Showdown with Chelsea in the Snow, and I'm on the Move

Good afternoon from a fookin' freezin' New York City today. I feel bad that we've not had a post up since last Friday, although with the postponement of the Stoke match on Saturday there hasn't been much to speak of, football-wise.

Nevertheless, despite the enforced Interlull, we're back with a mostly full squad on Monday to take on Chelsea for the first time in long time. Cesc and Robin should be fully fit, Kieran Gibbs should be okay as well (although very unlikely to start), as is Bendtner, leaving us with the injured Tom Vermaelen and the out-of-favor Manuel Almunia as the only ones definitely out. While we're certainly lacking at the back with TV5's continual absence, and it would be nice to have him on Drogba, we're otherwise very much stronger than the first time we met the blues at Stamford Bridge. With Fabregas back in the side they'll be less able to place 2 men on Nasri at all times, and the availability of RVP is very encouraging; in my opinion, he's our most effective weapon against Chelsea. The everpresent Chamakh will likely get the start, but if I were making the decision I'd be very, very tempted to put Robin in the central striker's role.

What concerns me is less our attacking play but our defending, particularly from midfield. Since that first Chelsea match this season, Alex Song has spent more and more time going forward (at the behest of the manager, to be fair) than he has in his proper holding role, and our defense has suffered because of it. His forward wandering has another unfortunate result, being that more natural creative midfielders (Wilshere, Cesc, etc.) are forced to play deeper to cover his empty space. He had a nightmare match at Old Trafford and not coincidentally was our most forward midfielder, having all but abandoned any defensive responsibility. If we are to have any chance of defeating Chelsea on our home ground, Alex Song has got to refocus himself and try to channel more of Claude Makelele than of Jean-Pierre Papin. Without this, our back line and our attack will suffer in equal measure, and we cannot overcome that.

Chelsea still have quite a few issues despite the return of Terry and the impending return of Lampard. They've been rather light at the back and have not been nearly as commanding in midfield, although with such time off, don't think that Ancelotti won't have noticed and worked on this very hard. Having seen United beat us with a very direct approach and a loaded midfield, the Italian would be rather foolish not to at least emulate those tactics. It's up to Wenger to match us up better with what Chelsea will throw out. If he does start Arshavin on the left, as expected, he'll have to account for Chelsea trying to exploit Clichy at left fullback since Andrei isn't going to spontanaeously start tracking back. These are tactical concerns, and Arsene isn't so much a tactical mastermind so much as an amazing man-manager. We'll have to hope he has something up his sleeve for this one, as we've been missing that magic in big matches of late.

With Fabianski fit again, he's almost certain to return between the sticks. He's done well this season (amazing at times), but I find it's almost a shame that he's fit. Wojciech Sczcesny really looks the part and to me is a consummate goalkeeper: composed, supremely confident, athletic and BIG. And since he proved he could handle Old Trafford, I don't think there's a crowd in the world that would get in his head. Still, Fabianski can do the job, and it's not as though you could really fault him for either of Chelsea's goals last time around (both were, in fairness, sublime). What I worry about from Fabianski and see as a strength in Chesny is his bossing of his defenders. Wojciech is exceptional at this, reading the game and helping his defenders better position themselves. Fabianski is much too mild for my taste in this area, and it's hurt us in the past. I know he's got more match experience than Chesny, but there was a time when Fabianski was untested as well. You don't gain experience by sitting on the bench. This is football, not FIFA 07.

Hopefully we won't have any further weather disruptions (as Tom Watt said, "If this is what a Winter Break is like, I don't think it will come off in the UK."), but we should all monitor for updates regardless. I don't think I'll be getting out of work to watch this one at the Blind Pig (my apologies to my NYC Arsenal compatriots), and since I fly to London (weather permitting, knock wood) on the night of the 28th, this will be my last post for a while, but don't fret; I'll have lots to discuss upon returning, as I have tickets to both Wigan and Birmingham City away and Man City at home courtesy of our own N5 correspondent Gareth. Until next time then my red-and-white lovelies, Keep the Faith, and Up the Arsenal.

And lest I forget, have a Merry Christmas and I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.