Arsenal vs. Chelsea just doesn’t have the same type of excitement without Jose Mourinho’s and Arsene Wenger’s mind games leading up to it. The Portuguese manager was relieved of his duties at Stamford Bridge after an abysmal start to the season that saw the reigning champions fighting just to stay above the relegation zone. His counterpart, however, has led the Gunners all the way to the top of the table and Arsenal must now be considered title favorites going into the closing months of the season. Despite this vast difference in league standing, the last time these two teams met, Chelsea managed to pull off a massive 2-0 victory in a controversy-filled match at the Bridge. Can they pull off a repeat performance?

Starting with the Blues, it looks like they’ll get a massive boost as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa both look set to return to fitness. These two superstars provide Guus Hiddink with an always-dangerous attack and a great mix between style and muscle. While Hazard hasn’t had nearly the impact that he had last season, he still has the potential to change the game at any given moment. His presence on the wing demands attention from opposing defenders and that should open room up in the middle for Costa to strike. The Spanish striker has had a little bit of a resurgence since Hiddink took over, scoring five goals in his last five games. If he can remain composed, look for him to be Chelsea’s difference maker.

In the last two games, the only thing stopping Chelsea from taking all three points is their defense. Hiddink’s squad allowed two goals, including an 86th minute equalizer against West Brom, and then completely fell apart against Everton as they surrendered another three. John Terry and Kurt Zouma have failed to replicate anything close to last year’s league-best defensive unit. An aging Terry looks to be on his last legs, and Zouma still shows signs of his youth at times with costly mistakes. Going up against a potent Arsenal attack, those two will need to rediscover some good form to keep Chelsea in the match.

Arsenal keeper Petr Cech

For Arsenal, the biggest story going into the match has to be the potential return of Alexis Sanchez to the lineup. The Chilean winger hasn’t played a match since all the way back in November, so it’s not clear if he’d even be at 100 percent should he return Sunday. The 27-year-old was arguably Arsenal’s best player through the first several months of the season as he scored six times in just 13 league appearances. A partnership between him and Özil finally looked to be solidifying and Gunners’ fans everywhere began to fantasize about the silverware these two dynamic players would bring to the club. Even in Sanchez’s absence, Arsenal has continued to look strong. His return to the lineup could be just the thing they need to raise their game another level and race away with the title.

Chelsea legend turned Arsenal starter Petr Cech will forever be a fan favorite at Stamford Bridge, but for the third time this season he is being tasked with shutting out his former employers. Cech is coming off one of his best performances of the season against Stoke City last weekend. Cech and Jack Butland exchanged fantastic saves in one of the most exciting 0-0 draws of recent memory. Last time around, Cech gave up two goals at Stamford Bridge, but Arsenal have been nearly impenetrable at home this season. Through ten matches, only six goals have been scored against the Arsenal backline, and I expect another strong performance from them against this old rival. Nostalgia shouldn’t affect Cech’s play at all, and I have no doubt he will be on his best form come game time.

I don’t see Chelsea pulling off an upset when they travel to the Emirates. A lack of confidence, and defensive frailties will be their downfall as Arsenal take all three points and Guus Hiddink’s squad continue their fight for midtable relevance. Final score: Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea


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