Having attended Led Zeppelin's triumphant concert at the O2 Arena, the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, will today cross the Thames in search of equally invigorating entertainment at the Emirates Stadium. While northern soul gets an airing at Anfield, Abramovich and 60,000 others will watch London's style wars, with Arsenal cast in the much admired role of the beautiful south.
Good times, bad times; Stamford Bridge has unexpectedly had its share already this season,the communication breakdown with Jose Mourinho leaving supporters dazed and confused when Avram Grant succeeded him. But since an initial defeat at Old Trafford, Grant has overseen 16 games without defeat to earn himself a four-year contract.
In matters of style, his excellent impression of grumpy old bear with a particularly sore head can easily obscure a sense of freedom more evident in the team's play than under Mourinho. The 6-0 grounding of Sven Goran Eriksson's Manchester City high-fliers was the best example, and even last Tuesday's scoreless draw against Valencia was notable for 18 shots on goal.
The worry, of course, though Grant affects not to be perturbed, was that in the absence of DidierDrogba, not one of the 18 went into the net. His former colleague William Gallas, now Arsenal's captain, was erring on the side of gallantry the following night when he said of Drogba: "Everybody knows he's a good player, but they still have good players like [Andriy] Shevchenko, [Salomon] Kalou and Joe Cole. I don't think there's a lot of difference, because Chelsea are still Chelsea and it will be difficult to win against them."
Frank Lampard, one of many English players with a new manager to impress this weekend, added his own name and that of Shaun Wright-Phillips (one goal this season) as potential scorers,though he was stretching credibility in suggesting that it would be better to play against Ars-enal's full-strength midfield than the patchwork version likely to be available today. "In a funny way it would, because you like to play and test yourself against the best, you don't want people saying afterwards that there were any excuses either way.
"It's for them to have to chop and change and stay strong without two of their big players. We've had to do that all season and we'll go there without probably the best striker in the world, so it's six of one and half a dozen of the other. Winning the Premier League nowadays is about testing your squad, because you'll have patches where you don't have your best players."
To lose the central-midfield pairing of Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini, plus Alexander Hleb, has been a huge blow for Arsenal that finally took a toll in the North-eastern tour of Newcastle (1-1) and Middlesbrough (1-2), allowing Manchester United to close to within one point and Chelsea to three. If Gilberto Silva and either Abou Diaby, Denilson or Lassana Diarra are in the central area, Lampard should have scope to attack them even without support from the suspended Michael Essien.
Grant's scouts will also have noted how a modest Steaua Bucharest, outplayed for an hour on Wednesday, still found abundant space behind Arsenal's full-backs. The bonus for Arsenal was the return of Robin van Persie, available again to providethe much-needed support for Emmanuel Adebayor in attack.
An exciting clash beckons, with London calling to those faraway towns in the North-west. As Lampard says: "Liverpool and Man U obviously both can't take full points. What's nice for us is that we've closed the gap over the last month. Arsenal have been playing fantastic football. We are obviously two teams that play with different styles, and that will be one of the fascinatingthings to see."Reuse content