Arsenal need to bridge Chelsea's 11 point gap over the Gunners with a victory at the Emirates Stadium today.
Wenger used to hyperbole
LONDON // If you thought the reaction to Tiger Woods's road traffic accident was exaggerated - an initial bulletin of the world's No 1 golfer being "seriously injured" was downgraded swiftly to "minor injuries" - then that will be nothing compared to the hyperbole that will inevitably accompany the post-match analysis of a defeat or victory for Arsenal today against Chelsea.
A fourth loss of the season - leaving Arsenal 11 points adrift of their opponents - will spark a depressing post-mortem that will focus on Arsene Wenger's reluctance to spend money, the trophy-drought at the Emirates Stadium and the mental fragility of his youthful team. Three points, on the other hand, will see the French alchemist hailed as a tactical genius, provide vindication of his transfer policy and prompt fanciful talk of a first title since 2004. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
"This is not a decisive match for Chelsea or for Arsenal," said Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti. "It's an important match." Wenger, publicly at least, is unlikely to get too carried away by any outcome. One result will not shake his beliefs. He is a visionary who wants to create a legacy, an aesthetically-pleasing side without bankrupting the club. He has fostered a young, dynamic squad who could dominate the domestic landscape for years to come. If Wenger needed a ringing endorsement of his blueprint then his sought-after captain provided it.
"I want to continue to be part of what is happening here," said Cesc Fabregas. "I believe in this team and I feel we can achieve things." If anything, the pressure and expectation is on Carlo Ancelotti. He is paid a king's ransom by Roman Abramovich, inherited a huge squad bristling with world-class talent and is not only expected to win, but win with style. It will also not be lost on Ancelotti that this Chelsea team are an ageing one and will need infusing with youth and rebuilding at a huge cost in a few years. He, of course, knows all about the perils of managing an ageing team from his days at Milan: the task became so big that he jumped ship and left the onerous task to Leonardo.
Ancelotti has not needed to revolutionise the team or the tactics at Stamford Bridge and very little has changed from the days of the ruthless winning machine created by Jose Mourinho and continued by Avram Grant and Guus Hiddink. Ancelotti has implemented a diamond formation and knows that midfield quartet will need to suffocate Arsenal's fluid midfield. "Arsenal have very good midfielders who we have to control," acknowledged the Italian. "This can be a difficult match for us if Arsenal keep control of midfield."
Despite the fact that Arsenal have been rampant form at home - five games, five wins and 20 goals - Chelsea will be confident. But Wenger will remind his players that this is a side who lost to Wigan who themselves were thrashed by Spurs who Arsenal beat comfortably at the Emirates last month. Granted, Arsenal have injuries, but Manchester United were severely depleted at Stamford Bridge last month and Chelsea could only labour to victory with a controversial goal from John Terry.
Terry relishes a challenge, particularly a physical one, and Wenger will be contemplating stretching the Chelsea defence and seeing how the England captain fares against raw pace by unleashing Theo Walcott. "Theo can play central, I am very conscious of that because of the quality of his runs and the timing of his runs," said Wenger, who may need to step his search for Bordeaux's Marouane Chamakh after Robin van Persie was yesterday ruled out for up to five months with ankle surgery.
firstname.lastname@example.org Arsenal v Chelsea, KO 8pm, Showsports 1 & 2