How Arsenal Will Line Up Against Chelsea

Charlie Melman@@charliemelmanCorrespondent IIDecember 22, 2013

(FILE PHOTO - EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image Numbers 177996036 (L) and 452339145) In this composite image a comparison has been made between Chelsea Manager Jose Mourinho (L) and Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger. The Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea takes place on December 23, 2013 at the Emirates Stadium, London, England. ***LEFT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: Chelsea Manager Jose Mourinho looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on August 26, 2013 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Manager Arsene Wenger of Arsenal looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Arsenal and Olympique de Marseille at Emirates Stadium on November 26, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Arsenal and Chelsea will play what, for both teams, is one of the biggest matches of the season.

With Liverpool's win, both sides need to take all three points to hoist themselves back into the condensed top-four pack that is currently chasing the Premier League title.

After an emasculating 6-3 thrashing last weekend by Manchester City, Arsenal really need to get back on track and stop their small skid. In their last three games, they have drawn against Everton and lost to Napoli and Manchester City.

The Gunners did not look close to their best in the latter two encounters, but that might just be due to fatigue. Arsene Wenger did not want to use tiredness as an excuse for his team's lackluster performance, but dead legs almost certainly hindered the Gunners' performance against elite opponents.

This week, however, Arsenal have had nine full days of rest. Though Chelsea rested some key players in their Capital One Cup clash in midweek, they have not had the benefit of a short vacation.

Thus, Wenger will not have to worry about squad rotation, as he almost always does. And the prolonged dead period has given Lukas Podolski time to regain fitness after returning from a hamstring tear.

So, while there are fewer restrictions on the possible starting XI, Wenger's choices are not easy. Here is how he might line his team up to deal with Chelsea:

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A few interesting notes:


Thomas Vermaelen is in for Laurent Koscielny, whose knee gash will keep him out for this and probably a few subsequent matches.

It is therefore up to Vermaelen, the club captain, to marshal the defense with Per Mertesacker, who has recently emerged as one of the team's foremost leaders. Mertesacker and Koscielny have formed a rock-solid partnership at Vermaelen's expense and have formed the bedrock for Arsenal's success in 2013.

The Belgian's timing has been excellent on both occasions he has been called in to start: this game and Arsenal's match against Manchester United several weeks back.

Vermaelen obviously would rather not fight for his place in the team against England's best opposition, but a disciplined performance against Fernando Torres, Juan Mata and Co. will certainly put him back in Arsene Wenger's good graces.

Thomas Vermaelen has a big point to prove
Thomas Vermaelen has a big point to proveAlex Livesey/Getty Images

The manager might also opt to start Mikel Arteta in place of, or alongside, Mathieu Flamini in midfield. But Chelsea are a swashbuckling attacking side, and Flamini has shown that he is the more effective defensive midfielder.

Arteta is capable of doing a job back there, but he is not as purely dedicated to the less glamorous side of the game as Flamini. Arteta has also struggled in recent matches to dictate possession, as he usually does, while providing the back four adequate support.

Wenger could also opt to place the two alongside each other, as he did against Manchester United and Napoli. But that is a very conservative move and hamstrings Arsenal's attack. With Aaron Ramsey ahead of Flamini, the Gunners should have the requisite balance of steel and energy to defend dynamically.

Just as Arteta's form does not merit a place in the starting lineup, neither does Santi Cazorla's.

For whatever reason, the Spaniard has simply not clicked this season as he did in his first campaign with Arsenal. He has not linked up with Mesut Ozil nearly as well as one would have hoped and remains relatively isolated on the left wing.

However, Tomas Rosicky has been extremely productive whenever he has been played. Wenger loves to start him against high-profile opposition because Rosicky can retain the ball and will relentlessly press to win the ball back in all areas of the pitch.

Cazorla has done neither of those things well this season, and while his poor form is bound to turn around eventually, Rosicky is simply the better option in a game of this magnitude right now.

If the Czech can successfully exchange passes with Mesut Ozil, who needs to really step up following a listless performance against Manchester City, and Olivier Giroud, whose goalscoring drought has yielded much scorn from Arsenal supporters, the Gunners will have a chance at slaying Jose Mourinho's Chelsea.