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Tuesday, 06 April 2004

715: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Lucky Chelse

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by : Antony Melvin

In Britain we love an underdog. And in football terms every time there is a game between domestic teams where one of those teams is Arsenal, the other team is the underdog. The events of Saturday when a tired looking Arsenal side were beaten by a highly motivated Manchester United side does not change this.

To paraphrase a clich, Arsenal will not have to be at their best to beat Chelsea, but Chelsea will have to be at their best to beat Arsenal.

Arsenal are still a delight to watch. And recent results which have seen them draw with Chelsea and Manchester United and even losing to United in the Cup do not change this. If the ball had run for them, as it has done so many time this season, they would have won all three games, the papers would be in raptures and all would be set up for a processional romp tonight. But doubts have crept in and suddenly this is not the way the papers are writing this one up and the papers are now widely predicting an unlikely Chelsea success.

Irrespective of the papers if Arsenal play near to their ability they will win and play Real Madrid in the semi-final. Arsenal will be missing no-one who is irreplaceable and even if the weekend doubts over Reyes and Ljungberg do clear up, Arsene Wenger is still likely to prefer the more combative Bergkamp and Edu. Chelsea are missing Cudicini as well as Desailly – but team news is unlikely to be a major consideration.

But Arsenal are starting to look a little tired, as they did at this time last season. Of course a victory will reinvigorate and drive them on to further success, and results in these one-off games will not stop them from winning the title. But right now Arsenal are vulnerable in one-off matches – so perhaps Chelsea have struck lucky in facing them tonight.

Chelsea have endured a miserable sequence of results against Arsenal, failing to beat them in 17 games. And as all sequences have to end, its high time that this one was buried. Six years of draws and defeats were almost ended in the first leg of this tie, and surely Chelsea have now got the confidence to believe that they can end this run.

Tonight seems set up to be a classic, and so will probably be awful. The most likely result if both teams continue their current form is a draw – possibly a 1-1 draw that will result in extra-time. If Arsenal’s luck really is on the turn – and to maintain such a long unbeaten run requires a big slice of luck – then they could be upset by another highly motivated team.

Chelsea are in better form, are highly motivated by an emotional manager and are in the middle of a less hectic schedule. If, and it remains a big if, they have a fair share of luck tonight then Chelsea will win. Tonight Arsenal are at their most vulnerable since their home defeat against Leeds United 11 months ago.

A lucky Chelsea team will come good and beat Arsenal tonight.

Antony Melvin

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Antony Melvin

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