Whenever you have Jose Mourinho in one of the technical areas, there is bound to be a bit more drama to the game. Yet this time it’s not only Mourinho’s presence that brings this game to a new and exciting level.
This game is a milestone for Arsene Wenger. It will be his 1,000th game at the club. An unbelievable achievement compared to any manager in history. It was one of the most praised and successful managers in history who was first to sing his praises for such an achievement. Sir Alex Ferguson made a statement through the League Manager Association (info via espn.com) that was full of compliments regarding this monuments achievement. These compliments by the way, coming from one of his fiercest managerial rivals throughout Wenger’s spell as Arsenal Manager.
Another of Wenger’s most bitter rivals, Mourinho, didn’t have quite as many kind words to say about Wenger’s achievement. He took the opportunity to do what he does best, take a quiet snake like shot at Wenger, hiding the cheap shot in words that could be misconstrued as a compliment. Taking shots at Wenger’s trophy drought and stating what a club Arsenal have been to stick with a manager through such tough times. Yet anger and distraction toward Mourino is exactly what he wants, so I digress.
It’s easy to forget, with all this outside drama, the title implications of this game. Arsenal sit 4 points behind league leaders Chelsea with a game in hand. With a victory this weekend they would put themselves 1 point off the leaders with a game in hand. Considering our minor dip in form over the last few weeks, that would be a great position to be in going into the final 8 games of the season. However a win a Stamford Bridge is never easy.
Both Arsenal and Chelsea are coming into this game off of big wins, however Chelsea played most of their stars mid-week and will not be as rested as Arsenal. It would be typical of Mourino in a position like this (up 4 points in the league and playing at home) to look to sit 9 men behind the ball, defend soundly, and look for the counter attack. He has the players to do so. Nemanja Matic has been a revolution for them in the defensive midfield role and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him line up there along side Mikel, Ramirez or Lampard at the weekend. It will be important for Arsenal to take their opportunities when they can. If they dominate possession they will look to pull the Chelsea defense out of the back to create spaces and gaps as they move forward. However if Chelsea don’t bite, we will need to look to our match winners to take us through to victory.
As of late, Thomas Rosicky has proven to be one of our most influential players. Similar to the timing of his outstanding run of play last year, he is coming into fine form at the end of the season. With Ozil out, he has filled into that free flowing behind the striker role quite well. With Cazorla also an option there he can move out wide as well and create just as much havoc as he proved against Tottenham last weekend. With a fresh squad and a defense that has been rock solid as of late we will need the players like Cazorla, Rosicky, and even young Oxlade-Chamberlin to put their stamp on this match.
Oxlade-Chamberlin for me has been our most improved player this year, with the only exception maybe Aaron Ramsey and his early season heroics, but again I digress. Chambo (as he is so affectionately known around the Emirates) has been a spark plug any time he has seen the pitch this season. He has strength, pace, technical ability, and a powerful shot that any superstar would like to have. Still raw in a few aspects of his game, but it is his confidence with the ball at his feet that makes him stand apart from many others. He is always willing to drive at the defense, from a central or wide position, when our passing game isn’t working. He is the other dimension that a team with our playing style needs. He will look to do it alone when no one else is creating and he has the talent to do so.
With a game that has so many sub-plots to it, you can’t help but wet your whistle leading up to this game. I sure know I’ll be wetting my whistle with a few pints and maybe even a Glenlivet just to calm the nerves before the opening whistle. My prediction: 1-0 to the Arsenal and a very sour Jose Mourinho who will struggle to stay inside his technical area the entire game.