Chelsea travel to the Emirates on Saturday with both sides craving a win in their quest for Champions League football. The visitors currently sit in sixth position, seven points behind third placed Arsenal.
With the Premier League season in the final straight, Chelsea will be hoping to capitalise on their game in hand and edge closer to a top four finish. After a shock defeat against Wigan on Monday, Arsenal suddenly find themselves under pressure. Tottenham still trail the Gunners by five points, but Spurs have a game in hand over their North London rivals. A further loss against Chelsea could start a worrying downward trend for Arsene Wenger’s men. Saturday’s derby could be a defining moment in either side’s season.
Will Chelsea have one eye on Barcelona, or will Arsenal suffer due to their weakened midfield? Into The Top Corner takes a look at the key battles that could define the outcome of this weekend’s big game.
Tomas Rosicky v John Obi Mikel
Arsenal have been hit with a fresh injury blow this week after Mikel Arteta was ruled out for the rest of the season. The former Everton man has been pivotal in one big game already this season, with his strike from distance settling an intriguing tie between the Gunners and Manchester City. Arsene Wenger will now have to look to a resurgent Tomas Rosicky for his main creative outlet in the middle of the park.
Rosicky is susceptible to being outmuscled and Chelsea will hope that John Obi Mikel can contain the Arsenal playmaker. Mikel has had an inconsistent season, but a strong showing against Barcelona will have boosted his confidence ahead of facing Arsenal.
Ashley Cole v Theo Walcott
After keeping Dani Alves quiet on Wednesday night, Ashley Cole once again proved his defensive credentials. The England international was often assisted by Ramires, however, and Roberto Di Matteo may be tempted to rest the Brazilian in anticipation of a visit to the Nou Camp next week. Should that happen, a potentially tired Cole could find himself exposed against the sheer pace of Theo Walcott. Shackling Dani Alves is likely to have taken its toll on the England full-back and Walcott will be hoping to exploit that and beat his man frequently.
Thomas Vermaelen v Fernando Torres
With Didier Drogba set to miss Saturday’s game with a knee injury, Chelsea lose a striker with a record of eight goals against Arsenal. Roberto Di Matteo will have to call on the still inconsistent Fernando Torres to do the damage against the Gunners, and it’ll be a big ask for the Spaniard. An in-form, confident Drogba would have been sure to cause Arsenal trouble and his absence is a big loss for the Blues.
Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen has been a rock at the back this season and one of the few players able to leave Tuesday’s loss against Wigan with his head held high. Vermaelen’s ability with the ball at his feet could help to break down a resistant Chelsea, but with defending still being his main duty, he would much prefer to face Torres than Drogba and will be happy with the Ivorian missing out. Whilst Torres can count pace as one of his key assets, Vermaelen should be able to match the Spaniard in that regard, and is would have been much more likely to struggle against the brute strength of Drogba.
John Terry v Robin van Persie
After reaffirming his status as one of the top central defenders in the world against Barcelona, John Terry now faces confronting one more of the best strikers in the game. Robin van Persie fancies his chances against most defenders, but John Terry is never an easy man to get past. With van Persie still avoiding further contract talks, scoring in a derby against Chelsea would be the perfect way for the Dutchman to keep his face in the transfer window. After being shut out by Gary Caldwell in midweek, however, van Persie showed that he still occasionally struggles when decisions go against him, and Terry will look to use this frustration to his benefit.