Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Chelsea - Match Preview

Thomas Vermaelen

“I see this just as a home game after an away defeat, one in which we have a good chance to show our strength. Despite the fact that we conceded goals at Manchester City, I feel that the team has even more belief now. We have regrets yes, but also a belief that we have a big role to play in the Premier League so let’s respond straight away.

“We have shown again at Manchester City that we can score at any moment, so we want to find the right balance again between being defensively sound and going forward with efficiency.”

According to Arsène Wenger it has been “an eternity” since his side last played. In fact it has been nine days but, in that time, much has changed - most notably the lead in the Premier League.

Liverpool unseated Arsenal for the first time since mid-September with a 3-1 win over Cardiff on Saturday lunchtime. They will stay there if Wenger’s men end level with Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on Monday evening. An away win would send Arsenal down to fourth. However victory would send to home side to the summit for Christmas.

Team News

Arsenal: Koscielny (doubt - cut), Wilshere (suspended), Sanogo (back), Diaby (knee), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee)

Chelsea: Bertrand (doubt - ankle), Essien (suspended)

The “defensively sound” part of Wenger’s balanced approach would seem crucial. Chelsea were their ruthless selves when they won at Emirates Stadium in the league on September 29 last year and the Capital One Cup on October 29 this year. Much could be made of the six Manchester City put past Arsenal, especially as the visitors that day had only conceded 12 in their previous 15 Premier League games. But the manager argues he simply span the roulette wheel and red did not come up.

“We just put ourselves in a position in which we had to chase the game with tired legs. We had to open up completely. When it was 4-2 we had to make a decision - do we really go for it, knowing that we can be punished on the counter-attack? I decided to take that gamble. It was close but it didn’t pay off and we were punished with two goals, including a penalty in the last minute. You know that if you really want to win you sometimes have to take massive gambles. This was one and I knew that but we wanted to take every risk to try and come back.”

Much of Arsenal’s success on Monday night could depend on Thomas Vermaelen’s ability to slot in at centre back. The Belgian replaced Laurent Koscielny after the Frenchman suffered a deep cut on his knee while his team conceded the second goal at Manchester City just before half-time. Arsenal would concede a third straight after the break and, as a result, were always up against it.

But, in that 50 minutes or so, the manager had discovered all he needed to know about his Club captain, who is likely to feature should Koscielny not recover in time.

“Mentally, it has been tough for Thomas Vermaelen but he prepares well and is focused in every training session,” said Wenger. “So he is ready to come on every time. He did well [at Manchester City] so it is good to know that he is ready to play.”

Chelsea’s Premier League record is startlingly similar to that of Arsenal - one win fewer, one draw more, one more goal conceded, one fewer goal scored. Their three defeats have come at Everton, Newcastle and Stoke. They beat Manchester City at Stamford Bridge but, significantly, are yet to play Arsenal or Liverpool in the Premier League.

"We play against a good side so you want to master the situation at home and dictate the result"

Famously, Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho in their nine meetings. However this is the first league meeting since the Portuguese returned to England. His opposite number sees the current Chelsea side as a work in progress - much like his own.

“When he arrived, [Mourinho took over] a team that had finished second - just behind us in our unbeaten season,” said Wenger. “Maybe they were closer to the finished article than now. Now they have younger players, maybe that team was more mature.

“This season Chelsea are like all the teams - they have alternated between very good and sometimes average. Why? Because it is so difficult to win everywhere nowadays that everybody is afraid at home and away. They have been strong, and have a talented young team, but in the Premier League every game is difficult.”

This one, of course, is particularly difficult.

But going away to Manchester City so quickly after a bruising trip to Naples is one thing, Chelsea at home after nine days break is another.

The difference in the equation is not determined by the opposition but by Arsenal’s state of health ahead of the game.

It is interesting that Wenger has taken such heart from the offensive performance at the Etihad Stadium when others suggested it might herald the end of his side’s early-season acceleration.

Monday may well define that. Results against big rivals at home was one of the main issues on Wenger’s ‘to do’ list at the start of the season. That Liverpool win looks better and better right now but it must be followed up.

“Yes, we want another tick in that box on Monday night,” he replied when the point was put to him. “We play against a good side so you want to master the situation at home and dictate the result.

“It’s part of a successful season.”

For Arsenal you have to think Monday will be vital if they are to be as successful as their start as has suggested.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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