Chelsea’s meeting with Arsenal early tomorrow afternoon will tell us a lot about both sides, it will also be a match-up between fatigue and momentum.
Roberto di Matteo led his side to a memorable and extremely hard-fought win over Barcelona on Wednesday, the effects of which they are likely to still be feeling when they step out at Emirates Stadium.
Whereas the Gunners will still be feeling the pain from their shock loss at the same ground against relegation threatened Wigan Athletic on Monday – an evening that will feel worryingly reminiscent of earlier in the season for fans of Arsene Wenger’s side.
News has already filtered through that Didier Drogba and David Luiz will be missing through injury for the visitors, while Branislav Ivanovic must finish the last of his three-game suspension picked up for a clash with Wigan’s Shaun Maloney earlier this month.
The question being posed by many asks if the Blues can muster another good performance to boost their bid for Champions League qualification by finishing in the top four of the Premier League, while at the same time dragging Arsenal back into a battle that looked to be taking place below them before Monday.
The absence of Drogba will be keenly felt by Di Matteo, as the Ivorian was in a destructive mood at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday and he has a record of success against Wenger teams.
He would likely be rested at the start for Fernando Torres, but not having the option of bringing him on is not ideal, especially if the Spaniard continues his up and down form.
At the back John Terry will have to play alongside Gary Cahill and both of these have been struggling with injury, most notably Terry with a case of cracked ribs – an injury he admitted affected his breathing during games.
Chelsea do not have the option of sitting back in the way they did against Barcelona as a win is vital to them if they are to have a realistic possibility of a top four finish.
It will be a fine balancing act for Di Matteo as he must try to keep his team fresh and avoid a situation where they are chasing the game, something that was their undoing in the same fixture at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season.
The presence of Barcelona on Tuesday will surely be in the minds of all associated with the club, but qualifying for next year’s competition via the league is still a far likelier possibility than returning as defending champions.
In Arsenal they will find an opponent who have their own injury problems with the continued absence of Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin and Abou Diaby only just returning, while Mikel Arteta has been ruled out for the remainder of the season.
When Wenger’s side moved five points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur it was accepted that they would go on to secure the last automatic qualification place but, as they did in with QPR, a poor performance provided a shock loss.
The momentum they built up by winning seven games in a row has been lost somewhat, though they will be much fresher than their opponents.
Chelsea have played an extra game in the same period but they have gained momentum from the victory in midweek and the confidence that comes with it.
Momentum at this point in the season is particularly important but the euphoria of beating Pep Guardiola’s side is not always a precursor to a successful run of form – last year the Gunners could only draw 1-1 away at lowly Leyton Orient in the game after their Emirates triumph over the Catalan side.
So, we have a team with slightly damaged confidence playing at home in desperate need for a win and to prove point, playing against a side who have struggled for most of the season but have managed two inspiring victories in the past week.
For Chelsea it will be a case of ignoring fatigue and keeping momentum going, while Arsenal must fight an inner battle with inconsistency and prove a point to themselves for the umpteenth time this season.
No, I don’t want to call it either.