Arsenal FC: 4 Predictions for the Gunners' Match Against Chelsea
For the Gunners, it started with a 1-1 draw at home to Everton (a draw was probably a fair result) before scraping through to the Champions League knockout round with 2-0 loss to Napoli. The week was capped off with a thrilling yet disappointing 6-3 loss at Manchester City.
Oh, and they'll have to play Bayern Munich, the best team in the world, in the Champions League round of 16.
Now, however, Arsenal have the chance to set things right and, more importantly, reclaim the top spot in the Premier League with their game against Chelsea.
The two London rivals have produced some exhilarating games of football over the last few years, and with the amount of offensive talent on display, don't expect that to change.
Without further ado, here are four predictions for Arsenal vs. Chelsea.
Theo Walcott Will Score
Although Arsenal's battering at Manchester City was, all in all, a terrible day, one positive that fans can take from the game was Theo Walcott's performance.
The England winger made his first start since returning from a two-month injury layoff and was easily Arsenal's best player, as he scored two well-taken goals and arguably netted the best goal of the game.
Walcott seemed to give Arsenal a different dimension, as Arsene Wenger has often been forced to play Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere or Tomas Rosicky in the 24-year-old's absence. As a result, the Gunners have had little to no width in their play, often relying on full-backs to provide width or just sticking to the slick passing interchanges in the center, which have been quite effective in scoring goals.
On his day, Theo Walcott is one of the most dangerous players in the Premier League, especially when combined with the passing prowess of Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey. He has a knack for scoring against Chelsea—three goals in the last five games between the London rivals—so I'm expecting him to do so again.
Arsenal Will Overrun Chelsea in Midfield
While some will point to what Yaya Toure and Fernandinho did last weekend, Arsenal arguably have the best midfield in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger has a plethora of technically gifted midfielders to choose from when selecting his starting lineup against Chelsea, with Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil all competing for just a few spots in the center of the pitch.
I see Wenger going with Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta in the two holding midfield positions, as Mathieu Flamini was poor against Manchester City and Arsenal missed Arteta's metronomic passing and defensive nous. Mesut Ozil, of course, will start in the No. 10 position, although Wenger did admit that the German international needs a break.
With Chelsea likely to go with Ramires and John Obi Mikel in center midfield, with Juan Mata or Oscar ahead of them, the midfield battle will likely decide the outcome of the game.
While Mikel can do an admirable job of protecting the back four, I think Mesut Ozil will be too much for the Nigerian international. Ozil's specialty is creating space for himself out of nowhere, and partnered with either Tomas Rosicky or Santi Cazorla on the left wing, he has the potential to torment Chelsea's midfield and defense.
Thomas Vermaelen Will Have an Uneventful Game (in a Good Way)
The rise and fall of Thomas Vermaelen has been quite incredible.
The Belgian had a stellar debut season, scoring seven goals from center-back and securing a place in the PFA Team of the Year. An Achilles injury then saw him make just five appearances in the 2010-11 season, but he returned to the first team in the 2011-12 campaign with 29 league appearances and six goals.
After Robin Van Persie left in the summer of 2012, Vermaelen was deservedly appointed captain for the 2012-13 season. However, his performances rapidly went from solid to mediocre to downright shocking, and he was dropped from the first team toward the end of last season.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny formed a formidable partnership in Vermaelen's absence, and the 28-year-old has barely had a sniff in the first team since. His only Premier League start this season came in Arsenal's 1-0 loss at Manchester United, where he actually put in a solid, if not impressive performance.
With Koscielny picking up a knee injury against Manchester City, Vermaelen will be looking to seize his chance in the first team against Chelsea.
It's difficult to evaluate him based on performances this season, as there's so little to judge him on, but the former Ajax man is mentally strong and will have a solid, uneventful game alongside Mertesacker.
Olivier Giroud's Goal Drought Will Continue
Olivier Giroud started the season in fine form, with an impressive tally of 10 goals and five assists in all competitions.
The Frenchman has gone off the boil in recent weeks, though, failing to score since November. What Giroud has done so well this season is contributing to the team in other ways when he's not scoring goals, whether it be with assists and link-up play or with his excellent work rate.
Not only have the goals dried out, but the former Montpellier man's performances have been substandard in the past few games. Against Manchester City he was downright wasteful, missing three good chances to get Arsenal back in the game.
Giroud clearly has trouble scoring against the bigger teams in the Premier League: Spurs are the highest-placed team he's scored against. The 27-year-old is beginning to show signs of fatigue after being so heavily relied on by Arsenal due to the club's lack of strikers, so I'm expecting his drought to continue against Chelsea.