Stamford Bridge, London
March 22, 2014; 12:45 BST
Chelsea FC host Arsenal FC in a highly anticipated London Derby as Arsene Wenger looks to reach the milestone of 1000 games in charge of the Gunners. Stakes can’t be higher in a match as the outcome of the title race could also be massively affected by the result of this match.
There is no love lost between Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger and it was spiced up when the Chelsea manager called Wenger a specialist in failure – pointing to his long trophy drought – earlier this season. The Portuguese manager has had the better of Wenger in previous clash and the Frenchman is yet to win a game against his adversary. But Arsenal do have the record of winning at Stamford Bridge more than any other teams in the Premier League and Wenger will look to maintain this record on Saturday and send out a statement of intent for the rest of this title rivals.
Chelsea responded well to their loss against Aston Villa and managed an easy win over Galatasaray in the second leg of their Champions League round-of-16 clash to book a place in the next stage. Arsenal on the other hand are coming into this game on the back of a morale boosting win in the North London Derby at White Hart Lane and will look to build on that momentum.
Team news and tactics
Jose Mourinho doesn’t have any new injury concern to contain with ahead of this fixture. Ashley Cole, whose last appearance in a Chelsea shirt was in the 1-0 win over Stoke City back in January, remains unavailable for selection against his former club due to a Knee ligament injury which he picked up in training earlier this month. David Luiz gas returned to full fitness and was an unused substitute in the match against Galatasaray at Stamford Bridge. Marco van Ginkel remains the only other fitness concern in the squad currently for Mourinho.
Although Mourinho has a nearly full fit squad to choose from, he will miss out on two of his key players in this game due to suspensions. Ramires and Willian, both of whom picked up red cards against Aston Villa in their last league game, will be unavailable for selection against Arsenal.
Mourinho is expected to make two changes to the starting eleven he used in the mid-week Champions League clash. Nemanja Matic, who is ineligible to participate in the Champions League for the Blues this season, will replace Ramires in the midfield, while Andre Schurrle will make a rare start in place of the suspended Willian.
Ideally Mourinho would have perhaps rested Frank Lampard after his participation in a midweek clash, but suspension has forced his hands to field the experienced midfielder, although he does have the option of brining in Mikel in the side. The former Real Madrid manager does have a habit of surprise selections in big matches and very few will be surprised if they see David Luiz line-up alongside Matic in the pivot as well. But one this is for sure, Mourinho can’t be too pragmatic with his tactics in this match after dropping points against Aston Villa and he will stick to his 4-2-3-1 formation with Samuel Eto’o leading the line.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech (GK); Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Lampard; Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard; Eto’o
Unlike Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger currently has to deal with a lot of injury concerns ahead of this fixture – something with which he hasn’t had much luck with during his long and illustrious career at Arsenal.
Aaron Ramsey, who was scheduled to return before the North London Derby, suffered a set-back in his recovery process and Arsene Wenger confirmed last week that the Welsh midfielder is unlikely to return before two more weeks – which means he will also miss out on the big clash against Manchester City at the end of this month. Theo Walcott, Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere and Ryo Miyaichi are the other long term injury concerns at the moment, along with Mesut Ozil, who is expected to return before Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final fixture against Wigan Athletic.
Worryingly for the Gooners, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was substituted in the dying moments of Arsenal’s match against Spurs with a minor calf injury, although he is expected to recover in time for this game. Kim Kallstrom has also regained full fitness and could make an appearance on the bench at Stamford Bridge on Saturday after missing out Arsenal’s trip to White Hart Lane. There are also some doubts about the fitness of Nickas Bendtner, who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently.
Arsene Wenger is likely to make just one change to the side that won against Tottenham in their last game. Mathieu Flamini, who came on as a substitute in the second half, is expected to start this game in the midfield alongside Mikel Arteta. If Oxlade-Chamberlain regains his fitness in time, which he is expected to do, he will join in attack out wide while Lukas Podolski drops down to the bench.
Despite their win in the big Derby and a solid defensive performance, something which they will need against Chelsea once again, Arsene Wenger will be a bit worried about the fact that his side didn’t look too threatening going forward – especially in the second half – and failed to keep possession of the ball at times. They will certainly need to improve on that against Chelsea, because unlike Tottenham, the Blues does have the quality in attack to punish them.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Flamini; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Rosicky; Giroud
- Jose Mourinho has never lost against Arsene Wenger as an opposition manager (W5 D5 L0).
- This will be Arsene Wenger’s 1000th competitive match as coach of Arsenal – his record in so far is W572 D235 L192.
- Arsenal have won away at Stamford Bridge more often than any other visiting side in the Barclays Premier League (7).
- The last five Premier League wins Arsenal have enjoyed at Stamford Bridge have all seen the Gunners come from behind to win.
- Chelsea have recovered more points from losing positions than any other team in the Premier League this season (14).
Players to watch-out for
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Jose Mourinho has recently expressed his dismay at the fact that the Belgium international is yet to win a single “Player of the month” award in the Premier League this season, despite being one of the best attackers in the league – and he does have a valid point. The 23-year-old has seemingly transformed under Mourinho and is taking his game to the next level. Hazard has already scored 13 goals and provided seven assists in 29 starts for the London club and the scary part is that he is perhaps yet to fulfil his true potential. The winger will once again be at the epicentre of Chelsea’s threat going forward in attack and his battle with Bacary Sagna could prove to be decisive.
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
It has been a stop-start season for the Spaniard where he has looked good in patches and then mixed it up with some fairly disappointing performance by his regular high standards. In the absence of Mesut Ozil, Cazorla is once again playing in his favoured central role, and he will have to step up and deliver the goods for Arsenal. The 29-year-old has recently committed his long-term future to the club and what better way to celebrate it than to provide a match winning performance against one of the title favourites.
Chelsea 1-0 Arsenal
It will be a very cagey affair with neither of the side willing to lose any early initiative. But expect Chelsea to step it up in the second half and produce the required result to stay in the title hunt. Arsenal will struggle to break Chelsea down and Arsene Wenger’s big day might not end in a celebratory note.