By Declan Taylor
While Arsenal’s Champions League dream ended surprisingly early in their Semi-Final second leg in midweek, Chelsea’s Final hopes were dashed with only seconds left on the clock.
So what could have been a Champions League Final dress rehearsal on Sunday has become something of a losers’ rendezvous.
But those expecting a damp squib at Emirates Stadium should perhaps think again.
Of course the clash will carry the usual fanfare of a London derby but with extra incentive for Arsène Wenger’s side who know that anything less than a win against the Blues will all but end their hopes of a top-three finish.
Ahead of the clash we caught up with Simon Johnson of the Evening Standard for an in-depth view of Guus Hiddink’s injured troops, Didier Drogba’s midweek antics and an outsider’s perspective of Arsenal.
THE STORY SO FAR
“The Champions League results will make Sunday a bit of a contest between two rather demoralised sides. I think, out of the two, it will be Chelsea who find it a lot harder to lift themselves in the manner of their defeat. Chelsea lost right at the wire while Arsenal, let’s be honest, were outplayed over two legs and deservedly went out. Chelsea are full of feelings of injustice.
“I think for many of the players it might be very hard for them to recover from. The League title is obviously out of the way but it’s now just about trying to finish in the top three. Of course they do have the FA Cup Final to look forward to which might be the saving grace for them in the final League games because they’ll all be playing for their place in that team against Everton.”
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
“I think this blow will be very hard for them to recover from. This is their fifth Semi-Final defeat in six years and there’s only so many chances that this squad have left to win it. I think for many of the squad, for example Michael Ballack, this could have been their last chance to win it.
“I would argue that for all Chelsea’s stories of hard luck etc, they are a bit too reliant on a few players. Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard continue to be Chelsea’s only consistent goal threat. I would argue that there’s a lack of genuine quality, the likes of Andrey Arshavin. Chelsea just don’t have enough of that sort of player who have something that’s different, something that the Barcelona players had. I think if you are going to win the Champions League you need a bit more than just great defensive strategy, you need to have a threat at the other end and Chelsea didn’t have enough of that over the two legs.”
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
“It will be a struggle for both sets of supporters let alone the players. But at the same time it’s a London derby and Arsenal will have a lot of motivation with that third place up for grabs. Also they’ll have an element of revenge of their mind after that FA Cup Semi-Final defeat. Chelsea will also be thinking about their defeat at Stamford Bridge earlier on in the season. These are the things that might generate some recovery in the players’ minds.
“Of course if Chelsea win the gap will be nine points with only a couple of games to go. A win would sort that one out so Arsenal need to win to have any chance of bridging the gap. I don’t know if they will have it in them to do that but we’ll wait and see. I do expect another close one simply because the energy levels will be so subdued after what happened in midweek.”
MAN OF THE MOMENT
“It isn’t certain whether Didier Drogba will play in light of the incidents on Wednesday. He has a great record against Arsenal and he was notably missing from the defeat at Stamford Bridge in November but then he was back at Wembley to score the winning goal. So if anyone can make the difference it will be him and he might have a point to prove after making headlines for the wrong reasons after Barca.
“There may be a few players who exhausted themselves the other night. It was noticeable that Michael Essien, who spent six months out with a serious knee injury, seemed to fade badly against Barcelona. It was actually his poor clearance that led to their goal.”
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
“Undoubtedly Frank Lampard. Even when Chelsea were struggling under Luis Felipe Scolari he was still performing to a very high standard. He is one goal away from making a 20-goal season for the fourth year in a row but his general play has been outstanding and it’s a mystery that he was left out of the PFA Team of the Season.
“Arsenal fans might also be interested to know Ashley Cole gets a mention here. He has performed pretty consistently all season, his first decent season since he left Arsenal.”
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
“I think, once again, they have rather flattered to deceive. They keep going on about potential but how long do you give the potential to develop into results? They do have an impressive unbeaten record domestically but it’s still only good enough to probably secure fourth place in the League. In the Champions League you could question the quality of their opposition until they played Man United in the Semi-Final and they came up short. Four years without a trophy is a bit disappointing but you look at the quality of the players and you think it’s only a matter of time until they bring home some silverware. Arshavin was a brilliant buy and he’s a player who can really take Arsenal onto the next level next season.”