Arsenal v Chelsea – key battles

Wenger MourinhoAssuming both managers see the merit in selecting a strong team for this game, which would put the winners within touching distance of Wembley and the Capital One Cup final, there are some fascinating head to head clashes to be relished.

Walcott v Cahill/Luiz

Whichever defender is designated to watch over Theo Walcott it may be more a question of pace rather than football ability that will prove crucial.

Cahill is arguably the player who will read Walcott’s game better than Luiz and that may just counter the striker’s blistering speed, but there is another factor and one that may just tip the scales back in favour of the Arsenal man.

Walcott`s speed gives him that extra time to assess which side of a defender to attack. He can go left or right and in the time it takes for a defender to turn, perhaps on to his less comfortable side, Theo is in on goal.

Also the ability to run directly at a defender with the ball at his feet gives Walcott a big advantage when driving into the penalty area. Back-pedalling defenders who know they will be risking a penalty-winning lunge if they allow Theo to make it as far as the 18-yard area are more prone to a dodgy decision. In that respect Chelsea supporters will be hoping that Cahill will be assigned the marking job and not their Brazilian hot head.

Cahill reads the game better than Luiz but the Brazilian is more combative. Either way if Theo Walcott is on song, like he was against Reading in last season’s Capital One Cup when he netted a hat-trick, then Arsenal will go through

Torres v Mertesacker

Crystal ball time now and when The Special One comes to writing out his team selection he may just opt to make this clash Ba versus Mertesacker. Not based on football ability because, with all due respect to the former Newcastle striker, Torres ticks far more boxes in the ability department. But as this is a cup-tie, and a one-off to boot, the one box that Ba out ticks his Spanish team mate, if indeed Fernando even has half a tick, is appetite.

Since his halcyon days at Liverpool Torres has allowed a discernable drop in his application to the task in hand. If things don`t go well for him, very early in a game, he disappears inside himself and is neither use nor ornament. Whether that occurs because he misses a goal chance, misplaces a pass or miscues ball control or gets wacked by a physical challenge he then becomes a passenger. However, the Spaniard looked back to his best in Round 3 of the Capital One Cup against Swindon, when he scored and provided a delightful assist.

Ba on the other hand, even if he is not having the best of games, will still chase and harass. He will run after a lost cause as willingly as he will contest any physical challenge and whilst Torres will show finesse in front of goal Ba has a hunger for goals the Spaniard seems reluctant to display, if he has a hunger at all.

Maybe Jose will hedge his bets and start with Fernando and if it becomes a case of Fernando`s hideaway throw Ba on as an impact substitute.

It`s almost a given who the German centre back would rather face, and that would be the man with World Cup and European Championship medals.

Wilshere v Lampard

A real, man against boy scenario in the maelstrom of the midfield battle on which progress will hinge.

It will be fascinating to see the two England men go head to head and because of Wilshere`s lack of match fitness against Lampard’s ageing (though it doesn`t show) legs it could be a more even contest than it should be considering their relative ages.

If you were to attempt to quantify both players on the basis of skill set it would be a very close call though Lampard`s phenomenal scoring record is something that Wilshere, with years ahead of him, can only dream of.

So, if it is such a close call what will be decisive? It could be that age-old (pun intended) question of experience.

Lampard knows, like London buses, that when things break down another chance comes along. His mind set accepts that failure is transient and not permanent. The inexperienced Wilshere does tend to let such blips affect his temperament and consequently his game.