Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Arsenal v Chelsea - Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Richard Clarke

Given their smooth-running sequence over the last few months, Arsenal could afford a stumble in the race to secure third place in the Premier League.

A full-blown trip, however, would be more troublesome.

The defeat to Wigan on Monday leaves Arsène Wenger's side in third, five points clear of Tottenham and Newcastle having played a game more.

But their run is still nine wins from their last 11 Premier League games and, with just four fixtures to go, their fate is entirely in their own hands.

And, even more importantly, the last time they had a blip - at QPR three weeks ago - they recovered with alacrity and confidence against title-chasing Manchester City at Emirates Stadium the following weekend.

On Saturday lunchtime, Chelsea arrive at the same venue amid a run of key games in major competitions - the type of juggling act Wenger's side have tried to pull off on numerous occasions in the past decade or so.

Normally in such circumstances, teams tend to drop one ball at least.

In fairness, it is going well so far. Chelsea have won both their Semi-Finals this week. They humbled Tottenham 5-1 in the FA Cup on Sunday and snatched a surprise 1-0 win against Barcelona in Wednesday's first leg in the Champions League.

They play the return rubber in Spain next Tuesday so the game at Arsenal this weekend is one layer in considerable club sandwich.

Form and focus will be on Chelsea's side while, according to Wenger, fatigue will not be an issue.

"[This sort of run] is part of being successful," he said. "We have played that way many times, it's part of wanting to be at the top level. It was the same when we took on Milan at home and our players were on international games - in Africa some of them. We played on Sunday against Tottenham, on Wednesday on internationals, Saturday morning at Liverpool and Tuesday night at Milan. Some of the players played full games.

"The advantage [of fatigue to the opposition] comes afterwards - in one or two weeks. When you have a block of stress and mental sharpness it is not within that block you suffer. It is usually just after, the compression comes in and it is difficult to move the team again. At the moment, I don't feel they will suffer too much."

In effect, Chelsea will be a cup side for the rest of the campaign. They are sixth - two places and two points behind the fourth and final Champions League place. Any defeat may well be terminal to their European ambitions next season.

As for Wenger, he has maintained a simplistic focus throughout March and April. You can see him keeping that through to the middle of May.

"We are in a position where we do not have to calculate too much," he said. "We want to win our next game and that is the only way we can secure our qualification. We have done remarkably well in the last two months and we want to take advantage of the run we have created and show that against Chelsea.

"Like always after a big disappointment you focus on the next one. It is part of getting over defeats without losing your confidence.

"You have to make sure that your energy is transformed into frustration in the next game. And our target is to win our home games now. We know what is at stake in this game."

Arsenal's squad will show significant changes to the one on show last Monday, mainly in midfield.

Mikel Arteta's ankle injury will keep him out for the season, not just this game, while Yossi Benayoun is ineligible as he is on loan from Saturday's opponents.

Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin are fit again and will be on the bench.

In addition, Laurent Koscielny is back from suspension. At his pre-match press conference, Wenger suggested his centre-back's consistency has made him a key figure this season.

"Yes, he has moved forward," said the manager. "He has more authority in the challenges, he has more confidence in his passing, and on that front he has developed well."

It has been reported that Chelsea will be without Didier Drogba, who scored their winner against Barcelona in midweek. One of a number of changes suggested by interim head coach Roberto Di Matteo. The Italian's gameplan on Wednesday was cagey and claustrophobic but, at the same time, hugely satisfying. When you are taking on the world's best the end justifies the means.

Di Matteo took over in March and seems to be turning the Chelsea juggernaut at just the right time. Wenger believes continuity has been his biggest asset.

"He knew the club," said Wenger. "Let's not forget they qualified in the Champions League with Villas-Boas and they were not in an easy group. It is always difficult to separate what is down to the former manager and the actual manager. What you think in a short period is that he has done well. He certainly knew the players and it did not take him too long to adjust to the difficulties of the club."

Arsenal's 5-3 win at Chelsea in October turned their season. A storming second-half comeback started a two-month run that would haul them back into Champions League contention. The past two months have made them favourites for automatic qualification.

Completing a 'double' on Saturday would go a long way to closing the book.

But hey, who knows? On paper, Arsenal supposedly had a hard 'run-in'. On grass, they have won their tough-looking fixtures and slipped up in the so-called 'straightforward' ones.

Yet the one thing Wenger's men have shown more than anything this season is potent powers of recovery and everyone at Emirates on Saturday should draw strength from that.

Arsenal are still the masters of their own fate.

Team news

Arsenal: Arteta (ankle), Mertesacker (ankle), Wilshere (ankle), Frimpong (knee), Benayoun (ineligible)

Chelsea: Drogba (knee), Luiz (hamstring), Ivanovic (suspended), Bertrand (doubt - calf), Romeu (doubt - illness)

Random Facts

Arsenal have scored in their last 16 home games

Chelsea have scored in 12 of their last 13 games. Only Tottenham have kept a clean-sheet against in that period.

Chelsea have conceded 20 Premier League goals at Stamford Bridge - 25 per cent of those came against Arsenal in October.

Laurent Koscielny has never made a substitute appearance for Arsenal

Aaron Ramsey is set to make his 100th appearance for Arsenal. Currently, he has nine goals in 99 games.


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