On Saturday at Emirates Stadium, Chelsea have the ability to throw the race for Champions League spots in the Premier League into total disarray. With a victory over Arsenal, they would blow the race wide open. Suddenly, third and fourth place would both be up for grabs, with four teams fighting for the spots.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, this crucial game is sandwiched between two meetings with Barcelona. Just three days after this London Derby, they travel to the Camp Nou where they will try to protect a 1-0 lead against the Blaugrana. Because of their position in Champions League, they're likely to rest some players even though this is more or less a can't-lose league game for them.
Didier Drogba is almost certain to be rested, while Branislav Ivanovic is suspended domestically. They will be replaced by Jose Bosingwa and Fernando Torres. Those are virtual certainties, but there is a lot of uncertainty in midfield. The five players behind Torres could be any five players, based on who Roberto Di Matteo feels he needs to rest and who he feels can play three games in one week. Ramires appears to have the fitness to run super marathons and his versatility almost certainly guarantees him a place, but the merits of playing or resting just about anyone else is up for debate.
Arsenal will be going all-out for the win in this one, but they're without some key players. Yossi Benayoun, who is on loan from Chelsea, cannot play against his parent club. The Gunners will also be without Mikel Arteta for this game and the rest of the season after he picked up an ankle injury in the loss to Wigan Athletic. Aaron Ramsey will replace him in midfield, and he'll need to have a great performance. He has had a very shaky year for Arsenal, and they're going to struggle against Chelsea if he gives the ball away regularly.
Projected Arsenal lineup (4-2-3-1): Wojciech Szczesny; Andre Santos, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna; Alex Song, Aaron Ramsey; Gervinho, Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott; Robin van Persie