Battle of Arsenal's old darling Fabregas and new hero Welbeck
CHELSEA v ARSENAL
(Tonight, 9.05pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Arsenal's new hero comes face to face with Arsenal's old hero at Stamford Bridge tonight.
Danny Welbeck's hat-trick against Galatasaray in the Champions League in midweek cemented his place in the hearts of the supporters but, if the Gunners are going to take anything from the day, they'll need to find a way to negate the powers of Cesc Fabregas.
The former Arsenal captain has settled instantly into life in west London, forging an excellent partnership with Nemanja Matic, allowing the rangy Serbia midfielder to handle the running, while he concentrates on his strengths, delivering the ball into the danger zones.
When you see some of those trademarked "dinked" passes to Diego Costa, you wonder why he didn't return to Arsenal when it became clear that Barcelona were ready to sell.
He is a top-level footballer, intelligent and technically adept, the kind of professional who renders large transfer fees meaningless.
For him, £30 million ($61.5m) is not expensive. It is simply money well spent.
And yet, Arsene Wenger was in uncharacteristically mischievous mood this week, helpfully informing journalists that Fabregas' first choice of destination in the summer actually had been Arsenal, not Chelsea, "but I don't want to make a big story of that".
Too late. To undermine Fabregas' position with his new club, and his new supporters particularly, was a stroke of cunning worthy of Jose Mourinho himself.
Wenger felt that Arsenal had enough offensive midfielders in the squad already and that the money could be better spent elsewhere, namely up front with Alexis Sanchez and Welbeck.
And you can certainly see his point.
With Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey earmarked as the partnership of the future, Fabregas' presence might have hampered their development.
And what they really needed, of course, was a striker.
Had Wenger not moved for Welbeck, Arsenal would be in a perilous position.
Lukas Podolski has done little to suggest that he can handle the central role, though he does still prove a useful impact substitute.
Sanchez is a footballer of the highest calibre, but is still acclimatising to the English game and lacks the physique to run the lines on his own.
Yaya Sanogo, now injured, may one day be good enough for this level of football, but certainly hasn't done anything to prove it so far.
Olivier Giroud's long-term injury left Arsenal short.
Welbeck has filled the gap superbly.
After two near misses in his first two games, there were premature suggestions that the former Manchester United man was a flop, an inferior striker.
It was palpable nonsense. Welbeck is not yet the finished article, and equally hysterical comparisons to Thierry Henry are just as silly, but he is a fine footballer who has clearly improved the club.
It is not simply what he adds to the team going forward, but what he provides in the other direction.
Whatever the result, John Terry and Gary Cahill will know that they have been in a game tonight.
Welbeck will be relentless, hurling himself into challenges, snapping at their feet as they attempt to build from the back.
Arsenal's supporters, some who resented Welbeck's acquisition in the summer, are now beginning to see why so many United fans resented his sale.
His intelligence isn't always noticed, but his work-rate is unmissable. In the stands, and in homes around the world, Welbeck is already a darling of the fans.
Fabregas is the sort of player who would fit into any team, but his presence wasn't a priority at a club already stacked to the rafters with midfielders.
But, as Welbeck begins to fulfil his potential, it will become even clearer why Wenger chose not to bring back a hero of the past, but instead to invest in a hero for the future.
“I wanted him because i know the player he is. He’s one of not many players who can play as a No. 8 or a No. 10, so that gives me possibilities to play him in both positions and build a midfield knowing that.”
— Jose Mourinho, on Cesc Fabregas
“The fact that he plays regularly now in his (central) position means he is improving, adding to his game and that is very positive. There is a lot more to come from him, especially because he has the basics.”
— Arsene Wenger, on Danny Welbeck
FABREGAS' EPL STATS
- Games: 6
- Goals: 0
- Assists: 6
- Shots: 9
- Pass success: 90.1%
WELBECK'S EPL STATS
- Games: 3
- Goals: 1
- Assists: 1
- Shots: 13
- Pass success: 85.7%
BY THE NUMBERS
Chelsea have netted 19 league goals in their opening six games — it took them 12 matches to reach that mark last season.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 11 league games (W7, D4), although they have drawn four of their last five topflight fixtures.
Mourinho: We won't be 'invincibles' like Arsenal
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea are top of the Premier League and unbeaten entering tonight's clash with Arsenal, but the Blues boss does not expect the feats of Arsene Wenger's "Invincibles" to be emulated.
The Gunners negotiated the 2003-04 Premier League season without defeat, an achievement previously performed only by Preston in the 1880s.
Just like Chelsea's one-in-a-generation 6-0 defeat of the Gunners in March, Mourinho believes it is not something which will happen in the modern Premier League era.
"It's something that happened once in a lifetime," Mourinho said.
"I don't see, in modern football with the competitiveness of this Premier League, one team being champions without a defeat.
"That will stay in the history as the second and the last time."
Chelsea have won five and drawn one of their six Premier League games so far this season and face a Gunners side also unbeaten.
Arsenal capitulated on their last visit to Stamford Bridge, a match remembered for the gaping defensive holes as well as referee Andre Marriner's mistake in sending off Kieran Gibbs for a handball committed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Mourinho anticipates a much sterner test of his side, which features former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas pulling the strings in midfield.
Fabregas was a precocious teenager when Arsenal won the 2004 title.
"They will always be difficult opponents," the Blues boss added.
Mourinho loves the intensity of a derby and testing himself against the best.
His players will also need no additional motivation, just a few instructions.
"I like it difficult," he said. "I like to play against the best. My players also like it. Sometimes we are worried about the focus and we are worried about the approach.
"When you play big matches, you know the players are more than ready for that. I have a meeting with them, but not a motivational meeting. Just a meeting to try to analyse a few things.
"Just about football. Never about the emotional side of it, or the motivational side of it."
Wenger, meanwhile, has told his team that posing their own attacking threat at Stamford Bridge will be just as important as keeping "killer" Chelsea striker Diego Costa quiet tonight.
Spain international Costa (above) has scored eight goals in six Premier League appearances since his £32 million ($66m) summer move from Atletico Madrid, but Wenger insists Arsenal - spearheaded by Danny Welbeck, who netted a European hat-trick in midweek - can offer plenty of forward threat themselves.
"You have to find a balance between nullifying their strengths, but without forgetting to express your strengths," he said.
"It is very important that we focus and concentrate on us having great determination, great desire and great hunger to have a great performance, and focus on ourselves and the way we want to play."
Wenger has long been an admirer of Costa, and is impressed by the way the Brazil-born forward has settled so quickly into the English game.
"He has done fantastically well," the Frenchman said. "He has all the aspects of a striker - he is focused, always determined and ready for a fight.
"He has also got players who can feed him like Fabregas and (Eden) Hazard, who can find him with final balls.
"Costa is a very efficient player. The timing of his runs and his determination, his killing determination - you feel he is a killer, he has that in him (when in front of goal)." - PA Sport.