Arsenal v Chelsea, Premier League, May 10, 2009
The battle of the Champions League losers takes place at the Emirates, both sides coming into the match looking to fix their teeth after having had them knocked out by Manchester United and Barcelona respectively.
With Chelsea six points clear of the Gunners, with the North Londoners themselves 10 points ahead of Villa, the only prize on offer on Sunday is pride. However that is the shot in the arm that both Wenger and Hiddink will be craving as they aim to finish the league season on a high.
Wenger, who has amassed a sizable amount of criticism in recent days, will arguably have the tougher task of raising the spirits of his demoralised troops. Arsenal head into the match weighed down by their defensive absentees that left such a hole at the back against the Red Devils. Kieran Gibbs is likely to retain his place at left-back while, in the continued absence of William Gallas and Gael Clichy through injury, Kolo Toure and Johan Djourou will line up at the heart of the backline.
Although Manuel Almunia will continue between the sticks, the Spanish keeper looking in good form in recent weeks, the defensive weaknesses in the Arsenal back four will encourage the Chelsea forwards, with the bookies pricing the Blues at 4/9 to score during ninety minutes.
One positive for the Gunners should be the return of Andrei Arshavin (9/4 to score) after the in-form Russian was ineligible for the European encounter, having there are some doubts lingering with reports that the forward has been struck down with a virus.
Arshavin, who has been in terrific form since his arrival in the Premier League, has been involved in 11 Arsenal’s goals, scoring six and assisting five. Arshavin’s form is in contrast to the languid season experienced by several of his teammates including Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Some have contested that the purchase of Arshavin goes to show that splashing the cash on quality, rather than rearing the Wenger babes, is the more tried and trusted method of achieving success. Looking more short-sighted however, the fear for the Gunners this weekend is that too many hopes already rest on the Russian’s shoulders, and should Chelsea nullify his threat, Arsenal may be blunt up top.
The Blues have recent history on their side as they overcame Arsenal 2-1 in last month’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley after Didier Drogba scored a late winner. (Chelsea are 11/1 to win by the same score line.) However, it was a different story back in November when two goals from Robin van Persie (7/1 to be the first goalscorer) inflicted one of just two league defeats that the Blues have suffered at home all season.
From Chelsea’s point of view, while Didier Drogba has shaken off his ankle injury that forced his withdrawal on Wednesday night, Guus Hiddink will have decided whether to field the Ivorian after his hot-headed striker swore on worldwide TV.
More likely than not Drogba will retain his place up front, which leaves the residual question of whether Nicolas Anelka will line up as part of a front-two strike-force with Didier Drogba (6/1 to grab the opener), or whether the Dutchman will adopt a similar 4-5-1 game-plan as was in use against the Catalans.