This Saturday, Arsenal faces a massive challenge with a trip to West London, to face Premiership leaders Chelsea. In this critical match, a victory could see the Gunners pull to within one point of first place, and a defeat would seem them fall seven points off the league lead. Seven points down in the first week of October is certainly not a desirable position to find oneself in.
For a squad such as Arsenal, matches like this provide an opportunity to prove that you're more than just flash and potential. A win against Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge no less, would confirm that the Gunners are for real, and could be a potential challenger for the league title. To do so however, Arsenal needs a reasonably full squad, and the return of some key players from injury if they are to challenge the veteran squad of Chelsea on their home turf.
Throughout the course of the football season, injuries are inevitable. They can strike anyone, anytime, playing a massive role in the fortunes of a team. For fixtures as crucial as this, against a team as deep and talented as Chelsea though, a team hopes to have most of their top players available.
Unfortunately this shall not be the case. Long-term absentees, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner are still out for at least the next few weeks. There is hope that Cesc Fabregas and Manuel Almunia may recover in time for the clash with the Blues, but so far, Arsene Wenger is unable to confirm the fitness level of either.
According to Arsenal.com, Wenger stated, "I don’t know [about Cesc]. It looks a 50:50 but a 50:50 balancing on the negative side. I will find out on Saturday morning.” That doesn't sound promising unfortunately, and to defeat a strong Chelsea side, Arsenal must have their dynamic captain, and inspirational leader, Cesc Fabregas. His form prior to his injury was scintillating, and Arsenal could certainly benefit from his presence.
Samir Nasri is perfectly capable of running the midfield in Cesc's absence, but if Fabregas is available, it would allow Nasri the ability to play in a more advanced role with Chamakh and Arshavin up front, spearheading the Gunners' forward line, making it all the more formidable.
The absence of Almunia may not be as distressing, as many fans and football pundits already question his credentials as a top-flight number one in the Premiership. His flops and blunders have cost Arsenal plenty of points in the last few seasons, and just as recently as last weekend's match with West Brom, was partially to blame for the devastating loss at the Emirates.
His backup, number two goal-keeper Lukasz Fabianski is fresh off a confidence bolstering performance in the Champions League, as he manned the goal during Arsenal's 3-1 road victory over Partizan Belgrade. Although he too has shown a propensity for massive errors and goal-keeping indecision, his match against Partizan was very solid, as he made several fine saves, including a crucial save of a penalty kick in the dying minutes of the game. It could be precisely the type of performance to boost the confidence of the young Polish keeper and propel him to further success. Of course though, Partizan Belgrade is certainly no Chelsea.
Far more damaging to Arsenals' hopes is the continued absence of Thomas Vermaelen. His injured achilles is not progressing as well as Wenger hoped, and he remains unavailable. His commanding presence in the defense would be vital in an effort to stymie Chelsea's offensive attacking prowess.
Since Johann Djourou's display against Partizan proved that he has yet to shake off the rust after a year-and-a-half out due to a knee injury, it is presumed that the central defensive partnership will consist of newcomers, Sebastian Squillaci and Layrent Koscielny. Squillaci looked slow and was caught out of position a few times, but his veteran experience should prove useful against the strong offensive onslaught of Chelsea. Koscielny is seemingly improving with each match, as he continually adapts to the physicality of the English game. This partnership needs to gel quickly if they are to withstand all that Chelsea brings their way on Saturday.
Further adding to the necessity of the defense shutting down Chelsea is the fact that the Blues have thus far only allowed two goals in six Premiership matches. The defense needs to step up and deliver a strong performance, as Arsenal cannot hope to score at will at Stamford Bridge.
The possibility remains that Fabregas, Diaby and Almunia could recover in time for the Chelsea match, and the hope is that at least of few of them do. If the Gunners are to mount a serious challenge at Stamford Bridge, Arsene Wenger certainly does not want to venture into such a hostile environment without as many weapons at his disposal as possible.