Arsenal's Robin Van Persie (Photo: Reuters)
Van Persie has scored two goals in three of Arsenal’s last four league matches to help Arsene Wenger’s side climb away from the bottom of the table and into seventh place after nine games.
With Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leaving the Emirates in the summer, Van Persie stands alone as Arsenal’s world-class talent in attack and the onus will be on the Dutchman to continue his recent scoring spree as Wenger’s men attempt to win away for the first time this campaign.
“He is an excellent player and the team need him,” Van Persie’s strike partner Gervinho said. “You always have to have leaders in the group and he is a player who drags the team forward.”
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas will appreciate that negating Van Persie— described by Wenger last week as the Premier League’s best all-round striker— will go a long way to negating Arsenal in the stand out match this weekend.
Chelsea will be looking to bounce back from its last league outing, an ill-tempered 1-0 defeat at Queens Park Rangers in which two of its players— Jose Bosingwa and Didier Drogba—were red-carded and seven others booked.
While Chelsea was charged by the Football Association following its players’ angry protests against Bosingwa’s sending-off and Villas-Boas was asked to explain his critical comments of the officials, the biggest repercussion from the derby defeat was the allegations that captain John Terry racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand during the match.
The England captain denies the allegations, claiming his alleged comments were taken out of context by social media users, but the incident is being investigated by the FA and has kept Chelsea in the news for the wrong reasons this week.
Last weekend’s defeat—Chelsea’s second in the league this season—left it six points off a fierce pace set by Manchester City, which enhanced its title credentials by humbling second-place Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday.
City, one of only two unbeaten sides left in the league along with Newcastle, hosts Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday while United, which is five points behind its local rival, visits Everton.
Alex Ferguson’s men began the road to recovery when a second-string team beat Aldershot 3-0 on Tuesday to reach the quarterfinals of the League Cup, but the trip to Everton will provide a much sterner test.
“As you can imagine, the usual laughs and jokes at training quietened down a little bit after Sunday and it focused our minds,” said United striker Michael Owen, a scorer against Aldershot.
“Sometimes you need a kick in the teeth to get up and going again and to concentrate on the basics. It was a big kick in the teeth.”
Wayne Rooney, a former Everton player, missed the corresponding fixture last season as Ferguson looked to protect him from the vitriol of the home fans following tabloid revelations about his private life.
However, the England striker should be involved at Goodison Park this time round as United tries to recover from its first loss of the season.
Also on Saturday, sixth-place Liverpool visits West Bromwich Albion, bottom-place Blackburn goes to Norwich, second-bottom Wigan hosts Fulham, Swansea is at home to Bolton and Aston Villa travels to Sunderland.
Fifth-place Tottenham, bidding for a sixth win in seven matches hosts QPR on Sunday and Monday’s match sees Newcastle attempt to maintain its unbeaten start when it visits mid-table Stoke.