28 October ~ Tomorrow’s game at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Arsenal could prove to be a season-defining match for both teams. Having been beaten 1-0 at Loftus Road last weekend, with two men sent off, and seen skipper John Terry accused of making racist comments towards QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, manager Andre Villas-Boas will be keen to steady the ship this weekend. As the clocks went back this time last season, and the Blues' league form began to slide, Carlo Ancelotti was criticised for failing to address the fact that the core of the Chelsea side was too old.
Twelve months on, the Blues have added David Luiz, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata (a long-time Arsenal target) to the ranks, but the old guard is still at the Bridge and is unlikely to disappear without a fight.
The question remains, do Chelsea need more reconstructive surgery to strike a balance between youth and experience? Tomorrow's match will go a long way to providing the answer. Recent signs have been that Torres (back from suspension for the clash) is rediscovering his goal-scoring touch after two years of injury and loss of confidence and form. It could provide further evidence of Torres's rehabilitation, or if Arsenal's defence holds firm, prove that the £50 million striker still has some way to go to being anywhere close to what he was in his Liverpool heyday.
As for Arsenal, their recent form has been more promising. With two league wins on the spin for the first time since early New Year, progression to the League Cup quarter-finals, and a good position in their Champions League group, there is cause for quiet optimism among the fans. Yet they will be aware that along with Manchester United and Barcelona, the Blues have become Arsenal’s "brick wall" opponents in recent seasons. Aside from that 3-1 victory at the Emirates last Christmas, the Gunners' recent form against Chelsea has been dreadful, with Chelsea striker Didier Drogba so often the architect of their downfall.
Games against Chelsea have come to highlight Arsenal's defensive frailties and naivety, and lack of a Plan B against robust opposition. Arsenal's central defence has looked more solid recently, and Arsène Wenger is looking forward to the return of Thomas Vermaelen, but memories of the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford, and to a lesser extent the 4-3 farce at Blackburn, will take a long time to fade and heal. A similarly chastening experience at Stamford Bridge and the doom laden tabloid headlines will be recycled once again. Jon Spurling