Writer: Nick Simmonett
Date:Sunday March 23 2008
Arsenal will be looking to get their title chase back on track on Sunday when they travel to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea in the second half of Grand Slam Sunday.
Arsene Wenger will be hoping for a Liverpool win when the Scousers travel on Old Trafford to take on league leaders Manchester United in the day's early kick off.
Arsenal certainly need results to start going their way, as we're in danger of finishing third or even fourth, with Liverpool eight points behind us and they still have to play us this season. A defeat today would see us drop to third with Chelsea sitting one point ahead.
I have to say that the outlook is bleak for Arsenal at the moment. Four points in their last four games, scoring just four goals in that run. Adebayor hasn't hit the net in the league for six weeks now, and Van Persie is still finding his feet after five months out. Feel worried yet?
Well how about Chelsea's form. They've scored 11 goals in their last three games. Although the usual solid Chelsea backline was breached four times on Wednesday by Tottenham, who grabbed a draw in a thrilling game. The Fulham outfit haven't lost a game since we beat them in December and despite being written off for the title months ago, they now look like genuine title contenders.
It'll be very interesting indeed to see how the two teams line up. Will Arsene Wenger plump for a solid 4-5-1 formation and risk Adebayor being cut off from the rest of the team? Or will he see that we're lacking a goal threat and start with a 4-4-2 up front? I'm of the belief that he'll go for a 4-5-1 for the first hour or so.
Chelsea will no doubt line up with their usual 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation, with Joe Cole and either Wright Phillips or Malouda playing off Drogba. With Anelka coming off the bench, they have plenty of options in the final third.
That never-ending fountain of footballing knowledge Alan Hansen believes that Arsenal forget the title if they lose to Chelsea and United beat Liverpool. 'If Manchester United beat Liverpool and Arsenal lose at Chelsea, Arsene Wenger can wave the title bye-bye in my opinion,' he wrote in his BBC blog. Considering how quickly Arsenal's fortunes have changed in recent weeks, I think Alan is talking out of his arse.
Arsene Wenger's comments and confidence in the build up to this game has been impressing me. He's been giving off the same vibes that he did in the build up to the Milan game a couple of weeks ago, and in the run up to the Real Madrid game 2 years ago. The first quote from him was the conclusion to his press confrence, but his words were said with a solid, meaningful look on his face: 'We've got the strength of character to win the title, believe me.
'That's my belief, my firm belief and at the game on Sunday you will see. Since the first day of the season I have said that I believe in this team.
'Come back in May and we will speak about it then. There's always a first time and, until you win, people have doubts about you and they're questioning you. But the strong ones keep going.'
The Arsenal manager spoke a lot of menatl strenght, and hunger. Two ingredients his players will need by the sackfull if they're to win the title: "Yes it is because they are further away from Manchester United. 'But, when we go into this game, we'll know the result of the United game against Liverpool. So that could even increase more the pressure on the game.
'But the mental strength we have in my squad, and the hunger that's in there for us to do well, I'm sure we'll come out in the final sprint."
Avram Grant is pleased with his teams form, and rightly so: 'There are eight games to go. We wanted to get to the position where it would be in our hands.
'We've worked hard for this from when I came here and now we need to use this situation. I am very happy with my team's form.
'We've played very good football in the last few games and scored a lot of goals. We are in a good shape in the right moment and I am very proud of this and respect what the players have done.'
Petr Cech will return between the sticks for Chelsea, which means Cudicini will drop back to the bench.
Anelka is back after recovering from a thigh injury that kept him out of the 4-4 draw with Spurs on Wednesday.
Midfield duo Michael Ballack and John Obi Mikel also return to the squad, meaning Avram Grant has a full squad to choose from.
Ashley Cole's attempts to get himself suspended for this game failed, so the gutless excuse for a human will have to face his former employers.
The England winger has been simply superb in recent weeks. He tore Tottenham's defence to shreds at will on Wednesday.
His skill, pace, passing and shooting ability makes him a superb player, and one of the few Chelsea players with the technical ability to play in an Arsenal team.
Tomas Rosicky is still missing for Arsenal. When speaking to Arsenal.com in the week, Wenger said he had no idea when the winger could return, as he continues to struggle with injury.
Abou Diaby is also still out with a calf injry, while Eudardo is obviously still missing with his broken leg and dislocated ankle.
Chelsea may have Essien in their team, but the lack of an out-and-out defensive midfielder means that when Van Persie comes on he can can drop back a bit and pop off shots from 20-25 yards, as well as get involved with the build up.
Adebayor is more than capable of keeping Chelsea's centre backs occupied for the entire game. Van Persie will benefit from that and find himself in a fait bit of space.
Mark Clattenburg will take to the field to referee the game at Stamford bridge. Interestingly, Arsenal are the only one of the top three to have won a game in which he has officiated this season (a 3-1 win over Spurs at White Hart Lane). United have lost twice under him, and Chelsea once.
Well my betting slip from William Hill has two different forecasts for this game. I've got 2-0 Chelsea, but I've also got Arsenal to win 1-0 and Van Persie to score (at 40/1 I had to have a punt!). However, I believe that my first bet is more likely. 2-0 Chelsea with goals from Drogba and Lampard.
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Date:Sunday March 23 2008
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