Pre-Saturday Sunday preview

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Morning all, and it’s now a mere 57 hours away from our next home game. Anyone not noticed? I think we can safely scrub talking about anything else between now and then.

Obviously, Sky think Christmas has come early with a fixture like Sunday’s, but even for scoffers of Sky, once you’ve scraped the hype off this one there still can be no denying that Arsenal v Chelsea is a pivotal game for both teams.

It’s fair to say that following about a decade of Arsenal dominance in this fixture, in recent years fortunes have swung the other way a bit. Last year we smashed-and-grabbed our way to a 2-1 win at their place, but got walloped 4-1 at home in the return, which came immediately after being walloped at home in the European Cup semi-final. Cruel times.

I suppose those two games summed up what we had known since about September of 2008 – that we were clearly off the pace. This time round, however, and things feel different in many ways. By and large we’ve performed well and have shown signs of real promise – signs that we’re making progress. And as a football fan, progress has got to be the next best thing to winning trophies.

For me, it’s one of those really fascinating games because on top of the standard annual rivalry, it will give us a good indication what the real state of play at the top of the table is. Lose and we have a mountain to climb – and could drop back to fourth depending on other results. Win and we would be a game in hand away from narrowing the gap to two points.

Chelsea are undeniably setting a fine pace this season. But those who consider that Chelsea’s power, size and experience will be too much for our depleted ranks would do well to remember that, on the evidence to date, we are a much better side this year than last.

We have a 100% home record in our favour, and while Chelsea’s home record is equally as impressive as ours, on the road they have lost twice and conceded seven goals. They’ll be as wary about our game-changing players as we will be of theirs. And in Fabregas, Arshavin, Rosicky, Walcott, Nasri and Eduardo, we have plenty of pint-sized creativity.

It’s such a shame that we can’t face them with our best line-up, but injuries have been one of the less enjoyable threads permeating this season and by now we’re entirely used to making do and mending. Having said that, we’re not as short of players as it sometimes seems (though we are short of players who aren’t short – but that’s another argument entirely).

Up front we’re obviously without Bendtner and van Persie, with Clichy and Gibbs missing at the back. Gallas, we were told yesterday, is another big doubt but I’d be hugely surprised if he didn’t make the starting line-up. Given his bitter departure from Chelsea, and given the less than palatable alternative or Silvestre or Senderos, both he and Wenger will want to patch him up and get him out there.

So assuming he makes the cut, we’re a left-back and a centre-forward away from being able to field our best XI in the favoured 4-3-3 formation. It’s not so bad when you put it that way.

I’m getting giddy already.


Arsenal since about 1979. Thick, thin and all that.