Arsenal’s chances of a victory at Chelsea have been dealt a blow as Thomas Vermaelen seems unlikely to be passed fit to feature.
Although Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have showed signs of developing a partnership at the heart of Arsenal’s defence in recent weeks, Vermaelen would almost be the number one choice if available.
The Belgian has only appeared sparingly for Arsenal in the last 15 months, firstly troubled by an Achilles problem and then requiring surgery on an ankle injury just shortly after a comeback.
His latest return to action was in the Carling Cup victory over Bolton, but he again failed to see out the 90 minutes as this time he was troubled by pain in his calf.
Both the player and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger were quick to point out that he was substituted as a precautionary measure, but any hopes of an appearance in the London derby with Chelsea now appear to be crushed.
Arsenal’s odds are 5/1 to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and they have only kept five Premier League clean sheets in the past 21 games without Vermaelen.
Meanwhile, they have not shut out the opposition in an away game in the Premier League since winning at Birmingham on New Years’ Day.
Arsenal’s chances of keeping Chelsea quiet are also not helped by some other defensive issues, with Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson both unavailable at right back.
This means that Johan Djourou will continue to deputise and although he is more than capable in the centre of the defence, he may get found out for his inexperience at full back by the attacking talents of Chelsea’s forward line.
Furthermore, Andre Santos’ defensive attributes at left back have already been called into question and if he plays as advanced as he did against Stoke, Arsenal could have issues.
Vermaelen’s latest minor setback only really enhances the likelihood of a Chelsea victory, which can be backed at 8/13.