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Arsenal vs. Chelsea: 6 Key Battles to Watch

Charlie MelmanCorrespondent IISeptember 28, 2012

Arsenal vs. Chelsea: 6 Key Battles to Watch

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    It's crunch time in the Premier League now for Arsenal, as, after taking on Manchester City last weekend, the Emirates Stadium will welcome crosstown rivals Chelsea.

    For a team that has arguably not faced the toughest competition the league has to offer yet, this will provide another stern test, as they look to prove that they are legitimate title contenders.

    It might well be the toughest fixture of the season thus far. With the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Fernando Torres all in fine form for the Blues, the Gunners' defence will be stretched more than it has yet been.

    Let's look at the most important battle that Arsenal will have to win in order to come away with three points.

Eden Hazard vs. Carl Jenkinson

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    I think we have all been quite impressed with the rapid progress of Carl Jenkinson in the absence of Bacary Sagna.

    The right back's development has been so rapid, in fact, that he sat out the League Cup match against Coventry in midweek, a fixture that promising young players usually play in.

    However, he will face a completely different challenge against Eden Hazard, who has arguably been the Premier League's best player thus far; making mincemeat of many a defender during his short stint in England.

    If Jenkinson can keep up the quality of his recent performances and neutralize Hazard on the wing as Stoke did last weekend, it will be more difficult for Chelsea's attack to have the flair that makes it so dangerous.

Arsene Wenger vs. Theo Walcott

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    It will be interesting to see who Arsene Wenger chooses to start on the wings with a bubbling feud going on with Theo Walcott and his other options performing quite well.

    Last season, there would not have even been a question: Walcott would automatically be given a place on the right wing if fit.

    However, I hardly imagine that Wenger appreciated his player's demand to be played at striker, and, with Walcott's contract up at the end of the year, he might well be frozen out to give others a chance.

    And those replacements have responded with some great performances. With Lukas Podolski on the left, Wenger could opt for Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, Gervinho, Santi Cazorla or even Aaron Ramsey on the right for different tactical styles.

Olivier Giroud vs. David Luiz

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    Arsenal received a huge boost when John Terry was found guilty of racism by the FA and banned for four games as a result. That leaves David Luiz and Gary Cahill as the two main options in the center of the Blues' defence.

    For Olivier Giroud, that presents a very favorable matchup if he can manage to take advantage of it.

    After finally getting on the mark for Arsenal against Coventry, I would not be shocked if his increased confidence resulted in a few more nets bulging in the near future.

    And, against a central defender in Luiz who isn't really into that whole "defending" thing, he could use his physicality as an advantage.

    Even if he doesn't get another goal Giroud's running and work rate is top-notch, and that, alone is enough to make him an impact player.

Thomas Vermaelen vs. Laurent Koscielny vs. Per Mertesacker

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    Arsene Wenger is now presented with a massive selection headache every week, although it is a far better one than those he has had to deal with in the recent past.

    With Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker all fit and crucially in form, we can never really be sure who will lose out in the battle for the two starting spots in central defence.

    At the start of the season, one would have assumed that the latter would miss out due to Vermaelen's role as captain and Koscielny's incredible form last season.

    After the Frenchman's injury at the beginning of the campaign, though, things got a bit more muddled with Mertesacker playing the best football of his Arsenal career.

    So, who will start on Sunday? Arsene Wenger almost can't go wrong, but I think he'll revert to the Belgian-German partnership that has only conceded one goal from open play all season with Thomas Vermaelen over his illness.

Vito Mannone vs. Fernando Torres

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    Vito Mannone has performed admirably in his stint as Wojciech Szczesny's replacement, but I hardly think that many fans are clamoring for the Italian to replace Arsenal's No. 1 permanently.

    I think that Mannone is a quality back-up and a good option to have on the bench while Lukasz Fabianski sits out for some reason, but, after a so-so performance against Manchester City, I'm not all convinced that he's the real deal.

    Nevertheless, he will have to put it together once again against one of the most in-form attacks in the League, led by Fernando Torres, who is back in goalscoring form and can trouble a goalkeeper with his movement around the box in addition to his ruthless finishing ability.

    Mannone will have to play out of his skin once again, regardless of the defensive performance in front of him, to keep another clean sheet.

Arsenal's Midfield vs. Chelsea's Midfield

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    For both Arsenal and Chelsea, the midfield is where their respective bread is buttered; a dominant performance can win each side a game in swashbuckling style, while an off day creates problems for the rest of the team.

    What the other men on the pitch do won't matter nearly as much as who wins the midfield battle. Control possession and keep the defence covered, and you will probably get a result.

    For Chelsea, John Obi Mikel will be asked to carry out his customary defensive role again, while any of Frank Lampard, Oscar or Juan Mata could occupy space as creators or distributors.

    On the other side of the ball, Mikel Arteta will need to be at his best in the "Mikelele Role" he continues to excel in, while Abou Diaby will need to improve over his display last week and Santi Cazorla might just be the magician that makes three points out of one.

    However each performs, the success of each midfield will likely determine who gets the points at the Emirates.

     

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