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Match Preview: Arsenal v Chelsea; Laying Down a Marker

It is a match that has more bearing on next season than this season. It is a match that will tell us more about the progress of Arsenal than any other.  It is a match that Gooners everywhere want to see Arsenal prevail in. It is Arsenal versus Chelsea.

You’ve seen the stats and everyone is undoubtedly aware that in 12 tries versus Mourinho, Arsene Wenger’s sides are a paltry 0W 5D 7L. It’s a woeful stat. The question is now, has Arsenal and Arsene learned enough and evolved enough that Sunday’s tie may result in a different outcome.

We all know that Mourinho will look to bring his big blue bus into the Emirates and exploit our fluid play and openness on the counter. Jose will look to use Chelsea’s size and physical presence to clog up the midfield and deny Arsenal’s ability to create chances. In fact so tight will Chelsea will be you know they will be happy to leave the Emirates with a 0-0 draw. (How will Jose feel if he’s accused of playing antiquated football like he he accused Fat Sam of doing.)

Last week versus Manchester United, Chelsea saw only 39% of the ball. Their lowest total of the season – and that was at home. Against Arsenal, you might expect that number to be less. Chelsea are on the road and playing in a place where Arsenal have only lost twice in the league over the course of the last two seasons. This year they are letting in less than 1 goal per game at home and scoring close to 3.  Jose knows this and he will set his side up to stop it.

Arsenal for their part cannot get frustrated by a side that will not look to play the game. They have to be patient. Ideally, when in possession, we will look to spread Chelsea’s defensive set up by getting wide and working in wards, either from a cross or from the midfielder checking in to  play the ball at the top of the box.  Persistent passing through the middle will play into Chelsea’s hands and deny Arsenal most of the joy they desire.

This is where Mesut Özil will be critical. A lot of criticism was thrown Wenger’s way when he decided to deploy Özil outwide. It was done people speculated to accommodate him in a side chock full of midfield talent. That was likely partially it, but it was also done to allow Özil to start wide as he often likes to drift wide and pull the opposition with him in order to make a killer pass or cross.

With Özil deployed in his favored number 10 role, he has been finding his form that he had at Real Madrid. He comes from the middle looking to drif out wide and link up interchange with a running forward, most of the time it’s Alexis Sanchez whom the German international is favoring as his go-to target.

Öozil’s movement out wide creates space and channels for other players to fill. Especially as it likely draws a minimum of two defenders to him. 1v1, Özil will more than often shred his defender. Even 1v2 Özil’s vision means more than often he is finding the open man. Out wide, in and around the 18 yard box means that someone like a Sanchez  or Giroud can be the beneficiary of a crisp pass and create a chance. In this match those chances will come at a premium and when they come they need to be taken.

As much as what Arsenal do with the ball is important, what they do in that 30% or so they won’t have the ball is just as important. Against Liverpool, Arsenal went with a high line and applied pressure around the field and especially on the man with the ball, to deny Liverpool’s attempts at transition play.

With Arsenal winning the ball deep in the opposition zone, chances came and forced errors on the opposition part. Arsenal hopefully be looking to do this again at home to deny Chelsea any chance of mounting serious counter-attacks through Eden Hazard.

Per Mertesacker will likely be out which means Gabriel comes in. The duo of Gabriel and Koscielny are in my opinion the number 1 CB pairing for next season. The speed of the two makes them able to adjust and quickly and a steely threat to any attacker. Additionally, that speed allows Arsenal more comfort in its high line.

Through it all the key will be patience. Chelsea aren’t going to come out gang-busters. They will look to frustrate and block Arsenal. They won’t be coming in for an open toe-to-toe affair. We’ve seen it before both from Chelsea and other opponents who have put men behind the ball, we can get frustrated with that and make errors that lead to counter-attacks. We just can’t let Chelsea’s anti-football  force us into errors. Be patient, keep looking to create gaps  between the midfield and defense by playing out wide, move the ball with speed and make sure the passing is crisp and assured. There is no need to be fancy in trying to create chances with cute little flicks or back heels, just make the short passing game count and unlock the Chelsea defense.

A positive result may not have much bearing on the season result. Even if Chelsea lose they sit 7 points ahead of Arsenal with 5 to play. But a win against Chelsea on Sunday, combined with wins against City, United, and Liverpool should be enough to signal Arsenal’s intent to challenge for the title next season.

Arsenal certainly have it in them to win this. The question is can they play their game, be patient and force Chelsea to break from their defending nature? That remains to be seen.

Players to Watch:
Arsenal: Mesut Özil. Özil won’t be the guy to boss a match. He won’t take it by the scruff of the neck to take it over. What he will do is it influence with his silky movement and amazing passing ability. Jose called him the world’s best number 10. Here’s hoping he shows it on Sunday.

Chelsea. Eden Hazard. While Fabregas homecoming might be the grist for other outlets, Eden Hazard is the man with whom Chelsea hum through. Bellerin or Debuchy will need to give him the respect he deserves and be prepared for quite a few runs on the counter.

Probable Lineups:

Click to enlarge


Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Arteta (ankle), Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin)

Chelsea:  Costa (hamstring – doubtful), Rémy (calf – doubtful)

Head to Head:

Match Officials:
Referee: Michael Oliver (24M 85Y 5R)
Assistant Referees: L Betts, J Brooks
Fourth Official: L Mason

Broadcast Information:
UK: Sky Sports 1 16.00 GMT
US: NBC Sports Network 11:00 AM EST

YAMA PREDICTIONS:
Arsenal 1 – 1 Chelsea

Match Facts (Courtesy Opta via FourFourTwo.com)

  • Olivier Giroud has scored 10 goals in his last 12 matches in all competitions.
  • Arsene Wenger has lost just five competitive home games by a 3+ goal margin during his tenure as Arsenal manager; three of which have come against Chelsea.
  • Didier Drogba has scored eight times in 11 Premier League appearances against Arsenal in his career. Against no team has he scored more in the division (also scored eight vs WBA).
  • Jose Mourinho has never lost as an opposition coach against Arsene Wenger in any competition (W7 D5 L0).
  • Arsenal have won just two of their last 12 league clashes with Chelsea (D2 L8).
  • Chelsea have kept four clean sheets in their last six clashes with Arsenal, conceding just two goals in total.
  • In the reverse fixture against the Blues back in October, Arsenal failed to have a shot on target for the first time in a Premier League match since September 2003 (Manchester United away).
  • Cesc Fabregas has a league-high 16 Premier League assists this season. Only Thierry Henry (20 in 2002-03), Frank Lampard (18 in 2004-05) and Fabregas himself (17 in 2007-08) have ever registered more in a single Premier League campaign.
  • Arsenal have won more points in 2015 than any other Premier League side (33).
  • Chelsea have scored first in all 20 of their games in all competitions in 2015.

What are your thoughts on this match? Can Arsenal take all 3 points and continue their impressive home run versus Chelsea? Who should start? What do you think the score will be? Let us know.

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