19 April 2005

Preview: Chelsea-Arsenal

There are eight games in the Premiership tomorrow, but of course I only have eyes for one. Titleholders Arsenal are traveling to Stamford Bridge to take on the heirs apparent Chelsea.

Chelsea are all but anointed as the league champions for 04/05. They have an 11 point lead with 6 games remaining. Of course it's possible that they could be caught, but this would require an enormous meltdown of four (or more) losses, when they've only lost one league match all season. Unlikely. But Arsenal still have much to fight for: to keep hope alive; to maintain second place in the league; to salvage a bit of pride; and — more than anything — to defend their title like true champions.

Chelsea have put forward a strong case for themselves as the new class of the league. Their 25-6-1 record is certainly evidence enough, as is their miserly 12 goals conceded. Rare has been the chance to unlock their goal. Only two teams have scored more than a goal against them in the league: Bolton, and... Arsenal, in a 2-2 draw at Highbury. Meanwhile, the Gunners have been true to their namesake, pounding in a fantastic 73 goals so far. Going the other direction, things are just a bit less extreme. Chelsea started the season with a low strike rate, but have stepped things up. Likewise, Arsenal have had an unusually porous defense this year, but have done much better of late.

In short, these are two well-matched teams.

Arsenal have a couple of key injury worries for tomorrow. Freddie Ljungberg is out with a hip problem. More worrisome is the absence of Thierry Henry, who scored both goals against Chelsea in December. Chelsea are still missing Arjen Robben, but (contrary to my expectation) they've kept up their scoring pace in his absence.

This game doesn't have the history and bad blood that Arsenal-Man Utd does. Still, there is plenty of dislike between the teams, most notably the Chelsea-Cole connection that is still under investigation by the FA. Add that to two highly-motivated teams, mix them into a darby match, and we could have a heck of a game.

US viewiers will have the game live on Fox Soccer Channel. Take advantage, this could be fun.

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