When last our heroes met the evil overlords of football, their minion, Mike Dean effected what looked like a good meeting in the making. The last meeting resulted in a 2-0 loss to the evil empire. Fast forward to January and lots has changed.
Jose Mourinho has been consigned to living on the dole and has replaced by one of the other Chelsea-shortimers in Guus Hiddink. Chelsea sit 4 points clear of the relegation meanwhile our beloved Arsenal sit perilously upon the summit of the Premier League table. None of this likely would’ve been envisioned back in September when the two last met.
Today, the table has taken some of the sting out of Chelsea’s visit. The come in not as contenders but as relegation fighters (yes, I said it.) They come in as a team that has only meagerly improved over the form they were showing under Jose Mourinho. If anything stands in Arsenal’s way, it isn’t the visitors but the homeside themselves.
It seems almost a broken record but Arsenal have shown throughout the season that if they are up for it – they can decimate even the best teams in Europe. The real problem is that sometimes it appears that they try and walk through a match without much energy. While patience can be understood – at some point matches – like this one need to take on an urgency factor and Arsenal need that in order to beat Chelsea on Sunday.
Yes, Arsenal can absolutely beat Chelsea. I venture that they could actually inflict serious pain on the visitors – but will they? When we played against United we came out with such speed an urgency that the game was over before it really began.
We overran United’s midfield moving through the middle of pitch as if their players weren’t even there. Chelsea look a little more stable there with Hiddink relying on Jon Obi Mikel to solidify the midfield but if you watched the Everton match – the freedom Chelsea now try and move with has exposed a lot of space in front of the back four which against an Arsenal side hungry for a title could be dangerous.
Arsenal have to win this match. The two hard-earned points against Liverpool and Stoke have allowed City and Leicester to close the gap on the top. Arsenal need to win to continue their run to their first title and hopefully create some separation at the top of the table.
We’ve not lost in our last 9 home matches (7W 2D) and we’re likely to see the return of Alexis Sanchez. Add to that the players who are starting to get fit and return to the squad – all of it equates to an ability to go on a run towards May. But it has to start here. This is the match they need to lay down a marker.
Key Match Up – Arsenal Wide Players v Chelsea FBs
With Jose Mourinho leading the team, Branislav Ivanovic was easily victimized and the point of plenty of teams to attack. Under Hiddink, Chelsea have a little more freedom of play with both the wingers and FBs joining in the attack. However, because of Ivanovic’s poor play early on he has been more cautious and not coming as forward as much.
This is likely to create space for Arsenal’s LW players – either the returning Sanchez or Theo Walcott to run at the back line. This could actually be deadly for Chelsea as if either of those players are given space and time they can exploit the space running deep and cutting in to attack the slower CBs or feed the ball to Olivier Giroud running in against the Chelsea CBs.
Either way, with Chelsea moving away from a congested midfield with all their players tucking in and moving to a more expansive 4-2-3-1 under Hiddink, the ability to use our width and speed to attack the FBs will likely enjoy more joy than it did in the earlier September tie when space for any player was at a premium.
What to Worry About.
This is Chelsea. And let’s be honest we don’t do well against Chelsea. With the odd exception, Chelsea since it has been run by Roman Abramovich has been a thorn in Arsenal’s side. On one or two occasions the team has looked terribly outclassed but for the most part Chelsea have just been the more patient and exploited Arsenal’s games to win.
I personally think Arsenal were set up well in the September fixture to win at the bridge – until Mike Dean intervened. We were set up to absorb Chelsea’s pressure and counter – much like we did at City away last season. But as it all went south we went south and came out the negative.
It is a bogey team. One that we’ve done consistently poor against. If anything we know that they know this and we know this and you could make the case that since it’s Chelsea we will contrive a way for us to throw it all away in this match.
Keeping in mind that this is Chelsea and we as I just said, can contrive our very own demise – I think this is the year we finally rid ourselves of the Chelsea demons. If you look at both teams even with the plethora of talent Chelsea have – they just aren’t a very good team. They can’t pass and defending, long a strong point for the current title holders, has escaped them.
Arsenal are rising. Every title winner goes through hiccups in a season it matters how you weather them. The fact is at least Arsenal didn’t lose those matches. Something that would’ve happened in the last few years. Arsenal are a team playing for each other and one getting key players back at the time.
At home in front of our supporters, I look for Arsenal to come out with the same energy they did against Manchester United and even against Manchester City. They do that and Chelsea won’t be able to stay on the pitch with the Gunners.
If Sanchez starts as I fully expect – he may be short of match sharpness but his presence and energy are enough to generate momentum for us. In the end I expect this to be an Arsenal win.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Mesut Özil. Hard to say someone is experiencing an off run when they have 16 assists so far this season. He had a week off with a “toe injury” but is back in the lineup. While Alexis Sanchez will be a lot of people’s focus – as Özil goes – so goes Arsenal.
Chelsea. Willian. In a season of woe for Chelsea, the winger has been Chelsea’s most consistent and effective threat.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Coquelin (knee), Welbeck (knee), Cazorla (knee), Wilshere (knee)
Chelsea: Falcao (thigh), Costa (shin – doubtful), Hazard (groin – doubtful)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (18M 56Y 3R)
Assistant Referees: J Collin, S Beck
Fourth Official: J Moss
UK: Sky Sports 1 16.00 GMT
US: NBC Sports Network 11:00 AM EST
Arsenal 3 – 1 Chelsea
The Manager’s Take: (Courtesy Arsenal.com)
“It is another one where we can show we have moved forward,” he said. “It is another game where people look at us and see how we behave because, even if Chelsea are not in the best position, you look at their squad.
“It is a big game because of the quality of players on the pitch and it has a big importance to us because we play at Emirates Stadium and we know it will be important to win these types of games.
“We have certainly proved our battling potential [this season] through big solidarity, through great togetherness and as well because we are ambitious and we have more experience than in the past,” he continued.
“One of the advantages of having experienced players is that they know that sometimes it’s just about battling and not always only about playing well.”
“We are convinced that our records against big opponents is linked with discipline,” he said. “On the day we suffered because we were a bit unlucky due to the decisions of the referee.
“Overall, over the longer distance, I believe that we have a very strong record on the discipline front in the Premier League. We want to maintain it.”
Match Facts: (Courtesy FourFourTwo.com via Opta Sports)
- Arsenal have not scored in the last eight hours and two minutes of Barclays Premier League football against Chelsea.
- If the Gunners fail to score against Chelsea it will equal their longest run without a goal versus any opponent in Premier League history (six games v Liverpool 1997 to 2000).
- Arsenal have won seven and lost none of their last nine Premier League games at the Emirates Stadium, conceding just four goals in that run.
- Chelsea are unbeaten in their last eight Premier League games against the Gunners (W5 D3), since Arsenal won 5-3 in October 2011.
- Guus Hiddink inflicted Arsenal’s heaviest ever Premier League defeat at the Emirates (4-1 to Chelsea in May 2009).
- Three of the last four Premier League meetings between these two sides at the Emirates have ended as 0-0 draws.
- Coming in to MD23, Chelsea are on the longest current unbeaten run in the Premier League (W2 D4).
- Chelsea will be looking for their 50th all-time league victory over Arsenal in this fixture- they have only won 50+ league games against seven other clubs (Arsenal have 61 wins & there have been 47 draws).
- Diego Costa has scored five goals in five Chelsea appearances in all competitions under Guus Hiddink; this after netting four in 21 apps before his arrival in 2015-16.
- Eden Hazard is still yet to score for Chelsea this season in any competition, recording three assists in 27 games.