26 April 2015

There's no way Arsenal can lose. Period.

This one is for all the marbles. Okay, no. Not really. Chelsea seem to have the Prem all sewn up. Even if we do win, it would still take an epic collapse from Chelsea to open up any opportunity for us to win the Prem. However, the match is like a microcosm for each club’s very different approaches and aspirations. For all of the hatred and vitriol spewed back and forth, Arsenal can’t lose—even if we do.

Yes, Chelsea look to have the Prem in a death-grip, and no one can prise it from their hands. With that in mind, we might view the match as more of a symbol than anything else. Winning would then only serve only a few purposes, none of which has anything to with the 2014-15 campaign. As we all well-know, Arsène has never beaten Mourinho, losing seven and drawing five. In his absence, we did a bit better, but we’re not here to parse results or stats. I’m here to take a larger view of things. Perhaps no club and no manager stands in starker contrast to Arsenal and Arsène than does Chelsea and Mourinho. Financing. Transfers. Style of play. Personality. They’re all polar opposites. Arsène is the idealistic penny-pincher; Mourinho, the Machiavellian cynic. For better or for worse, Arsène has always been courteous and deferential, with one eye on the future of the club. By contrast, Mourinho has always been self-aggrandizing and smug, leaving each club as his grating personality grinds down the squad. Each match becomes more a morality play, a proxy-war between the values each club ostensibly represents.

Back to the match itself, it’s hard to imagine anything dramatically different from Chelsea’s performance of a week ago. However, don’t miss the forest for the trees. Yes, Chelsea won 1-0 and conceded possession to Man U to the tune of 70%. While we might mock that, there was a method to that madness as Mourinho’s minions shacked Fellaini, Falcao, and Rooney while daring anyone else to step up. No one did, and Van Gaal never adjusted his tactics in any meaningful way.  The Prem is not quite yet Chelsea’s, and so I’d imagine that Mourinho will set up in much the same way—sitting back, of course, but doing everything possible to deny Alexis and Özil while daring us to find a way through a dense thicket of defenders. I hope we’ll see some high-energy pressing in the first twenty minutes to see if we can find an early goal; if we can disrupt their defense enough to earn a set-piece or two, anything’s possible. The flip-side, of course, is to defend against counters. With Mertesacker ruled out, Gabriel will likely be pressed in, but his pace and energy might give us a bit more flexibility.

Speaking of Gabriel, I wonder how much extra motivation he’ll draw from facing off against his former countryman—surely, Diego Costa’s switch from Brazil to Spain won’t go unnoticed. Even if Mertesacker is available, in fact, I’d fancy Gabriel to not only help us shackle the turncoat; he might even deliver that first Arsenal goal that he’s flirted with in recent weeks.

More than likely, though, we’re going to see something very similar to Chelsea’s “performance” against Man U, so prepare for a lot of frustration punctuated by some bum-tightening moments on those occasions that Chelsea do get forward. For as much as we might crave the win—even if only to end the hoodoo that Mou seems to hold over us—the most likely result looks to be a draw.

LAST 3:
Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal (05.10.2014)
Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal (22.03.2014)
Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea (23.12.2013)

FACTFILE
The two clubs first met on 9 November 1907, a 2-1 win to Chelsea.
Arsène has failed to defeat Mourinho in 12 matches (0-7-5).
There have been more than 2.5 goals scored in Arsenal’s last eight home games.

INJURIES
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been ruled out; Per Mertesacker is doubtful.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Ospina; Monreal, Gabriel, Koscielny, Debuchy; Cazorla, Coquelin; Alexis, Özil, Ramsey; Giroud.

If we can start with a high-energy press, we might be able to carve out a chance or two, maybe from a set-piece, to get a goal before Chelsea settle in.

PREDICTION Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea.

This post originally appeared at Goonersphere.