Stamford Bridge, London
04 October 1305 hours UTC
This week’s Premier League activity would reach a crescendo when the Gunners take to the field against the Blues at Stamford Bridge in a top of the table clash between the only two sides still unbeaten in this season and there are multiple exciting sub plots developing around what promises to be a very exciting fixture.
Chelsea, currently ruling the roost in the Premier League table, have hitherto glided through their first 6 matches of the season with consummate ease. Riding on the brilliant form of star summer signing Diego Costa, Chelsea brushed aside the meagre challenges put in front of them by the likes of Everton, Swansea, Leicester, Burnley and Aston Villa. It is a testament to their form currently that Chelsea have only dropped points in one game – the one that they drew playing away against the current reigning defending English Champions, Manchester City. Chelsea are the overwhelming favourites to win the English crown this season and Jose Mourinho’s men have hardly taken a step that would suggest otherwise. Arsenal, on the other hand, trail Chelsea by 6 points, though the Gunners are yet to lose a league game this season. Arsene Wenger’s man would be buoyed by a brilliant showing at home as they thumped Galatasaray 4-1 during the week. This adds on to the fact that Chelsea had a grittier game in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon when they faced Sporting CP, a match they won nevertheless but by a solitary headed goal by Nemanja Matic. And then the plot thickens when we add to the mix that in the corresponding fixture last season, Chelsea dismantled Arsenal completely in a 6-0 drubbing that has to be one of the most humiliating games in Arsene Wenger’s career at the London club, especially since it was his 1000th game at the helm.
Chelsea – Team News, Tactics and Lineup
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho will have nearly a full complement of players to choose from when he decides his lineup for the game on Sunday. Didier Drogba and Ramires are the only absentees from the squad but Mourinho has enough and more talent on his hands to easily replace them without breaking a sweat. It says volumes about the business Chelsea have been doing in the transfer window over the past few years that their current squad is one of the best in terms of depth and capability to handle playing four competitions at the same time and still not have to fret over getting a favourable result.
Chelsea’s defensive line has been pretty consistent so far this season, shipping only 7 goals in 6 games, 3 of which came against Everton when the defense arguably had an off day. A defense that could curb the formidable firepower of Manchester City to a solitary goal is obviously doing something right. With no injury worries plaguing them either, Mourinho is free to choose his best set of defenders for the important clash. Thibaut Courtois is certain to receive his 7th league start of the season between the sticks while his skipper John Terry lines up with Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic to form the defensive back four. Azpilicueta especially would be rearing to go after having sat out the Sporting game midweek on the bench. Chelsea midfield will be graced by the presence of ex-Gunner, Cesc Fabregas. Already the source of many controversies and stories following a move from Barcelona to Chelsea instead of his former club, Arsenal, Fabregas will face the club he once captained for the first time in a Chelsea shirt. Both sets of supporters have very different feelings about Fabregas. Given his form, most Chelsea fans already love him and chant his name. On the other side, Arsenal fans boo his name for choosing their cross town rivals over them. Things will surely come to a head on Sunday afternoon when Fabregas takes the field against Arsenal. Accompanying him in the midfield would be Nemanja Matic. Matic has been very consistent for Chelsea since his return to the club in January this year. He has put out solid performances and is very effective in breaking up play with a well timed tackle as well as driving play upfield himself with the ball at his feet. Matic would be essential to provide some cover to his back four as well as disrupt Arsenal’s passing game so that they cannot setup for their famous one-twos in the box that almost always end with the ball in the back of the net. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for Mourinho to move away from the 4-2-3-1 formation he has used so far. As such, Andre Schurrle, Oscar and Eden Hazard would form the attacking triad that lends the Chelsea attack its deadly precision and provides their best predator, Diego Costa, with inch perfect crosses and passes to finish off opponents. Costa is supposedly carrying a niggle that prevents him to fully participate in training as per manager Jose Mourinho. Yet, Mourinho has himself confirmed that Costa would start against Arsenal. Whether this is simply a ploy to throw off Arsenal or a gamble that the Portuguese manager is taking keeping in mind the upcoming international break, is anybody’s guess.
Chelsea would be vividly aware of the fact that Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud is out with a long term injury that may not see him return before Christmas. In these circumstances, Arsenal are currently playing Danny Welbeck in the forward role. While the ex-Manchester United and England forward scored a European hat trick against Galatasaray mid-week, it will definitely not be that easy against Chelsea who have a far stronger defensive line than the Turkish side. Chelsea will concentrate, therefore, on shutting down Danny Welbeck’s supply via the midfield thus forcing him to drop deeper to get the ball. In his time at United, Welbeck was unable to score effectively or even play freely whenever he was required to drop deep to retrieve the ball and Chelsea will look to exploit this to the fullest. Themselves, Chelsea have currently the most potent strike force in the league playing for them. The four players at the head of the formation would be tasked with giving the Arsenal defensive line a torrid 90 minutes of football.
