In many ways, Arsenal and Chelsea’s seasons have been very similar.
Both sides have stuttered in the league and both have recently been boosted by the return of their own respective midfield stars.
Though it would be short-sighted to write Chelsea off completely, it would seem that the title race is now between Liverpool and Manchester United. Therefore both Arsenal and Chelsea are seeking success in the FA Cup and Champions League. And at Wembley this evening, it’s the former that takes centre-stage.
Back on 22 November last year, Arsenal’s season appeared to be in turmoil. After having played just 14 league games, the Gunners had already lost five and that is simply not top-four form. Since then, however, Arsene Wenger’s side have been quietly putting a string of results together. They are unbeaten in 18 league games – the longest run since the ‘invincibles’ of 2003/04.
Chelsea started 08/09 fairly brightly, but suffered three defeats in quick succession in late October and November at the hands of Liverpool, Roma and Arsenal. Earlier this year, away defeats to both Liverpool and Manchester United in the league all but ended Luiz Felipe Scolari’s six-month spell in charge at Stamford Bridge. Guus Hiddink has done fairly well as Scolari’s successor, despite losing at Tottenham just under a month ago.
Missing midfield maestros
If anyone had ever doubted how much The Blues had been missing Micheal Essien’s input in defensive midfield, one only needs to look to his phenomenal performance at Anfield in Chelsea’s 3-1 victory two weeks ago. In September, the 26-year-old Ghanaian midfielder suffered a knee ligament injury whilst on international duty and it was feared that he may miss the whole season, however he has recovered just in time for the most pivotal weeks of the season.
And Arsenal were dealt a huge blow back in December when captain Cesc Fabregas suffered a similar knee injury against Liverpool. The Spaniard was out of action for four months and was sorely missed, much like Essien was in west London.
Back on form
Arsenal will be in high spirits following an comfortable 3-0 victory against Villarreal at Emirates Stadium – a result achieved with a makeshift defence and a second-choice goalkeeper. Unlike Wednesday, the Gunners will also have Andrey Arshavin available, a player whose impact is surely partly reflected in the sizeable eight-point gap between Arsenal and Aston Villa.
Both teams are currently in good form, but Arsenal’s defensive options are extremely limited, with Kolo Toure still the only first-choice defender available. Worse still, Kieran Gibbs could be a doubt after he picked up a groin problem on Wednesday. Bacary Sagna is also a doubt after he missed the Villarreal tie through illness.
Chelsea will be buoyed by the return of skipper John Terry and Jose Bosingwa also returns to the squad. Deco is still out with a hamstring injury.
It’s the first time that Arsenal will play at the new Wembley Stadium and Chelsea will be looking to book their ticket to the final again after they won the competition back in 2007. Whichever way you look at it, this evening’s London showdown promises to be a fascinating encounter.
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Arsenal (from): Fabianski, Eboue, Toure, Silvestre, Gibbs, Arshavin, Song, Fabregas, Walcott, Adebayor, Van Persie, Mannone, Nasri, Diaby, Bendtner, Vela, Eduardo, Denilson, Ramsey.
Chelsea (from): Cech, Hilario, Belletti, Alex, Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, Mancienne, A Cole, Lampard, Ballack, Obi, Kalou, Essien, Malouda, Di Santo, Anelka, Quaresma, Stoch, Drogba
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