In a few hours Arsene Wenger's cachet of excuses will stand another test. No one exposes the systemic frailties of the Gunners in a more stark light than the Blues. And on one knows it better than Wenger because when it comes to analyzing their recent history, the manager uses the classic dodges of rationalization, denial, and projection. He seems to have finally come to some such realization about a mental block.
"I believe that my players are quite solid mentally," said the manager. "But they have not won yet and that is a mental hurdle everyone in life has to get over."
It comes down to two things. A hunger to win. And making the best of opportunities. The first can motivate you to exceptional levels. The second is a snapshot of efficiency. The Gunners give that in glimpses. Against Man Utd and Chelsea one needs to maintain unflagging levels because when it comes to these two attributes they are on a different level.
These are the encounters where leadership is as much of an attribute as skill. The Gunners have suffered tremendously when it comes to showing the necessary conviction against their peers. It starts with a leader on and off the field.
Unfortunately, there is no such figure in the squad. Fabregas has been a subdued presence and Vermaelen is out with injuries so a collective pulling up of their socks is required. They meet a club which is also struggling with self assurance and polish. But they do not lack leaders and thrive exceptionally well against Arsenal. Carlo Ancelotti is playing up that record to juice his team.
If there is a poster boy for what is frustratingly obvious about Arsenal, then one should look no further than Arshavin. Exceptionally skilled, maddeningly indolent. A season ago his defensive liabilities were a non-issue with his impeccable creativity and scoring instincts. Now Wenger is left with a problem of exposing the right flank with his induction. Having said that Arshavin still represents the best bet to get around Jose Bosingwa to keep Chelsea from moving inside in numbers and bottling up the middle.
Fabregas is hopefully back to a much sharper version. His pale season contrasts with the high flying Nasri. But the Spaniard is still very much the creative force and is as close to an emotional leader as we can get. His presence will give much needed shape to the somewhat current amorphous midfield.
Both Robin Van Persie and Marouane Chamakh represent different challenges. The Dutchman is still obviously a gear down from top speed but Chamakh has shown an unnecessary and unwelcome deference for a striker. Jack Wilshere will be delegated for his disruptive duties in midfield - one of his duties will be to render Frank Lampard ineffective.
At the back one hopes Wenger will pick Johan Djourou far better equipped to handle set piece threats than Koscielny. And Arsenal will have to take care of Drogba who has feasted on them at will. Song and Co. will have to force him outside because a contest between Squillaci and the Cote D'Ivoirian will end badly.
The importance of a victory at home over Chelsea cannot be overstated. Here it is in stark terms:
" Chelsea have won their last five games against Arsenal. In fact Manchester United and Chelsea have triumphed in 14 of their last 18 against Wenger's men. Didier Drogba has played against the Emirates Stadium side 13 times - winning ten, drawing three and scoring 13 times."
A win does not just materially give three points but it reverses an adverse record and infuses massive amounts of self belief that it can continue. Almost as tasty as winning the Premiership.