LONDON // Arsene Wenger does not like the numbers. Neither the sparse count of Arsenal successes over Chelsea since 2004 (two), nor the alarmingly large number of goals scored by Didier Drogba against his team - nine in the last six matches. First, the Arsenal manager counters with a statistic of his own. Over the past decade, he contends, his team have had the better of results against Chelsea. Then, he simply re-draws the dimensions of the argument. "I don't believe in history," Wenger said. "If history was predominant, things would never change."
"Spain had not won the World Cup until 2010 and when they had a good team they won it. It is as simple as that. "It is not the history that dictates results. History dictates preconceived ideas. You do not win games with preconceived ideas. You can lose games, but we have to be above that. We have to show that we are good enough to win the game. You have to make your life and your history by turning up with good performances."
There are reasons to sympathise with Wenger. The half-decade of calculated penury that has seen Arsenal build a new stadium while relying on the Premier League's most youthful squad is nearing fruition as their grandest rivals redraft their own ways. Roman Abramovich has tightened the tap on Chelsea's once seditious spending, leaving Carlo Ancelotti with the shallowest squad of the main contenders. At Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson can no longer spend huge sums on a ready-made player.
As Arsenal's income and profits reach record levels the changes have been noted. "Manchester United do not spend money on big-name players and that is good news because it lends a little bit to the competition," Wenger said. "Chelsea announce that they want to balance their accounts as well. It is the first time I've seen some young players coming into their squad. ." Like Arsenal, except that the north Londoners have a hefty head start. Wenger's is a squad that has already grown up together. Young, but rich in top-level experience. One that the manager can now begin to round out with a few seasoned acquisitions, while warning Ancelotti of the penalties of an enforced stratagem of blooding youth: "It's not easy because you usually pay for the education of young boys with points."
The breakwater on this turning tide is a familiar one. Last season, Arsenal travelled to Stamford Bridge without a recognised centre forward.
This year, they arrive without an entire central spine. Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Thomas Vermaelen and Manuel Alumnia are all absent through injury. Wenger, though, is conscious of the psychological value of ending a nine-game run of failures against the top two; and anxious not to miss an opportunity to distress Chelsea as they weaken.
Michael Essien v Alex Song
Despite all the attacking talent on display, there is a sense that this game could be decided on the counter-attack. Essien and Song, below, have the ability to break up play with well-timed tackles and they can launch attacks which could prove pivotal.
Chelsea have dominated Arsenal in recent years. They certainly have a bigger, more powerful line-up and, on the face of it, a more efficient attacking unit. But Arsenal can play any team off the park on their day.
Chelsea have won nine of the previous 13 games between the two London sides. Last season’s combined scoreline over two matches was 5-0 to Chelsea.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Cech; Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, Cole; Obi Mikel, Essien, Ramires; Malouda, Drogba, Anelka
Arsenal (4-5-1) Fabianski; Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy; Song, Denilson, Nasri, Arshavin, Rosicky; Chamakh
• Last week’s 1-0 defeat at Manchester City was the first time Chelsea had failed to score in 25 Premier League matches.
• Arsenal are without a clean sheet away from home in the last 10 matches.
• Arsene Wenger celebrated 14 years in charge of Arsenal on Friday.