Friday, September 28, 2012

Preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

Possible Lineup :

Both sides will likely start in their normal 4-2-3-1 formations. Aaron Ramsey was brought into the Arsenal lineup last weekend against Manchester City on the right although his positioning was quite narrow, creating what was effectively a four man central midfield for Arsenal. This enabled Arsenal to control possession in the middle of the park in an impressive 1-1 draw at the Etihad and Wenger may look to stick with the young Welshman Saturday. Width will come from Podolski on the left and when Arsenal look to break it will likely be through him and Cazorla. Vermaelen is expected to be back in the side after illness sidelined him last weekend. Koscielny therefore will likely be relegated back to the bench despite a goal and an overall impressive performance at Manchester City.

Chelsea's starting XI is a bit more difficult to predict. Roberto Di Matteo has preferred Oscar in the center attacking midfield role in Chelsea's last two games, a 1-0 win over Stoke and a 2-2 Champions League draw with Juventus. Oscar was brought into the side against Juventus to defend Andrea Pirlo in his deep lying creative midfield role. Pirlo is tremendous at dictating the tempo of games and getting defenses out of position with his passing- by tasking Oscar with man marking him, RDM was looking to unsettle Juventus and prevent them from getting into any type of offensive rhythm. In Mikel Arteta, Arsenal have a creative deep lying midfielder similarly gifted at dictating the tempo of games. RDM may well use a similar strategy as he did against Juventus, unsettling Arsenal by using Oscar to keep him off the ball. If Oscar does get the nod at center attacking midfield, expect Hazard and Mata to play on either side of him. They'll drift inside and switch sides frequently. Given Hazard's dribbling ability and the relative inexperience of Arsenal right back Carl Jenkinson, look for Hazard to start on the left and try to take on Jenksinson with the dribble.

  1. If Ramsey starts on the right and drifts towards the center, as he did against Manchester city, it could cause Chelsea some serious problems in midfield. It would give Arsenal a 4 v. 3 advantage in the middle of the park (Arteta, Diaby, Cazorla, Ramsey vs. Mikel, Lampard, Oscar). Mikel would likely stay close to Cazorla, Lampard would have to keep an eye on Ramsey and more than likely Oscar will stay close to Arteta to take away Arsenal's deep lying creative threat and the person who dictates tempo for the Gunners. Therefore we could see Diaby unaccounted for meaning he'll have the space to make those powerful runs forward with the ball. The numerical advantage would also suggest Arsenal could boss the midfield and dominate possession.
  2. How adventurous Ivanovic is getting forward could be another key factor. He enjoys joining in the attack but isn't particularly quick to recover when Chelsea lose possession. Therefore Chelsea can at times be susceptible to counters down the right side (last season's Champions League away defeat to Napoli is a good example). With Lucas Podolski occupying the left side for Arsenal, the Gunners have a player who tracks back and defends well but also has the pace to get in behind the opposition right back when Arsenal win possession (Arsenal's first goal against Liverpool is a perfect example). If Ivanovic is adventurous and plays high up the pitch, expect Podolski to enjoy plenty of room down the left to sprint into. If I were RDM I'd be a bit cautious with the Serbian's positioning.
  3. If Chelsea do play deep and allow Arsenal to control possession, do Arsenal have the ability to unlock a crowded defense? So far draws to Sunderland and Stoke, Arsenal's two opponents that defended deep with two banks of four, suggest they do not. Without a ruthless finisher like Van Persie could struggle to turn dominant possession into goals.
  4. Chelsea would be wise to play Hazard on the left. While Arsenal's right sided defenders Mertesacker and Jenkinson have had solid starts to the season, neither player instills the confidence in their one v. one defending ability to deal with someone as quick and clever with the dribble as Hazard. He could give those two fits. 
  5. Chelsea looked desperately short of ideas last weekend when Stoke played them deep and kept their defense compact in the center of the pitch. Both Mata and Hazard like to come inside to get on the ball when they occupy wide roles so the Blues can become a bit narrow and a bit one dimensional. There's virtually no chance Arsenal will sit deep and allow the Blues to take the game to them at home (in all likelihood it'll be the other way around) but the Gunners should take note of how much Chelsea have struggled under RDM when they're forced to take the game to the opponent. They're more dangerous on the break and Arsenal should look to force them to slowly build attacks from the back.
  6. Too often this season Chelsea have given the ball away cheaply and left their back four exposed to counters (John Obi Mikel's giveaway that led to Juventus's second goal in the Champions League is an obvious example). It's crucial that when Mikel and Lampard advance up the field Chelsea keep hold of the ball or Cazorla will have a field day breaking into space behind the two holding midfielders.

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