Here we go again. Pantomime season has finished (I think – I’m not a big panto fan) just in time for this farcical Chelsea side to turn up at the Emirates Stadium.
Since we moved to our new ground, things between the two clubs have been weird. Petr Čech and Cesc Fàbregas still play in the fixture, but on opposite sides. The Spaniard will be the boo-boys’ main target on Sunday, fitting into the role previously assumed by Ashley Cole.
Once again this clash sees the former champions, the team top of the league heading into the weekend and the team fans of other clubs have laughed at the most this season. Arsène Wenger will be in the Arsenal dugout, John Terry will be at the back for Chelsea. You get the point: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In a buoyant mood on Thursday, Arsène Wenger charmed the media. He wouldn’t be drawn on Chelsea’s season, saying they wouldn’t be relegated and refusing to comment on the ‘specialist in failure’ moniker José Mourinho gave him less than a year ago. One of those managers now tops the league, the other is unemployed.
The boss also paid tribute to Theo Walcott. This week marked 10 years since Walcott signed for Arsenal and Wenger had this to say:
“He has moved forward – he is very responsible, very focused, very hard working. Today he’s become a very important part of the team.
“He has qualities that hard to find – intelligence of movement and timing of the movement and you don’t find that often in the modern game.”
Walcott has a fantastic record against Chelsea and could be key again on Sunday.
Mesut Özil is available for selection after missing last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Stoke City with a foot injury. He should be joined in the squad by Alexis Sánchez, who hasn’t featured since November. However, Arsène Wenger is being cautious with the Chilean.
There are no other problems, and Tomas Rosicky, Francis Coquelin and Danny Welbeck remain out despite nearing their returns.
Midfield signing Mohamed Elneny will probably be on the bench again as he hopes to make his Arsenal debut.
Possible XI: Čech; Bellerín, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Ramsey; Campbell, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.
Since José Mourinho left the Blues they haven’t lost a game. Seven in all competitions and six in the Premier League, Guus Hiddink can be satisfied with the upturn in results.
The form of Diego Costa has had an upturn too, with the Spaniard scoring five goals in his last five games. He has recovered from a bruised tibia to be fit for the game, which is the first between the two sides since his actions were surrounded by controversy in September. Eden Hazard is also available.
Overall Chelsea have looked a little more stable, but they have still only won two of their last six in the league and have managed to conceded eight goals in that time.
Still 14th in the Premier League and just four points from the relegation zone, there’s still work to be done.
Possible XI: Courtois; Ivanović, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta; Mikel, Fàbregas; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Diego Costa.
Results against Chelsea haven’t been good for a long time now. The occasional win is all what we’ve had to settle for, but this is a perfect opportunity to begin a new sort of ‘era’.
Mourinho is gone and the visitors will be nervous given their year so far; let’s take advantage of the frailties they have shown all season.