Petr Cech on Arsenal

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Fresh off their first round of Champions League matches, Chelsea and Arsenal will face off on Saturday in a London Derby at Stamford Bridge. The visiting Gunners’ squad has gone undefeated in the league since their opening day thrashing at the hands of West Ham United. Chelsea, on the other hand, have been extremely disappointing in the early stages of the season as they’ve won just once while losing to the likes of Crystal Palace and Everton. The Champions League saw a role reversal for the two clubs as Arsenal slumped to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Dinamo Zagreb, while Chelsea wrapped up an impressive 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Can the Blues carry over this impressive form to Saturday’s fixture and make up for their opening defeat to Arsenal in the Community Shield?

One of the major concerns building for Arsenal fans this season is their lack of depth at the striker position. This shortcoming was exposed against Zagreb after Olivier Giroud was sent off with just under an hour to go in the match. After the Frenchman was sent off, the Gunners were forced to rely on Theo Walcott, who did score in the match, as their sole striker due to an injury to Danny Welbeck and a lack of experience on the bench. When Giroud is on the field, he has been effective scoring twice in the opening five matches of the season, but if he’s having an off game, there’s little to offer in terms of replacements. Chelsea’s defense has been anything but formidable this season in league play, but they could still provide quite the challenge for Giroud up front.

Saturday will be the first time that Petr Cech will play at Stamford Bridge as a member of the visiting squad. The 33-year-old keeper spent 11 trophy-filled seasons with Chelsea before coming to Arsenal in the summer transfer window. For Arsenal, the introduction of Cech to the squad appeared to immediately boost their chances of once again reaching the pinnacle of the league and a debut shutout against his former employers in the Community Shield did little to temper those expectations. After a shaky performance against West Ham United in the season opener, the former Chelsea man has looked like his old self in between the pipes and practically single-handedly earned the Gunners a draw against Liverpool in week three. Out of the opening five matches of the season, Cech has kept three clean sheets, and I think that he’ll be raring for another impressive outing at his old stomping ground.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where Chelsea has struggled the most this season. After winning the league by eight points last season, few doubted that José Mourinho’s men would once against dominate the Premier League this year. Despite these lofty expectations, problems across the backline, paired with a lack of killer instinct in attack have seen the Blues struggle to claim points this year. This ineptitude on the pitch isn’t due to a lack of talent with world-class players such as Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill, and Diego Costa lining up for every match, but it may be due to the manager. While Mourinho has cemented his place as a Chelsea legend in his two stints with the club, he has also shown a tendency to slip-up or form rifts in his third year at a club. Since he became manager of Porto in 2002, the Portuguese manager has never been with a club more than three years and after almost each exit, stories rise up revealing possible feuds with players and/or ownership. As this third season opens up, it appears as if Mourinho may once again be looking for a new club at the end of the season, or maybe even sooner.

The Blues will lineup with one of their key contributors once again on Saturday as Thibault Courtois continues to recover from a serious knee surgery suffered in training two weeks ago. Without Courtois on the pitch, Chelsea will have to rely on summer singing Asmir Begovic to keep Arsenal from the back of the net. Last week against Everton, the former Stoke goalkeeper was unable to figure out Steven Naismith as the Irishman sunk Chelsea with a hat-trick in a 3-1 loss. With all due respect to Naismith, the Gunners have far more talented attackers at their disposal (e.g. Giroud, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil). With all the defensive issues the Blues have had, Begovic could be seeing a lot of the ball on Saturday and if he can’t handle the pressure in this massive fixture, it’s difficult to see the Blues getting any points.

With all that being said, it’s important to remember just how daunting it is to take on any José Mourinho squad at home. Before this season, Mourinho had won 76 of 99 matches at the Bridge while only losing once along the way. In addition to that, the Community Shield victory was the first time that Arsene Wenger had ever bested his Chelsea counterpart. These impressive stat lines make me favor Chelsea in the match, but it won’t be a walk in the park. Final score: Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal


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