Chelsea fans think Arsenal will be beaten.
The media thinks Arsenal will be beaten.
Heck, even Arsenal fans think that Arsenal will beaten.
But Chelsea are not invincible, and they CAN be beaten, even at Stamford Bridge (though that’s very, very difficult to pull off). Here’s how Wenger should play this if he wants Arsenal to have a chance at automatic Champions League qualification (and an easier pre-season).
Know Your Enemy
Expected Chelsea lineup:
Essien/Geremi, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole,
Makelele, Robben/Essien/Cole, Ballack, Lampard,
No matter who Mourinho plays in the midfield, he’ll stick to a diamond formation, which means that with Arsenal playing 4-5-1 the midfield will get very congested (and in a game of brute force, Chelsea will prevail).
Dominate the wings
Chelsea could go with a traditional right-back to counter Arsenal’s threat from the left (they’ve already got Ashley Cole on the other flank), but that only serves to underline the fact that Arsenal’s best chances will come from the wings.
Rosicky is presumably still injured, and Henry is out as well. That leaves Wenger with Fabregas, Flamini, Silva, Hleb, Ljunberg, Baptista and Walcott to play in midfield. I’m still assuming that he’ll go with 5 in midfield to counter Chelsea’s strong physical presence there, so that’s 7 players jostling for 5 spots. Fabregas and Silva pick themselvs, with Hleb to go on the right and possibly Ljunberg to go on the left.
Whatever the case, it will be the tactics that are most important – Arsenal will have to play twice as well as Manchester United did against Chelsea to get something out of this game, and a big part of it will be how well they can bypass the strong midfield and stretch them at the back.
Theo Walcott has primarily be used as an impact player, and I have little doubt that he will be used in the same role once again.
But with Ljunberg visibly off-form, there’s no one good enough to take the left flank. Putting Flamini there is a joke – he’s talented but not the player you want against Chelsea. Walcott would be a much better bet, but he’s still a kid, unproven and what not.
The other question will be up front, where Wenger has little choice – RVP is not too effective in a 4-5-1 (either as a lone striker or on the wing), so Adebayour will get the nod.
Wenger trusts his system and style of play, and he knows that eventually this team will grow to be the refined product he’s aiming for.
Thing is, this is possibly Arsenal’s last game where they can realistically call themselves as title contenders (they were out of it last week, but a win here does give them a slight chance). If he decides to go all out, here’s what Arsenal could do:
Eboue, Senderos, Djourou, Clichy
Hleb, Silva, Baptista, Fabregas
van Persie, Adebayour
Play 4-4-2, stick Baptista in the middle along with Silva to deal with Lamps and Ballack, put Fabregas on the left where he has more space to operate and more importantly, where he will be able to draw away one or two midfielders every time he has the ball.
Put Walcott on the bench and have him replace Hleb (and then switch wings with Fab) at half-time if Arsenal need an injection of pace.
Hit Chelsea as hard as you can and keep the ball as long as you can. It’s your only chance, even if it’s a very slight chance.
Arsenal’s lack of defensive strength will hurt them. They have the potential to pull off a win but it will take a special effort, and right now it looks like Chelsea will win 3-0.