London's two best and most entertaining teams encounter one another this weekend in what is routinely a goal-fueled attacking clash. Arsenal travel to Stamford Bridge to take on the might of Chelsea in what is a defying and vital match for both Premier League giants.
Neither sides have made ideal starts to 2011/2012 with the Gunners' worse for wear. However Arsene Wenger's men have emphatically returned to form, recording consecutive EPL victories in recent weeks and seven out of eight in all competitions.
The Blues are returning from a shock 1-0 loss to newly promoted Queens Park Rangers in a fiery encounter that has ensured talisman striker Didier Drogba and defender Jose Bosingwa will miss the match through suspensions. Furthermore captain John Terry is currently being pursued on racism allegations.
However, Chelsea rarely lose at their home ground and are aware of the vitality of three points against their rivals. Andres Villas-Boas's men are third on the Premier League table, six points behind leaders Manchester City and a loss will intensify the toughness of attempting to regain the Premier League crown.
Arsenal are gradually producing better and better football following their squad adaption and will enter the game rich in confidence. Furthermore captain Robin van Persie is in immense form with nine goals from thirteen appearances this term and is instilling belief throughout North London.
However this is a huge test for the Gunners' and one that needs to be overcome for their season to prosper and the continuation of form and confidence. But will they get the Blues at the Bridge?
As always, BleacherReport predicts the Arsenal starting XI.
Wojciech Szczesny is a certain starter. The Polish keeper has been in scintillating form since the season commenced and enjoyed a midweek rest as countryman Lukasz Fabianski was promoted for the Carling Cup. However, the Poland international will return to his role as deputy against Chelsea.
Italian youngster Vito Mannone will continue to perform for the reserves. Englishman James Shea and veteran Manuel Almunia are on loan.
The Gunners received a huge boost in the Carling Cup as defensive leader and vice captain Thomas Vermaelen returned following a two-month layoff from ankle surgery. Although the Belgian failed to complete the 90 minutes, forced off with calf cramp, Vermaelen is fully fit for the Chelsea match and it is certain Wenger will utilize the 25-year-old.
Vermaelen is likely to be partnered in the centre defence by German giant Per Mertesacker. However, Frenchman Laurent Koscielny is also a valid candidate, and if Wenger has concerns over Vermaelen's fitness Koscielny will feature.
Renowned right back Bacary Sagna is still recovering from a broken ankle sustained at the start of the month, whilst teenager Carl Jenkinson is considered fit for the Chelsea encounter, following a knee complaint. However, Wenger may feel safer utilizing imposing Swiss Johan Djourou on the right due to his experience and leadership.
England international Kieran Gibbs sustained a stomach muscle problem last week, but is considered fit to play. Brazilian international Andre Santos is likely to start. Teenage trio Nico Yennaris, Daniel Boateng and Ignasi Miquel plus veteran Sebastien Squillaci all featured in the Carling Cup midweek and are unlikely to be considered.
Defensive midfielder Alexandre Song captained the side against Stoke City last week and produced a strong display. The Cameroon international is a definite starter for the match and is likely to be partnered with playmakers Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta, who will orchestrate the midfield.
Israel captain Yossi Benayoun completed 90 minutes against Bolton midweek along with Emmanuel Frimpong and French youngster Francis Coquelin, which renders the trio unlikely to feature. However, Frimpong and Benayoun are likely to join Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky on the bench.
England international Jack Wilshere is still nursing an ankle injury but is expected to return in February, whilst imposing Frenchman Abou Diaby is considered following a lengthy layoff from also an ankle injury, but is unlikely to feature at all.
Who Will Conquer?
Captain Robin van Persie will lead from the front as the lone striker, and the Dutchman will hope to continue his goal-scoring stardom. The 28-year-old will be integral in an Arsenal victory. England international Theo Walcott, who has begun to frustrate fans with his lacklustre performances, is a certain starter on the right wing following Andrei Arshavin's contribution midweek.
Ivorian forward Gervinho, who was outstanding against Stoke City last weekend, is certain to start on the left wing. Arshavin will join imposing Moroccan Marouane Chamakh on the substitutes bench, which means South Korean captain Chu Young-Park—who scored an amazing winner in the Carling Cup midweek—Ryo Miyaichi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all miss out, highlighting Wenger's attacking depth.
With seven places on Wenger's bench, Lukasz Fabianski as always will be the backup keeper, Kieran Gibbs and Laurent Koscielny the emergency defenders. Tomas Rosicky, Yossi Benayoun and Emmanuel Frimpong are the midfielders, whilst Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh make up the forwards.
A tantalizing encounter which the whole of England, and even more London, will eagerly await.