At 11 AM EDT on Sunday, October 3, Arsenal go down the road a piece into West London. The opponent: only Chelsea, who have recently been quite unkind to Arsenal. The match will be shown on Fox Soccer Channel.
All is not especially rosy in either camp. Chelsea will be without midfield inspiration Frank Lampard; however, the Englishman has hardly been the primary problem against Arsenal in recent years. That role has fallen on Ivorian striker Didier Drogba, who has been the kryptonite to Arsenal's Superman, or maybe he's been the Superman to Arsenal's Captain Marvel. Or something. He's really quite good and has never lost to Arsenal. Coming in for Lampard will most likely be Brazilian midfielder Ramires.
Arsenal, though, are old hats at this injury game. Cesc Fabregas will not be back from a hamstring injury, Kieran Gibbs is out with a calf problem, and Thomas Vermaelen is still not ready to come back. Abou Diaby is doubtful, still recovering from the Paul Robinson tackle, presumably. Manuel Almunia is still out with an elbow complaint. The usual (Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie, Aaron Ramsey) are still out as well.
For his part, Arsène Wenger is typically bullish ahead of the clash, saying that "history does not win you games". There is no reason to believe that Arsenal cannot steal at least a point on Sunday. Key to any success, though, will be the play of either Sébastien Squillaci or Laurent Koscielny in the physical battles against Drogba. If the Arsenal defenders can keep him in irons without sacrificing too much space to the very dangerous Nicholas Anelka and Florent Malouda, things should go much more smoothly than last season.
Arsenal did a good job of maintaining possession in both of last year's matches, but they simply could not find a way to keep Drogba and Chelsea quiet on the counterattack. The Gunners will have to be wary of leaving a lot of space when attacking to avoid the kind of deluge they suffered last year after losing the ball.
And of course, key to that will be the play of the midfield, which as of right now looks likely to be three of Alex Song, Jack Wilshere, Denilson, or Tomas Rosicky. Song and Denilson are probably the best choices, given Song's defensive role and Denilson's ability to pass calmly out of pressure in midfield, and Rosicky's more incisive passing makes him a natural choice for the spot left empty by Fabregas' injury. Jack Wilshere, though, has been in incredible form, and seems likely to start.
Given that Marouane Chamakh will be starting at center forward, Arsenal will probably also look to give him service from time to time from the wings. Gaël Clichy and Bacary Sagna will have to take care, though, not to let Malouda, Cole, and Anelka exploit the space behind them too easily. It's a bit of a dilemma for Chamakh, as he has the size and abilty to trouble John Terry and Alex. But he's also demonstrated a fine ability to drag players out of position with his movement off the ball, so Arsenal might allow him the freedom to roam a bit and have Rosicky try to exploit the spaces he creates with incisive passes through to Samir Nasri, Andrei Arshavin, or whomever else Wenger sticks on the wings.
Lukasz Fabianski? Well, he'll just have to rule.
What does everyone think? Who will put Drogba in his pocket on Sunday? Who will form the midfield trio?
Sagna Squillaci Koscielny Clichy
Nasri Chamakh Arshavin