Predicted Lineup (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Hazard, Oscar, Schurrle; Costa
Arsenal – Team News, Tactics and Lineup
Wenger and his men would be eager to set aside the memories of the 6-0 thrashing at this venue less than a year ago and prove that it was a one-off blip on the radar than a rather frequent occurrence. With that in mind, Wenger’s team selection would prove to be crucial to determine whether his side receive another hiding or actually step up to the plate and match the current table toppers toe to toe. Arsenal have let in as many goals as Chelsea so far in the season but that does not mean that their defense is as good as Chelsea’s or that they will escape from this contest unscathed.
Wojciech Szczesny, who received a red card in the mid week European clash would be more than eager to make amends and will be the natural starter in goal, given that Ospina will now need to be preserved for the Champions League games. His rush of blood, however, on Wednesday night, were testimony to why he will probably never be able to cross the divide between good and great. Calum Chambers has raw talent but his inexperience has cost Arsenal and their supporters many tense moments and a few goals as the 19-year ols is unable to pull his weight as yet against a heavy weight attack. While Diego Costa is Chelsea’s primary goal scoring threat, their true strength lies in the creativity of Hazard, Fabregas and co. The only answer to that threat is a midfield disruptor. But where Arsenal needed a player like Nemanja Matic, they have Mathieu Flamini. The 30-year old Frenchman has some skills but they can at best qualify him as a squad player for a club with title ambitions. Flamini will have his hands more than full trying to shut down Fabregas alone, let alone the threat provided by Hazard, Oscar and Schurrle in the advanced positions. While Wenger would be happy that defender Nacho Monreal has completed his recovery and is available for selection, he knows the defender is not ready to play a full 90 minutes in such a high intensity game. Add to that, his midfield selection is pretty threadbare given that both Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta are out with injuries while Jack Wilshere was fit enough only to start from the bench vs Galatasaray mid-week. And last but not least, a few facts that Wenger would be carrying in the back of his mind. The French manager during his last 18 years heading Arsenal has had a poor record against his Portuguese counterpart. In 11 matches against sides managed by Mourinho, Wenger has drawn 5 and lost 6. Last season’s 6-0 beating is also sure to play on his mind and he will try to change things around to ensure at least that does not happen again. In such circumstances, it is unlikely Arsenal would approach the game with the mindset to win it, in spite of it being Wenger’s first against Mourinho. Instead they would concentrate on not losing too much ground and forcing the league leaders to drop points in a draw. Even if Wilshere is fit to start, he will have to partner Flamini in midfield with three players in front of him if Wenger wants to implement his own 4-2-3-1 formation. The formation however has the very reasonable risk of being exposed quickly by a rampany Chelsea attacking midfield. A more prudent approach may be to drop Alex Oxdale-Chamberlain into central midfield to provide some reinforcements to defense as well as some speed down the middle of the park. It is of prime importance that Flamini mark Fabregas through the game and not allow his former captain space to cross the ball out to the wide runners where Hazard or Schurrle can pick it up to put in a mean cross for Costa. The only issue with this ploy would be the need for Oxdale-Chamberlain to pick his forward runs with care to avoid having his side caught napping on a Chelsea counter. Albeit a gamble, the possibility of using Abou Diaby to shore up the central midfield positions does seem to be very tantalising. Going with a three man midfield means switching to a 4-3-3 formation. In that case Sanchez will likely partner Cazorla in the attacking trio with Ozil being benched due to the German midfielders reluctance to track back and defend his own goal. Danny Welbeck will rightfully step up to claim the spot of the lone striker after his hat trick against Galatasaray would have left him brimming with confidence, a quality most important in all 11 Arsenal players on the pitch when they take on Chelsea if they do not want a repeat of last year’s massive hiding.
Predicted Lineup (4-3-3): Szczesny; Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Chambers; Flamini, Oxdale-Chamberlain, Wilshere; Cazorla, Welbeck, Sanchez
Match Prediction: Chelsea 3 – 1 Arsenal
Arsenal are a solid side but they are no match for the side that Jose Mourinho has at his disposal. A solid defensive core, a brilliant attacking midfield and a striker who has scored 8 goals in 6 appearances will overwhelm Arsene Wenger’s wards and it would not be a surprise if the Gunners spend at least the better part of the second half in damage control mode. Arsene Wenger is yet to win a game against a side managed by Jose Mourinho and that record is not set to change after the Sunday game. On the other hand, there is a high likelihood that after the game, Chelsea would be the only unbeaten side in the league and the also the only one with the dream alive to emulate Wenger’s own Invincibles.
Player to watch out for
Diego Costa (Chelsea)
In any game involving Chelsea, given his current form, Diego Costa is the man to watch out for. Last season, Costa was terrorising defenses in La Liga as he spearheaded Atletico Madrid’s successful title bid. Yet, the way he has settled in at Chelsea is astonishing. He has struck up a great partnership with Chelsea’s attacking midfield riches and with the quality of service he receives, he is practically scoring for fun, having raced to 8 goals in 6 appearances. Arsenal’s only chance of a semblance of a result is if they can keep Costa away from their goal. Costa has himself admitted that he is not at 100% right now and it remains to be seen whether that is just talk or there is actually some basis to it. Arsenal would pray it is the latter or else they are in for another excruciating 90 minutes that may not end well for them.