As Chelsea FC take on the only remaining challenger for the title, Arsenal, at the Emirates Stadium, two of our resident authors with partisan loyalties go head-to-head in a debate about which team will walk away victors from the encounter.
Chelsea and Arsenal have always been a game to watch, but with the added incentive for the Blues to effectively get one hand on the trophy by beating the Gunners the pressure will be on Mourinho to maintain his unbeaten streak against a reinvigorated Wenger who has grown increasingly in confidence as his side seems to go from strength to strength. League leaders Chelsea look worn out and exhausted, and will be content to crawl across the finish line if only Arsenal would let them.
In this edition of Rival Rendezvous, Ed Fernandez (hereafter referred to as EF), a True Blue, and Gooner Debarshee Mitra (hereafter referred to as DM), catch up to inspect each others’ positions for weaknesses.
DM: How are Chelsea going to cope with the absence of their strikers?
EF: That is a very pertinent question, and one that’s certainly on all of our minds. The hope is that Loic Remy can achieve match fitness in time for the game, because Dider Drogba has got an ankle niggle of his own to worry about and the big Ivorian has been less than impressive in his last few outings. If Chelsea do manage to best Arsenal, they could afford to let Diego Costa to have the rest of the season off under the assumption Leicester City will be somewhat of a formality. In the absence of all of their main strikers, Chelsea may decide to surprise everyone by playing as yet untested Isaiah Brown in the pivotal role, which will mean the bulk of the attacking responsibilities will fall on Eden Hazard yet again. The Belgian will be the only thing hauling Chelsea out of trouble up front.
DM: Mourinho has had a very good record against Wenger. How do you think Chelsea intend to exploit that?
EF: I don’t think that record counts for anything. For one, it was mostly a function of an era when Chelsea were on the ascendancy and Arsenal were struggling. When Chelsea began its downward slide, Mourinho was in an entirely different timezone, and so Chelsea’s losses to Arsenal came at the hands of other managers. It’s conceivable Chelsea may have lost at least some of those games even with Mourinho in charge. So the unfortunate record Wenger has head-to-head against The Special One has something to do with Wenger’s longevity in the league, and Mourinho’s rise coinciding with a damp spell in Wenger’s career. I think at the highest level of professional football it would be foolhardy to believe in jinxes. Wenger is too experienced a manager to believe he is habitually doomed to never win against Mourinho. That said Arsenal look the more threatening side, with Chelsea content to sit back and absorb the punishment. Both sides will be happy with a point.
DM: What should Arsenal expect from a Fabregas in blue?
EF: I imagine nothing different from what other teams have come to expect from him. Cesc will likely play in a more advanced role with Zouma presumably fulfilling his newly discovered role in midfield. I’m certain the former Arsenal captain will have brushed up on his journal of Arsenal tactics, but if Mourinho expects Cesc to single handedly pull a rabbit out of his hat and unlock the Gunners’ defence, he will be sorely missed. If history is anything to go by, most stars who return to the grounds of their former club rarely make the headlines the next day. Fabregas is unlikely to engage in a chest-thumping display of passion for Chelsea, mindful of the time he spent there. Hopefully the Gooners will treat him with the respect reserved for Lampard at the Bridge.
Its time for Debarshee to sit in the hot-seat.
EF: Not for the first time in recent history, Arsenal head into this fixture in excellent form, but do you think Arsenal can beat Chelsea under Mourinho for a first time on Sunday? Arsenal have performed much better against the bigger sides this season too, sign of things changing?
DM: Chelsea themselves have been in great form and almost have the title wrapped up with almost a moth of league action left, so obviously this will be routinely difficult. Also just like every other significant derby form goes out of the window in this clash as well. Mourinho’s passive tactics in away games against the relatively bigger sides have been hugely successful and I would expect the same on Sunday. Not giving our attackers any breathing space and setting up shop, I think Wenger will need to curb Arsenal’s natural game to counter that. No wins against Mourinho is a record that will keep strangling Wenger ahead of these matches till he gets that elusive first win. I don’t see why it can’t come this Sunday.
EF: As expected there is a lot of talk surrounding Cesc Fabregas, as he returns to his former home. What are your thoughts on the player, his move in the summer and how the fans might react to his presence on the pitch in opposition colours?
Cesc Fabregas is a brilliant footballer as he has shown throughout his career in whichever country or club he has played. Personally I feel there is a grudging disappointment amongst fans about his move to Chelsea. For all the denial, Cesc Fabregas was an Arsenal hero and it’s obviously difficult to watch a former hero play for a rival side, helping them clinch the title. After all, Fabregas has played a massive part in putting Chelsea so comfortable on the top of the pile. Arsene Wenger has requested the fans to be good to Fabregas, but I doubt any convincing works. There’s always a part of the crowd that will show their displeasure, while there will be a much warmer response from some sections. All part of the game.
EF: Has Arsene Wenger turned a corner with the FA Cup triumph last season? Can Arsenal go all guns blazing for the title next season? Like every other season?
DM: The FA cup win last season was seen as a watershed moment and though it immediately didn’t look like one in the earlier part of the season, with performances in 2015, both in the league and the FA Cup, you can see how much belief and confidence the players have. As for next season, I think it’s too early to say. Like you rightly put, Arsenal are probably thereabouts every season, but with a positive result on Sunday and if Arsenal actually manage to finish 2nd, the dynamics heading into next season will be altogether different. And of course there’s the small matter of reinforcing the squad in the summer. As I said, next season is too far away right now. Good luck for the game on Sunday.