The pick of this weekend’s Premier League matches sees Arsenal head to their London rivals to face Chelsea in what looks set to be a crucial encounter for both sides. There may only be three points on offer but this match could potentially mean a lot more than that with the business end of the season now fast approaching. Chelsea are still harbouring slim hopes of mounting a Premier League title challenge while Arsenal will be hoping to keep their Champions League qualification hopes alive with a win at Stamford Bridge with both teams sitting third and sixth respectively in the Premier League table.
Chelsea will start the match as warm favourites at home and Interim Manager, Rafa Benitez, will be eager to pick up a win over one of their big rivals. New Striker, Demba Ba, has joined the ranks this month and it will be interesting to see whether he or Fernando Torres starts the match on Sunday afternoon. The Spaniard has shown glimpses of his best form this season but Ba has been in fine form for Newcastle this season and his sharpness in front of goal could well see him given the nod for the big games like this one but Ba did his chances of leading the line no harm when scoring the opening goal in Wednesday night’s 2-2 draw with Southampton.
Arsenal are coming off of a home defeat in the League last weekend when they went down to Man City and a late winner was enough for them to see off Swansea City in the FA Cup 3rd round replay midweek. Defender Laurent Koscielny was sent off in the early stages against City and he will miss the trip to Stamford Bridge while the same can be said of Mikel Arteta who has picked up calf strain and could well be out of action for a couple of weeks. That will of course make this an ever tougher assignment but Chelsea have proven inconsistent of late and the Gunners will very much be hoping to put the home side under pressure and record back-to-back victories at Stamford Bridge following last season’s thrilling 5-3 win.
It must be remembered that it was only a couple of weeks ago that we saw QPR go to Chelsea and come away with a 1-0 win and with that and the result against Saints in mind, Arsenal could pose a real threat. Wenger’s side boasts plenty of players who are capable of causing Chelsea problems with Theo Walcott chief among them as he continues his spell as a central striker. The former Southampton player, who has so far refused to sign a new contract, has scored 14 goals so far this season and Arsene Wenger will be hoping he can continue that form on Sunday afternoon as much as he hopes the 23 year old puts pen to paper on a new deal.
This a difficult match from a betting point of view but we can’t see past Chelsea here to heap more misery on Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal side. The home side are likely to have too much talent going forward with the likes Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar all set to feature behind either Ba or Torres. The Blues did show in mid-week that they are far from a safe bet when giving up a 2-0 lead against Southampton but we take them to bounce back against the Gunners in Sunday afternoon’s live Sky game.
The bookmakers make Chelsea the 5/6 favourites for the win with the away win a 10/3 chance and the draw is 11/4. As it stands, Chelsea sit 13 points behind table toppers, Man Utd, and just five points ahead of Everton in fifth so three points on Sunday is critical in consolidating their chances of a quick return to Europe next season. Arsenal on the other hand, although still in the season’s Champions League with Bayern Munich awaiting in the last 16 next month, will be equally as mindful that whilst they sit six points off the pace of bitter rivals Tottenham in fourth, they run the risk of not qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in 14 years. Therefore, as already mentioned, the result on Sunday potentially goes way beyond three points…