Emirates Stadium, London
December 23, 2013; 20:00 GMT
Arsenal have led the table since September but skeptics are yet to be convinced about their title credentials. After losing to Manchester United earlier, they were convincingly defeated by Manchester City 6-3 last weekend and after three disappointing results against Everton, Napoli and City, Arsene Wenger is in desperate need of a good result to silence their critics. Arsenal have 35 points from 16 games and are presently third in the table, having played a game less.
Chelsea sit forth in the table with 33 points and a win at The Emirates will take them to the top of the table, only behind Liverpool on goal difference. After a strange defeat to Stoke, Chelsea registered a victory over Crystal Palace but the consistency of Mourinho’s first reign is yet to be seen this season and the team remains vulnerable away from home. Although Jose Mourinho is yet to lose against Arsene Wenger in 9 games, he would be cautious about this trip to north London.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Arsene Wenger will be without the services of centre-back Laurent Koscielny because of a knee injury, while Jack Wilshere has been suspended by the FA for his alleged hand gesture against Manchester City. Podolski and Sagna are, however, again available for selection. Diaby, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanogo and Miyaichi remain sidelined for this fixture.
In a 4-2-3-1 formation that Arsenal have become accustomed to, Wenger will start with Szczesny in goal, with the backline comprising of Gibbs (left-back), Vermaelen, Mertesacker (centre-backs), and Sagna (right-back). Ahead of them, Arteta and Ramsey are expected to start ahead of Flamini in the pivot, with Wilshere’s unavailability will see Cazorla start on the left wing, with Walcott on the opposite flank and Ozil playing in the hole behind Giroud.
A lot will depend on how rejuvenated Ozil is for this encounter. The former Madrid man has appeared jaded of late and is in need of some rest, a fact also acknowledged by Wenger, but the manager is in no position to offer his star player any rest, especially in a game of such magnitude.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Gibbs, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Sagna; Arteta, Ramsey; Cazorla, Ozil, Walcott; Giroud
Despite injuring himself in the last game, Cesar Azpilicueta is fit again to start at The Emirates, while Branislav Ivanovic has also served his suspension and is available for selection. Michael Essien, however, picked up another booking against Sunderland and will miss this game through suspension, but his absence won’t be a major headache for Mourinho ahead of this crucial encounter.
Jose Mourinho will line-up his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Petr Cech in goal. The availability of Ivanovic and Azpilicueta will see former Arsenal player Ashley Cole drop to the bench, with the Serbian starting at right-back and the later on the left. Frank Lampard will make way for Ramires in the starting line-up and the Brazilian will take the field alongside Mikel, ahead of the defence. The attacking band is expected to comprise of Hazard, Oscar and Mata, with Fernando Torres leading the line for Chelsea. Mata may be preferred to the other available options because of his impressive record against the Gunners.
Chelsea will rely on Ramires’ industry and Mikel’s positional sense to overcome the combined threat posed by the creativity and movement of Ozil and Cazorla, while his recent injury notwithstanding, Azpilicueta will have to be at his best to keep Theo Walcott in check. There’s a possibility that Mourinho might start with Schurrle on the left to offer more protection to his full-back against the pace of Walcott.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Terry, Luiz, Ivanovic; Mikel, Ramires; Hazard, Oscar, Mata; Torres
- Chelsea have won their last 3 matches against Arsenal in all competitions.
- Arsenal are undefeated in their last 7 home matches in the Premier League.
- Arsenal Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho as a manager, losing 5 and drawing the remaining 4 of the 9 matches.
- Chelsea have scored at least 2 goals in 9 of their last 11 matches against Arsenal in all competitions.
Statistics courtesy Whoscored.com.
Player To Watch Out For
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
Theo Walcott has finally regained his full fitness after undergoing an abdominal surgery in September and was one of Arsenal’s better players in an otherwise horrific performance against Manchester City. The Englishman scored twice in the 6-3 defeat away from home. Walcott has scored five goals against Chelsea in his career, scoring in three of the last five matches between the two London rivals. On the right flank, he will have Cesar Azpilicueta to deal with and with the Chelsea full-back not a hundred percent fit, this match-up can tilt the balance of the tie in favor of Arsenal.
Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea
Both teams would go into this game not wanting to lose too much ground in the title race, so a closely fought draw is certainly on the cards. Arsenal were convincingly beaten at Manchester City and would be eager to reestablish their title-winning pedigree, while Chelsea are expected to come back strongly after being dumped out of the Capital One Cup in midweek.