Bright and early Saturday morning, at least here in Missouri, Arsenal and Chelsea will kick off the biggest Premier League match of the weekend. These London rivals occupy two of the top three spots in the table. Chelsea, of course, have a sizable nine-point lead over the Gunners, and another three points would almost push them out of touching distance from the rest of the pack. Arsenal, on the other hand, are coming off of a shocking 2-1 loss to Watford, and their fans will be desperate for a good result this time around. That’s easier said than done, however, and a trip to Stamford Bridge is hardly the place for a confidence building win if you’re the visitor. Can the Gunners rebound or will Chelsea continue their barnstorming march to the title?
The biggest issue Arsenal face going into Saturday’s match is the slim selection choices available in the midfield. Currently, they are going to be without Aaron Ramsey (calf injury), Santi Carzola (ankle injury), Granit Xhaka (red card suspension) and Mohamed Elneny (international duty). That leaves Arsene Wenger with Mesut Ozil, not a bad option to have, and Francis Coquelin as his only central midfielders. This means that Wenger will either have to change formation from his typical 4-2-3-1, or push someone out of position to partner with Coquelin in defensive midfield. With the high power attack that Chelsea have at their disposal, I think we’re more likely to see a defender push up alongside the Frenchman. This change could easily throw off Arsenal’s rhythm in the center of the pitch, but at this point they don’t really have another option.
Switching back to Wenger, the Frenchman will once again be forced to watch this match from the sidelines due to a four-game suspension for pushing the fourth official. Against Watford, Wenger was forced to watch helplessly as his team struggled to impose themselves at the Emirates, and for chunks of the match, it didn’t even look like they wanted to be out there. Granted, the derby match against Chelsea should fire up the players more than a visit from Watford, but there performance last week still raises questions about their mentality. Premier League champions find ways to not only beat the other big teams, but they also find ways to scrape past the smaller clubs that defend for 90 percent of the match. Chelsea have shown that ability throughout the season. Maybe, the Gunners will use the loss against Watford as motivation going into Saturday’s match. Even then, I’m not sure that they’ll be able to withstand the talent Chelsea have throughout their lineup.
Going over to Chelsea’s manager, Antonio Conte told reporters that he still thinks about the 3-0 loss Arsenal handed him at the start of the season. The Italian manager said, “This defeat seems far [away], but it’s important to remember the defeat against Arsenal because it was a bad defeat, 3-0 after the first half, and in my mind it’s always present.” Since that lost to Arsenal, Chelsea have lost just a single match. In that span they’ve beaten Manchester United (4-0), Tottenham (2-1) and Manchester City (3-1). A shift in defensive tactics to a back three has seen them dominate teams. They currently share the best defensive record in the league (16 goals against) with Spurs. Arsenal’s attack has been sporadic throughout the season, and Chelsea’s formidable back line should be able to silence it for most of the match.
While their defense has been the star of the show for large parts of the season, Chelsea’s attack has also been pretty impressive. Only two teams (one of them being Arsenal) have been able to keep a clean sheet against Conte’s squad all season. In January alone, they scored 14 goals through just six matches. On two occasions, they found the back of the net four times in a single match. The main men in attack have to be Eden Hazard and Diego Costa. Last season, these two stars struggled to meet fans’ expectations, but they’ve found their feet again under Conte. Costa has already surpassed his goal tally from last year with 15, and Hazard once again looks like a world beater on the pitch. Even though Arsenal silenced them back in September, I wouldn’t be surprised if one, or even both, of these players find the back of the net on Saturday.
As much as I dislike seeing Chelsea so far ahead in the table, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they don’t win on Saturday. They’ve shown their composure and consistency throughout the season, and Arsenal look like a team searching for their identity. This should be a tidy win for the Blues. Final Score: Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal