Arsenal travel to Stamford Bridge off the back of progression in the F.A. Cup and realising that the natives are restless at the Bridge.
Chelsea’s home record under Benitez is almost the mirror image of their excellent away record, which may encourage Arsenal. However, Chelsea away is always one of the toughest fixtures of the season.
Rafa Benitez is unpeturbed by watching his side having thrown away a two goal lead against Southampton on Wednesday, because Arsenal will provide a different test.
‘If you score three goals in the first half, it won’t be fragile.
‘The main thing is to keep calm, keep pushing and trying to go forward in the right way, and then we won’t give any help to the other teams.
‘Arsenal are a top team, but they won’t be 11 men behind the ball on the edge of the box waiting. It’s a different kind of game.’
‘The main thing is we have to do our best from the beginning. If we score they will enjoy it.
‘We have to do our job and they will follow the team. We have to win together. Hopefully we can start against Arsenal.’
Arsene Wenger was coy over the effect a home crowd can have on home form, with Chelsea’s recent games having seen unpopular boss Rafa Benitez routinely the subject of cutting chants.
‘”You never know how much it affects the players. The crowd can be a bit difficult or become enthusiastic if the game turns well.
“Of course it tests the mental strength of the players. But for young players especially, it is not easy.
“I think it is part of our job to deal with that and the only thing I can say, it is easier to play in a positive environment than in a negative environment.
‘It is part of a football player`s career to deal with both sides of it. We have all played in hostile atmospheres. But it should not stop you from playing.
“I feel sympathy for every manager until the day I play against him. Then the sympathy goes and comes back after the game.’
Chelsea Team News:
Rafa Benitez will make a decision on Saturday as to whether John Terry is fit enough for a game of this magnitude. The Chelsea captain has been sidelined for the last two months with a knee injury.
Oriel Romeu (knee) is out for the season. Jon Obi Mikel and Victor Moses are on African Nations duty.
Chelsea (from): Cech, Turnbull; Ivanovic, Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ferreira, Bertrand, Cole, Luiz, Lampard, Ramires, Marin, Mata, Hazard, Oscar, Torres, Ba, Maoluda, Benayoun.
Player to watch: Juan Mata
Quite probably my vote for Player of the Season in the Premier League at this stage. Mata just ozzes danger and whoever plays in Arsenal’s defensive midfield position will need eyes in the back of their head.
He showed back in September that he’s even a threat from set pieces, has a magnificent shot and an eye for a pass. He orchestrates this Chelsea team.
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal have Laurent Koscielny back from suspension, but Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta (both calf) will not be fit in time. Lukas Podolski is a doubt due to illness.
Lukasz Fabianski (ankle) and Gervinho (international duty) are absent.
Arsenal (from): Szczesny, Mannone, Sagna, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, A.Santos, Coquelin, Frimpong, Diaby, Wilshere, Ramsey, S.Cazorla, Walcott, Chamberlain, Podolski, Arshavin, Giroud.
Player to watch: Abou Diaby
With Arteta absent, Abou Diaby has probably been rushed into more action than Arsene Wenger would have liked. Diaby played as ‘the sitter’ with Coquelin next to him as ‘the runner.’
Diaby will need to hone his defensive instincts further after a good performance against Swansea, but he’ll need to lose the ring rust and bring his passing game up to scratch. Especially because he’ll have Mata, Hazard and Oscar buzzing around him on Sunday.
Match Facts & Stats
Chelsea has won just one of their last seven league games at Stamford Bridge – their worst run at home since 1995.
Juan Mata has 8 assists this season, more than any other Premier League player.
Chelsea have picked up five bookings for simulation this season. More than any other side.
Arsenal ahve averaged 59.8% possession away from home this season, more than any other side.
Arsenal have a win percentage of just 14% without Mikel Arteta since he joined the club.
The two teams have met 178 times, with Arsenal winning 71, Chelsea 55 and 52 draws.
Ashley Cole will play against his former club. Yossi Benayoun also spent last season on loan at Arsenal.
The game will be officiated by Martin Atkinson.
Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling in my water about this one without some more experienced players. I just see Mata, Hazard and Oscar having too much for us without Arteta. 2-1 Chelsea. Mata and Ba, Cazorla for Arsenal.
Arsenal will play at home to West Ham United on Wednesday night. Chelsea play at Swansea in the 2nd Leg of their League Cup semi final on Wednesday, chasing a two goal deficit.