Monday, December 27, 2010

will the big-game hoodoo continue?

Chelsea have been in rotten form of late but seem to love playing against Arsenal.

Their last two visits to the Emirates have both yielded victories of a three goal margin.

They have Frank Lampard, who has been sorely missed, making his first start since his injury a few months back.

Fabregas returns too, but he's often been bullied out of games against Chelsea. And you could say that that's the problem in microcosm. Chelsea tend to have too much power and pace for Arsenal. It's almost like the ghost of Wenger's successful Arsenal sides is haunting the current bunch, in the form of a Chelsea team that have all of that old power and poise and character, and the trophies to match.

The tables have turned in a big way over the last five years or so. Pre-Abramovich, Chelsea went almost ten years without beating Arsenal in the league. Chelsea were the team who entertained at times, but too often looked a team of style without substance.

Now the upper hand is Chelsea's and Arsenal are the ones who crumble when the big matches roll around.

After meek defeat at Old Trafford a fortnight ago, it is undeniably crucial that Arsenal produce some kind of performance. But it remains difficult to back them because they continue to look naive tactically and lacking in the necessary mental fortitude.

At Old Trafford, there seemed at least a desire to keep things tight. But the toothless result of that shift in emphasis worryingly suggested that when Arsenal play in a more balanced manner, they lose a too much of their attacking threat. Overcommitting seems to be their style, but if they overcommit that will play into Chelsea's hands. And if they sit back a little and play with more caution, it may lead to a closer game, but also take away from Arsenal's ability to create chances.

And perhaps the greatest worry of all is that Drogba has made meat of far better Arsenal centre halves than Koscielny and Squillaci.

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