It’s been three years and ten months since we last beat Chelsea. Only two of the likely starters on Sunday have ever tasted victory against them. Not good enough. We need to stuff them. They used to be the team we beat for fun. We would enjoy drawing them in cups because it was a safe passage to the next round. Now look at it. It’ll be an electric atmosphere on Sunday, especially if Cashley plays, and we have a definite chance of winning. Obviously our chances would be improved by Fabregas being fit, but we’ll wait to see if that happens. After a fairly disappointing couple of weeks, we need a big win to get the confidence back, and this could be the game. Chelsea are three points off us in the league, and anything other than a win means that United could take top spot if they beat Liverpool.
Chelsea are in fairly decent form at the moment. They last lost in September, Avram Grant’s first game in charge at Old Trafford. Since then they’ve won seven and drawn two in the league, qualified top of their Champions League group and made it to the quarter finals of the Carling Cup. Our last good performance was against Reading in mid-November. Since then we’ve nicked a couple of wins but have generally looked poor. Losing Fabregas and Hleb at the same time certainly hurt us significantly, as the majority of our good attacking play this season has been worked in some way from those two. At least now with van Persie back we’ve got a bit more bite in attack, with a player that can score at any time, and hopefully we’ll see Fabregas and Hleb back in the squad, with Flamini there getting in Chelsea players faces.
In twenty league meetings between the two sides since Wenger took over, we’ve won nine, drawn nine and lost two, both losses coming in the 2005/2006 season. In twenty eight meetings in all competitions, we’ve won thirteen, drawn ten and lost five.
Van Persie and Diaby are now hopefully match fit and will be in the squad. Going by Wenger’s most recent comments about Fabregas, Hleb and Flamini, I would guess that they will all be in the squad, pending fitness tests. Walcott is the only player that we will miss for this game, he picked up a niggle in the game against Steaua, but should be back for the Carling Cup game midweek. I expect we’ll go full strength for this one. I don’t think our trio of missing players have massively serious injuries, and this is a game worth risking them for. However, if it is a big risk, I would rather give them another week off. But I expect Flamini at the very least to be back starting, but they’ve all been training this week.
Subs: Lehmann, Senderos, Diaby, Eboue, Bendtner.
Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack definitely miss the game through injury, and Michael Essien is still suspended for his red card against Derby. Petr Cech and Paulo Ferreira are back after injury, Florent Malouda and Ricardo Carvalho could both be back in the squad after their injuries. They may either go for three in midfield with two wide players supporting Shevchenko upfront on his own, or go for 4-4-2 with Kalou or Pizarro playing in a support striker role. In an away game like this I’d expect them to go with one upfront. Will they start Ashley?