Arsenal head to Chelsea on Sunday with the long running saga over Theo Walcott’s contract finally put to bed. While some may doubt whether the England international is worth his reportedly mammoth £100,000 a week wage packet, in the short term all at the club will be glad that there is one less distraction off the pitch.
On the back of a poor performance in defeat to Manchester City, there was much to be encouraged by in a 1-0 victory over Swansea on Wednesday that saw them progress in the FA Cup.
But Arsenal’s prime objective this season remains qualification for the Champions League this season, which makes the clash with Chelsea, a direct rival for the top four, a potentially vital one. Arsenal currently sit eight points behind Chelsea in the Premier League with a game in hand.
Jack Wilshere, who scored the winner in midweek, is optimistic about his side’s chances.
"Chelsea is a big game," he said, according to Arsenal’s official website. "They had a tough game on Wednesday night as well so we have to recover and get up for Sunday.
"We won there last year so we know we can do it. We have to take our game to them. We have to play our football. We know they've got great players and individual players who can change the game, but I think we have as well, so we'll have to be confident going there.”
On Wednesday, Chelsea’s poor home form since Rafael Benitez took charge continued as they surrendered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Southampton. It can surely be no coincidence that Chelsea have been flourishing away from Stamford Bridge and away from the often hostile atmosphere toward their former Liverpool manager.
But Benitez believes that Arsenal’s style will help his side overcome their problems on home soil.
“We need to keep calm, try to go forward in the right way and not give any hope to the other team,” he explained, according to Chelsea’s website. “Arsenal are a top team, but they will not play with 11 men behind the ball and stay on the edge of their box, it will be a different kind of game.”
Benitez has said that a decision on whether John Terry makes a first start in more than two months will be made closer to kick-off.
Arsenal, meanwhile, will continue to be without midfielder Mikel Arteta.
D: Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole
M: Ramires, Luiz
Mata, Oscar, Hazard
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs
M: Diaby, Wilshere
Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski
Prediction: It promises to be an entertaining game at Stamford Bridge with both sides capable of playing attractive soccer, yet also displaying plenty of brittleness. It will be interesting to see if Terry plays, with Walcott’s pace having the potential to cause the Chelsea captain ample problems.
With Chelsea’s stuttering home form and Arsenal being solid away from home, a draw could well be on the agenda.
Chelsea 1-1 Arsenal
Where to watch: The Premier League encounter will kick-off at Stamford Bridge at 8.30 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with an online stream available later in the day via Fox Soccer 2Go.