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I cannot remember the last time that we've gone into a fixture where so few expect us to get anything from the game. Recent history is very much against us as I'm sure you have read over the last couple of days. Our record against Chelsea has been pretty shocking in the last few years, especially against Jose Mourinho who (I'm sure you're not aware of) hasn't lost a game against Arsène Wenger. While that is factually true I think it might be worth incorporating a little bit of context to that. Mourinho rocked up at the Bridge the first time when we were about to move to a new stadium, ship out our senior players and bring in teenagers to grow together. Meanwhile Mourinho was breaking transfer records for established stars. Given the paths of both clubs, is it any wonder that Mourinho and his shiny expensive toy box had his number on us?

That said it would be disingenuous if I did not mention the approaches of the two teams, which brings me nicely onto the shambles that was last season at Stamford Bridge

Spanked at the Bridge

This was far, far worse than the 8-2 defeat suffered at Old Trafford a few years earlier. It's not even close for me as back on that day we had what resembled a league cup tie team and while we missed a few key players at Stamford Bridge last season (obviously) we didn't look inferior on paper to our opponents, at least not in my humble opinion.

Our team that day was:

Szczesny
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs
Arteta Ox
Cazorla Rosicky Podolski
Giroud

Ok we missed our most creative players in Ramsey and Özil but that aside we had a team to produce a much better performance both defensively and offensively. At the time I did not understand our approach to the game. I just could not get my head around it. We had one of the best defensive records in the league because we defended in numbers when we didn't have the ball. It worked so well in so many of our games, so much so that we spent week after week at the top of the table but at Chelsea we had abandoned that strategy and tried to push Chelsea back into their own half by committing most of our team forward. Poor mistakes saw us give the ball away in dangerous areas and we were put to the sword in 17 minutes. Three goals down and a sending off before twenty minutes meant that those who didn't turn off were faced with the prospect of watching your team die slowly in front of your eyes. It was painful and unpleasant.

Before kick off I was hugely optimistic that we would get a positive result. That Chelsea side had often struggled against teams who sat deep and we had enough experience at this in the games previous. If you're feeling brave, why not skip along to Betfair for a cheeky punt.

 



Coming back to last years fixture is slightly easier today. I wonder if Arsène attacked Chelsea at the Bridge last season because he wanted his team to have the belief to go and win the league. He must have talked them up and given them confidence to express themselves at the Bridge. We can be critical of that approach today, I certainly was after the game but this is an approach that has seen Arsenal turn up at grounds where Arsenal were the underdogs only to produce breathtaking performances and results. Think back to AC Milan at the San Siro, Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabéu and many a big performance at Old Trafford back in the day.

It would have crushed Arsène to have suffered that result and I'm sure it was a stake to the heart of the players.

Today's Game

It is difficult to approach the game this afternoon without nasty flashbacks to last season. You can be sure that Arsène has spent the last few days desperately trying to format the players hard drive, pushing last year's memories as far away as possible and preparing them for this afternoon.

We have spent years walking into the Mourinho trap and it has usually ended up one way. I watched Chelsea in a few of the big clashes last season and they really couldn't give a monkeys about playing football. Each time the opponent has tried to break them down while they have put practically everyone behind the ball. It was the same this season against Manchester City. It is difficult enough to break down a team like Crystal Palace but when you have Internationals instructed to not allow the opposition any chances then pouring forward in search of a breakthrough makes you the more likely side to concede.

Per Mertesacker hinted that the team would try something different this time and that is great to hear, I am intrigued to know how we will approach it this time. Now I assume that the 4141 was introduced for games such as this one, otherwise there would have been little reason to switch from a system that was the most successful against lesser sides in the league. My rather amateur take is that Arsène wanted to reinforce the centre of the pitch with two pressing players (Wilshere and Ramsey) who can support Arteta when needed as well as forcing turnovers higher up the pitch to then release speedsters Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain and eventually Theo. This was before the signing of Welbeck so he is very much included in that today. This would mean that we would still be playing on the front foot but just more equipped to do so.

Unfortunately we do not have Aaron Ramsey who is the best at winning tackles around the pitch but it could be somewhat of a blessing in other areas. Santi Cazorla could well continue in the middle of the pitch after his fantastic performance against Galatasaray in midweek. If that is the case then I expect Mathieu Flamini to have the afternoon off from deep distribution duties, instead the role given to the Spaniard.

Last season Chelsea were able to press high against us as our front three of Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud had very little pace. This time around they will have to behave very differently against Welbeck, Alexis (I hope) and Özil. I'd love the Ox to be included but I'm not sure who Arsène would drop unless it was Alexis and given his ability to score goals and beat an opponent I hope it isn't this season's star signing.

As much as I complained about last season's approach (grass always greener eh?) I'd be more than happy for us to defend in numbers and frustrate the living hell out of Chelsea. If only for the giggles watching both teams sprinting back towards their own goal from the kick off. Then watch the Chelsea players shrug and look to the bench for advice as the Arsenal players leave the ball at the half way line. Granted his Chelsea team this year is far more capable of breaking down stubborn defence's with that bloke and Diego Costa but last season they struggle against teams that did not want to come out.

When West Ham gave him a taste of his own medicine he had the cheek to say this with a straight face.

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The difference is we would have players in the attacking third who could make the difference, if not then we could leave the Bridge with a point and that is not a bad result at all.

If we are to attack Chelsea from the off and force them back then we'd have to be perfect in every area of the pitch for the whole match. Are we capable of doing that? I'll let you be the judge of that.

Cesc Fabregas

Cesc Fabregas is a great player. I feel a pinch watching him playing for Chelsea because he is a great player just as I would had they signed Iniesta but I have to say, I find the whole love in thing a bit much.

I can't imagine any other player being able to behave the way he did during his final year, even if you turn a blind eye to the alleged refusal to play (which seems quite obvious that he did) he gave us very little, had a Barcelona shirt stuck over his head whilst grinning and pretending so desperately to take it off. Imagine Emmanuel Adebayor had behaved like that?

Anyway I don't feel any animosity towards the player, I actually believe he does care about our club but he is a Chelsea player who is registered to Chelsea and who plays for Mourinho. That should be reason enough to put away the Cesc flags and posters surely.

We've got quality players that I would rather spend my energy on. For that reason I really hope Mesut Özil puts in a big performance today. Because if he doesn't you know how the narrative will go don't you?

Team Selection

Someone from Alexis, Chamberlain or Cazorla will be left out. I suspect Ox will be used as an impact sub if need be. As expressed above I expect us to revert back to the 4141 with Mesut roaming from the left.

Mean Lean's Predicted Line Up:

Conclusion

Needless to say I'd snatch your arm off if you offered me a draw. It's difficult to not be a tad apprehensive given the past history but man for man I don't see a huge gulf between the two. I just hope we are a little more pragmatic than we usually are.

Of all the fixtures in this league, this is the one I'd love a victory.

Fingers crossed we can finally end this horrible run against that lot.

  • 15 Sep 2015
    So let me stop reminiscing of days gone by and let me focus on our Welsh wonder. Let me start off by saying that I think it is quite obvious that Aaron Ramsey is better in central midfield. His partnership with Mesut Özil, his running from deep and his underrated ball winning ability makes him a ...Read more