Chelsea secured top spot in the Champions League group stage as they defeated Porto courtesy to a close range Nicolas Anelka header. The win continues the Blues impressive run, both in front of goal and protecting their own. Carlo Ancelotti’s men must now look forward to a super Sunday showdown with Arsenal.
Returns for several first team players were in line against the infamous Portuguese side with top performers from last Saturdays 4-0 win dropped to the bench or rested entirely. Michael Ballack, Deco, Branislav Ivanovic, Ricardo Carvalho and Yury Zhirkov were recalled as was the influential Didier Drogba. Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa were still omitted from proceedings with their individual injury problems although Cole and Lampard are both pushing for match fitness ahead of Sundays clash with their London rivals Arsenal. Chelsea dominated large portions of the proceedings but were struck with a couple of surprise efforts from Porto midfielder Fernando Belluschi to which Petr Cech assured the Blues of his shot stopping abilities and played a part in protecting yet another clean sheet for the Pensioners.
Arsenal have failed to punish the Blues in recent campaigns with the West Londoners holding the more glamorous head to head record of late. Not since Thierry Henry was involved have Arsenal managed to cause Chelsea particular problems. The notorious Frenchman struck 10 past Chelsea during his illustrious career with the Gunners yet the same cannot be said of Eduardo or Nicklas Bendtner. Although Arsenal have historically struck first on a number of occasions their defensive liabilities have restricted them from holding on to or capitalising upon an early advantage. Chelsea’s key strike man Drogba has often bounced back with a brace against the North Londoners and will look to continue in the same vain this Sunday. Drogba’s partner in crime upfront is an ex-gunner and will have to act upon his strong words in a recent interview as Anelka claimed winning the title with Chelsea would be more meaningful than the one picked up with the London Rivals in 1998.
The problem for Arsenal unfortunately will be containing the Chelsea entourage that have been scoring freely of late. In particular that of Drogba who since joining the Blues has scored eight times in the respective games he’s fared in against Arsenal. An admirable achievement against any club let alone a member of the top four. Manager Arsene Wenger may have been quietly disheartened by the return of Drogba in the west Londoners Champion’s League tie with Porto this Wednesday. Although an unspectacular display from the powerful front man there’s no doubt the striker was given an opportunity to regain fitness before Sunday’s clash. The Ivorian has caused problems for most Arsenal defenders from Pascal Cygan and Philippe Senderos to Kolo Toure and Mikael Silvestre but will Thomas Vermaelen and ex Chelsea centre-back William Gallas be added to the list this coming weekend. It is likely they will certainly have an eventful afternoon.
Arsenal are likely to come out with guns blazing in this fixture as regardless of their opponent Wenger’s footballing philosophy stands tall (a quick paced passing game). The Gunners are likely to utilise Cesc Fabregas’s eye for a pass and aim to play through the Chelsea stronghold with tricky footwork from Andrei Arshavin and Eduardo. The injured Robin van Persie is a big loss for the North Londoners and they may struggle to successfully replace the fire power around the Chelsea box. A tough visit for the Blues is likely to be met with careful planning, as Ancelotti’s men will look to the Arsenal’s weaknesses, most notably of which is their physical presence. Chelsea try to win this physical battle by recalling Michael Essien into midfield and releasing the much talked about Didier Drogba whenever possible. An interesting battle as it always is when these two teams collide but expectations will lie in the favour of the Blues despite being the travelling side.