Goal.com's Alan Dawson looks at where the Chelsea and Arsenal London derby may be won and lost on Sunday afternoon...
"Welcome to London," it said.
"Home to Chelsea Football Club."
The connotations were there for all to see... a club that had forced its way onto the scene in the 1990s with good cup successes after winning the old Second Division in the late '80s now claimed bragging rights that they were not just the best club in London at the time, but the whole country. It was as if the successes of Arsenal only a few years prior had all but been forgotten, the glory days of Tottenham Hotspur dead and buried.
Of course, this annoyed the Gunners no end. Especially considering that the Blues had gone on to follow that Premier League crown with another, together with an FA Cup, and two League Cups (one of those at Arsenal's expense).
While Chelsea have maintained a lofty league position since the inception of the current season, having accumulated 33 points out of a possible 42, Arsenal have already lost five times, reports of dressing room rifts emanated from a senior member in William Gallas, and a new - and perhaps predictable - golden boy midfielder was made the new bearer of the captain's armband: Cesc Fabregas. Sunday gives Arsenal a chance to restore some pride in the side. They know they can claim 'big four' scalps - the performance in the 2-1 victory over Manchester United with a depleted eleven is testament to that, and Chelsea's once impeccable home record has suddenly started to diminish.
So where will the game be won and lost?
Each manager emphasises the use of the full-backs. Arsene Wenger welcomes Bacary Sagna back into the side who, last season, built up a far more impressive understanding with Emmanuel Eboue in front of him as opposed to Theo Walcott. While Theo was the better player for the right flank, and more productive, Eboue was the one who had a more fluent link-up with the man behind him. Unfortunately for the Gunners, early reports suggest that Eboue is sidelined, but Sagna is expected to start. The prospect of Walcott and Ashley Cole battling for superiority on the flank would have been just as salivating as a well-earned pint of London Pride during the pre-match build up, but that is not to be. Eboue and Cole had the potential to be a fiery encounter, but that is not to be. Instead, it looks like Sagna will have Denilson in front of him, so Cole may end up having a quiet day with a central midfilder playing right wing.
Arsenal defended admirably and stubbornly against Manchester United. A few lapses were evident, but when the going got tough the last ditch tackles, interceptions, and blocks, were instigated by William Gallas. After a performance to forget midweek, together with the prospect of facing a former club and the fact that he is a big-game player, the chances are that Gallas will be key to Arsenal's chances.
A lot of Chelsea's attacking flow stems from the bombarding charges of their full-backs: Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa - a player who many scorned at his lofty price tag, but should he consistently perform to the level he has shown, then he will prove to be worth all those ducats that Roman shelled out, and more.
If you listen to 'Big Phil' Scolari on the touchline he never stops shouting at the full-back who is closest to the dugout: urging him on, ordering the overlap, pulling him back, and so on. There is a large emphasis placed by the Brazilian on the pace from the wide areas of defence, and both Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy may be restricted in their own forward game, unless they get cover from Alexandre Song and Denilson.
Interesting battles will develop all over the central areas. For starters Chelsea, for all their expensive acquistions, have failed to bring in pace in the middle of the park.
They have runners, but no electric acceleration, and with Arsenal liking to play a possessional passing game, and with Fabregas nearly getting back to his best with a good step in the right direction in the Champions League, the Gunners may be able to get behind Chelsea's midfield.
While much has already been said of the masterly stroke that Fabregas can apply on the ball, the same can be said of Frank Lampard. He has consistently been one of the top performers in the Premier League since the 2003 season, and has upped his game further this year.
There are not many who can play a long curving ball with the outside of the boot, but this is one Lampard revels in. Not only can he pick a match-winning assist, but he has a rocket shot, and his running can either detract a marker away - clearing space for a team-mate, or he can receive the ball himself. It will be interesting to see how Wenger lines his midfield up to counter Frankie's threat.
Will Wenger go:
Denilson - Song - Fabregas - Nasri
Or will he congest the midfield with five men:
Denilson - Song - Fabregas
V Persie Nasri
V Persie Nasri
With just the big man 'Bayo up top?
Didier Drogba is banned. Something that Arsenal fans may rejoice in seeing as the powerful Ivorian has not only made a mug of AC Milan loaner Phillipe Senderos, but also Kolo Toure (injured) and William Gallas on occasion.
He is an unforgiving forward so it is just as well, for Chelsea fans, that Frenchman and former Gunner Nicolas Anelka is riding the wave of some fine form (and keeping Drogba benched anyway) having recorded a dozen Premier League goals in 14 match-days. Mikael Silvestre and William Gallas will therefore need to stay strong and disciplined which, if the Manchester United game was anything to go by, they are able to do.
Emmanuel Adebayor will likely get the nod for Arsenal up top, replacing Nicklas Bendtner leading the line, with Van Persie dropping a little deeper. Should the game need an injection of pace later on the game, then Carlos Vela may get a big game bow.
John Terry has often refuted claims that Togolese targetman Manu Bayo is over-rated, or a one-season wonder, as the Chelsea and England captain is quoted in the past to have said: "I have played against some of the very best over the years but Adebayor gives me as many problems as anyone I can think of.
"He is tall and strong, powerful in the air and on the ground. He's quick and very clever. But the worst thing is, he's totally unpredictable."
With Cesc Fabregas playing more and more balls over the top of late due to playing a deeper role while partnering Denilson, Terry will need to be on guard against the long ranging ball over the top, a pass that Dynamo Kyiv came unstuck against in midweek after Nicklas Bendtner controlled the ball well, thighed it sideways, and finished well to claim three points.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you think Chelsea's superior names in midfield will be too much for Denilson and Song to contain, or will Fabregas revel in the 'quarterback' role now Adebayor is back in the side? Will Terry come unstuck against a targetman he rates so highly? How will Gallas and Cole fare against their former clubs? Goal.com wants to know what YOU think!!!
Alan Dawson, Goal.com