Arsenal vs. Chelsea: Complete Preview, Team News and Prediction

Charlie Melman@@charliemelmanCorrespondent IIApril 20, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16:  Robin van Persie of Arsenal is tackled by Emmerson Boyce of Wigan during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Wigan Athletic at Emirates Stadium on April 16, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Arsenal will play Chelsea on Saturday in a rematch of the Gunners' thrilling 5-3 win earlier in the season.

The atmosphere surrounding that fixture, however, was quite different from that of this weekend's tie. Back in the fall, Arsenal was a club in crisis and Chelsea was not mired in a fierce Champions League battle with arguably the greatest club side ever assembled.

But there is a tremendous amount at stake for both sides at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal, having just lost a seemingly easy match against Wigan their last time out, will need a win to solidify their third place position, with Tottenham lurking five points behind with a game in hand.

Chelsea, meanwhile, are just hoping to qualify for next season's Champions League, and a win over their London rivals Arsenal would put them in a very favorable position to do so.

A win against the Gunners and another in their extra game would put the sixth-placed Blues just a point behind third-placed Arsenal, an indication of just how tight the race for Champions League football is.

Thus, both teams will be extremely motivated to play an attacking style to get a result that will be absolutely crucial with only four games remaining in the Premier League season.

Chelsea will also have the extra motivation of avenging the aforementioned 5-3 pounding that Arsenal laid on them at Stamford Bridge in which Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick and Theo Walcott ran riot.

In that fixture, the Blues were clearly second class, and they could not withstand the pressure of an Arsenal side playing near their attacking best, which the Gunners will have to be at again if they wish to put paid to the visitors' Champions League dreams this time around.

Both sides have their share of problems, though.

Crucial midfield metronome Mikel Arteta is set to miss the rest of the season for Arsenal after suffering an ankle injury against Wigan that Arsene Wenger called a "quite serious one."

Supporters will hope that there is no van Persie-like long-term damage to his ankle ligaments, but the short-term question of who will assume the Spaniard's role is a massive one.

By far the most logical solution is Aaron Ramsey, who has been somewhat unfairly criticized in recent weeks, and is one of the hardest-working players in the Arsenal squad. The Welshman will give Arsenal an impressive work-rate and can, in fact, make a decisive pass in midfield when necessary.

The key is to not deploy him in an unnatural wing position, but the youngster clearly has potential, and will find better form at some point.

Arsene Wenger does not have many other options to turn to, though. Yossi Benayoun cannot play because of asinine league restrictions on playing against his parent club, while Abou Diaby lacks any sort of match fitness after playing in only one reserve game recently, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is too raw to have the responsibility of anchoring a midfield thrust upon his shoulders.

Chelsea, though, have fitness issues throughout their entire squad.

After exerting themselves to their physical limits against Barcelona in midweek, finding the stamina to keep up with a much better-rested Arsenal team will be extremely difficult.

Roberto di Matteo will need to rotate some of his squad members, but the majority of the players who secured that famous 1-0 victory over the Catalans will not be dropped due to their importance to the team.

In a match of only slightly less intensity than the Barcelona game, there will be many tired legs that will struggle to cope with the pace of the likes of Theo Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho.

And let us not forget that, only a few days after Chelsea take on Arsenal, they must travel to Spain and devote themselves even more to securing a favorable result in the cauldron of the Camp Nou.

That hellish series of fixtures is sure to take a mental and physical toll on those whose bodies are unfortunate enough to endure that week of torment.

Arsene Wenger may want to use the pace and youth in his squad to take advantage of his opponents' fatigue, which he often complains of in his own sides.

Overall, this is a matchup that definitely favors Arsenal. Even though Chelsea are having a bit of a renaissance at the moment with their recent FA Cup and Champions League triumphs, there is only so much of a beating that an aging squad can take before it begins to wear.

Plus, the Gunners have displayed a propensity to show up for bigger matches with more regularity, and I doubt that any Arsenal player will approach such an important game with the same malaise that permeated the team against QPR and, to an extent, Wigan.

This is the type of match that should progressively become more and more open and free-flowing as it wears on, and the deciding goal may well be scored near the end of the match.

Chelsea's form and improved quality means that they are just too good to allow the same sort of debacle that they conceded at Stamford Bridge, but unfortunately the schedule has conspired against them here.

That is why, despite the problems that they too suffer from, I predict a 2-1 win for Arsenal, with both goals coming in the second half.

If the Gunners do emerge victorious, there will be even more pressure on the Blues to do the impossible and take down Barcelona, because the only way for them to qualify for next season's Champions League might just be to win it.

For Arsenal, their grip on third place will tighten to an almost unbreakable level.


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