. He, like Emmanuel Adebayor, has struck four goals in his last three starts.
For our regular insider’s perspective of Arsenal’s opponents we spoke to Dan Levene of the Kensington and Chelsea News. He gave us the lowdown on the importance of Drogba, Chelsea’s 4-4 draw with Liverpool and why Hiddink is like Jose Mourinho.
THE STORY SO FAR
“I think my heartbeat has just about returned to its usual level after Tuesday night’s result. I think if there were 41,000 people in the stadium on the night, there were 41,000 going to see a cardiac consultant the next day.
“Frank Lampard was saying on Tuesday that he needed a couple of days just to calm down after such a game like that – one that he said he’d never experienced the like of before. Hopefully the couple of days have passed and professionals of their standing would be fairly focused on an FA Cup Semi-Final you would hope.”
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
“It’s difficult to say where all these conceded goals have come from. Obviously there has been an awful lot of focus on Petr Cech who, in the past, has been almost unbeatable at times. There is clearly something not right in that rugby skullcap but nobody can quite work out what it is. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s actually picked on Saturday after his last two performances.
“I think letting in three goals against Bolton in eight minutes and then some of the horrendous mishaps against Liverpool on Tuesday night have led an awful lot of people to raise questions. There were unfortunately a few boo-boys at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night that made their feelings clear on Cech’s performance. It’s a bit of a shame considering he’s put in five years of quite stunning performances and was voted the best keeper in the world last season by Fifa.”
THE MAN IN CHARGE
“Guus Hiddink’s presence is just awesome. He’s a bit like Jose Mourinho in that when he enters a room he fills it immediately. The difference is that he is Mr Football; there are no film-star good looks, no massive arrogance. He is an incredible student of the game and he knows how to make teams perform. He has restored confidence back into the Chelsea team which is amazing to see.
“I think he has got the players being more professional in their focus on the games. There may have been a few who thought they were too big for the Scolari set-up before and Hiddink has used his muscle to correct them on any beliefs they had in that direction. Also he has been incredibly good on the tactics as was seen in the first leg against Liverpool last week.
“The problem is, there are three of us in this marriage. There’s Chelsea, there’s Guus and then there’s Roman Abramovich. Whether or not Roman has got the clout to convince the Kremlin that they no longer want their star man who knows.”
“My personal belief, speaking as a Chelsea fan, is that it would be lovely to win the FA Cup – it’s always lovely to win the FA Cup because it is the oldest competition of the lot. Whether or not the Champions League is a realistic option, given that the Semi-Final draw puts Chelsea against Barcelona, who knows? I think a lot of Chelsea fans have already written off the Premier League too.
I don’t think anybody thinks there is a better team in Europe than Barcelona. Just look at the names on the sheet, people like Messi, Henry, Xavi – just amazing names. To think about beating them over two legs would be a very tough call."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
“Drogba is an incredible presence when he plays and he can be bothered. Certainly it seems in the last few weeks that he has been bothered and he has been very good. It’s not only his attacking, it’s the way he tracks back, he keeps the defensive line going at set-pieces and the way he gees up the whole side makes him like a second captain. He will be one of Chelsea’s most important men on the pitch come Saturday.
“He is one of the players who loves to be loved. He needs to feel important. It takes no small amount of talent to motivate him. Guus clearly has the talent to do that whereas it would appear that Scolari didn’t in the past.”
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
“It’s been a funny old season for Chelsea and I don’t know if we should be naming player of the season or manager of the season – we’ve had four of them! The usual suspects are there; Frank Lampard has clearly had another good season among others. But, an outside shot, one that would surprise a few Arsenal fans, is Ashley Cole. He has been one of the players closest to his top form on most occasions this season. It’s nice to see him finally doing that for Chelsea.”
“It has been an incredible week, even fortnight, for Chelsea. There are all sorts of ghosts going round the dressing room at the moment but I think really he’s just got to take the team for a couple of days to the Michelle Obama “Yes We Can!” college. They’re 90 minutes away from a big Cup Final and there won’t be many at Chelsea who wouldn’t relish that.
“I don’t know whether negativity is an option at the moment. Certainly the way Chelsea have played over the past few weeks has been very open, quite attacking. Of course one of the briefs Hiddink had when he came in from Abramovich was that he wanted more exciting football. Letting in seven goals in two hours of football is quite exciting but I don’t think it was what he was thinking.”
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
“Arsenal are quite clearly going through a very interesting phase. They have always had some exciting youngsters but there are plenty of names there that look like they’ll deliver. To be able to go through this supposed transitional phase yet still be in with a shout of two if not three big competitions is very impressive. Everyone respects the work Arsène Wenger has done and is still doing at the Emirates.
“I think another ‘invincible’ group is imminently possible. Nobody who knows their football would write off this Arsenal side because there is so much potential there. It’s whether that can be combined with real experience from older players and the manager.”Copyright 2017 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