Chelsea v Arsenal – Five players under the spotlight

Chelsea will host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge this Sunday with both clubs finding themselves under pressure from the fans and the glare of the media this season. Whilst managers Rafael Benitez and Arsene Wenger will likely be under the most intense pressure, there are a number of players who will be feeling the heat.

Both the Blues and the Gunners have underperformed and been inconsistent this season, and no one has been more inconsistent than Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker now has Demba Ba to compete for his place in the team and, as yet, hasn’t given the new signing much to worry about. If Torres starts on Sunday and doesn’t get on the score sheet in the first half, the name on the lips of every Blues fan at Stamford Bridge will be Demba Ba. Will he cope with the pressure?

I wonder how he felt being brought on by Benitez with 10 minutes to go against Southampton in midweek to find himself playing on the wing – I doubt that will have helped his confidence much but the fact that he played just under a quarter of an hour midweek suggests Benitez will start him on Sunday, leaving Ba on the bench as an impact-sub.

He hasn’t scored a goal for Chelsea in 7 games. His last came in the 3rd minute of their 8-0 thrashing of Aston Villa last year.

On the other side, Theo Walcott has been in formidable form this season. He’s the Gunners’ top scorer on 14 goals, he’s achieved his dream of playing through the middle as a striker and has just signed his reported £100,00 a week deal that meets his demands.

He’s got everything he wanted. Unfortunately you have to be careful what you wish for. With power, comes responsibility and the Englishman will need to work hard which is something he didn’t convince me he was prepared to do last weekend against Manchester City.

He also lacked precision in midweek against Swansea in the FA Cup. He had three great chances that he either pulled wide or aimed straight at the keeper. I expect he’ll start on the wing with Olivier Giroud played through the middle – he’s going to have to be a provider for the Frenchman and he’s going to have to defend sometimes or Arsenal will be exposed on that side of the pitch.

One player who usually epitomizes consistency is Branislav Ivanovic. However, the Blues owe much of their 2-0 League Cup defeat to Swansea to his mistakes. I have very few reservations that it will be a long time before he has such a bad day at the office again but when players make mistakes like that it has to effect their confidence in themselves.

He might find himself second-guessing his own decisions and that could lead to some more mistakes. If he has a solid game, all the pressure will be alleviated but another mistake and he could get caught in a very untimely patch of poor form which the Blues can definitely do without right now.

Much the same can be said for Cesar Azpilicueta who had a shocker of a game against Southampton this week. He was at fault for both of the goals Chelsea conceded. He was embarrassed by Luke Shaw for the Saints’ equalizer and beaten in an aerial duel by Ricky Lambert for the first.

If he features, he’ll likely have to handle Lukas Podolski and the German is more than capable of embarrassing him, especially if Kieran Gibbs doubles up on him. He’s going to need to prove to himself, the crowd, and the opposition that he’s not going to continue getting skinned.

Synonymously, Kieran Gibbs is going to have to stop getting skinned or he’s going to find that Andre Santos starts to look strangely appealing to Arsene Wenger. He’s been dismally lacking in concentration when he’s tasked with defending this season – he just switches off and goes to sleep on the halfway line.

He needs to have more positional awareness and discipline because Podolski is wasting his energy clearing up the left back’s mess. He needs to start doing his own dirty work – there’s no doubt he’s capable. But he needs to watch some videos of Ashley Cole and start taking some notes – or if that’s too painful for Arsenal fans, he can watch Bacary Sagna using a mirror.

images: © Ronnie Macdonald, © Ronnie Macdonald

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