By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Emirates Stadium/January 3, 2017
Happy New Year Folks!
2017 couldn’t have ended on a sweeter note for anybody associated with Chelsea Football Club than with a sweet 5-0 victory over an unusually subdued Stoke City side but as is customary in the Premier League, especially during the festive period, there’s isn’t too much time to savour victories with very short turnaround time between fixtures. And while I’d love to gloat about that sweet victory that ushered us into the year 2018 there’s a big matter of the trip to the Emirates Stadium for our first Premier League fixture of the New Year to talk about. The Gunners would have felt hard done by after victory was snatched from their claws at the Hawthorns on New Year’s eve when Craig Pawson awarded the home side a soft penalty late on, hence the Gunners would be up for this one as a loss will leave them with a mountain to climb in the race for the top four.
Arsenal is one of the teams that have a better head to head record against Chelsea having amassed a total of 75 victories over the years against Chelsea’s 62. There has been a total of 55 draws between these two London giants. In the Premier League Chelsea has faced Arsenal 51 times with the North London club coming out victorious on 19 occasions against Chelsea’s 17 with 15 draws in between. Antonio Conte has found the going tough against Arsene Wenger with just one victory against the Frenchman in five tries. Chelsea has lost just three of the last 10 encounters against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium (W4 D3) with the last of those losses proving to be catalyst to our title-winning run after Antonio Conte rethinking his tactics in the second half of that woeful performance at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal has scored just four goals in their last nine Premier League matches against Chelsea – all coming last season – and failed to score in seven of those matches. Interestingly though Chelsea has finished the game with 10 men in each of the last three matches against Arsenal with David Luiz the latest Chelsea player sent off against Arsenal. A victory at the Emirates Stadium for Chelsea this time around might be the determinant of how we end our season especially if Manchester City were to slip up before the end of the season and that would almost put paid to Arsenal’s top four ambitions.
Antonio Conte will surely have been pleased with his team’s performance last weekend particularly because Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Andreas Christensen were given the day off and his so called ‘fringe players’ rose to the occasion as Willian, Pedro and Drinkwater shone like a million stars against Stoke in front of the Stamford Bridge crowd. Some of those fringe players may just have played their way back into the team for the match at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night. Victor Moses, N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata all got substituted early on Saturday which means all three may retain their place in the team against Arsenal. Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas have both been important to the effectiveness of Conte’s new found 3-5-2 formation and with the coach likely to line the team up in that way both Fabregas and Hazard will surely be back in the team after been rested at the weekend. Danny Drinkwater certainly ran Willian close for the man of the match award with his performance and will be in the running for a starting place against Arsenal on Wednesday night so will the Brazilian who has been calling for sustained game time with his recent performances. It will take a total miracle for Batshuayi to play ahead of Morata at the Emirates Stadium but he should feature at some point and the Belgian is likely to stay at Stamford Bridge beyond the current transfer window after Antonio Conte said in his pre-match conference that there would be no movements away from Stamford Bridge unless we bring in new players. David Luiz, who hasn’t featured since October due to a combination of injury and the form of Andreas Christensen, and Charly Musonda have both returned to first team training but this match may come too soon for them. Although Tiemoue Bakayoko was rested at the weekend he may find breaking back into the team difficult with the way Danny Drinkwater performed but Conte seem to favour the Frenchman so he might get the nod tomorrow night.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Victor Moses, Fabregas, Drinkwater, Kante, Alonso; Hazard, Morata.
Last Five Matches: WWDWW
Injuries: David Luiz (Knee) –Out.
Arsene Wenger is having a defensive crisis at just the wrong time in the season with Nacho Monreal, Sead Kolasinac and Laurent Koscielny all doubts for this match and the timing couldn’t have been more inconvenient with the champions coming to town on Wednesday night. Mesut Ozil missed the last match against West Brom with a calf strain and Alex Iwobi was chosen to join Alexis Sanchez behind Alexandre Lacazette but the German should be fit enough to start on Wednesday. If he’s in the starting lineup, Jack Wilshere will be making is fifth consecutive starts in an Arsenal shirt for the first time since the 2013/2014 season but most importantly he might find it difficult to cope with Chelsea’s energetic midfield. Arsene Wenger lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation when Liverpool visited the Emirates Stadium in December with Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny and Ainsley Maitland-Niles defending Petr Cech’s goal. Jack Wilshere and Granit Xhaka anchored the midfield with the trio of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi playing behind lone striker Alexandre Lacazette. With the German back fit that might be the way Arsenal will lineup with Antonio Conte likely to crowd the midfield except one of Monreal and Kolasinac, both of whom can play as wingbacks, returns from injury in time. Hector Bellerin has performed well when faced with Eden Hazard in recent times but whether he’ll be able to live with the Belgian in the form he’s in is another matter entirely. Arsene Wenger will look to take advantage of the space that Chelsea’s wingbacks leave behind with the pace of Alexis Sanchez and Alex Iwobi but the pace and power of Danny Welbeck may also come in handy.
Cech; Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Maitland-Niles; Xhaka, Wilshere; Sanchez, Ozil, Iwobi; Lacazette.
Last 5 matches: DWDWW
Injuries: Olivier Giroud (Hamstring) –Out; Sead Kolasinac (Ankle) –Out; Laurent Koscielny (Achilles) –Doubt; Nacho Monreal (Ankle) –Out; Mesut Ozil (Knee) –Doubt; Aaron Ramsey (Hamstring) –Out; Santi Cazorla (Plantaris Injury) – Out.
Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin
Eden Hazard has been almost unplayable whenever he’s been in the mood and that seem to be happening a lot lately especially when Arsenal is the opposition as he seem to look forward to games against the North London club. I don’t see how Bellerin will be able to live with the hazards that Eden Hazard will bring.
Victor Moses vs. Alexis Sanchez
Alexis Sanchez will carry a threat surely but with his mind set on a move away from the Emirates Stadium I don’t see how he’s fully focused right now. Victor Moses has grown in leaps and bounds in the wingback position since that game against Hull City in October 2016 and he certainly will not be fazed by whatever the Chilean may throw at him even though Sanchez has been directly involved in five goals in his last three matches (3 goals 1 assist I aid)
Andreas Christensen vs. Alexandre Lacazette
Andreas Christensen will have to be on his toes at all times and his concentration must be razor-sharp for him to be able to cope with Alexandre Lacazette as the Frenchman is as dangerous as anyone in and around the box. What makes him more of a danger is that he doesn’t need too much space to wreak his havoc hence the Danish Prince must be alert to the danger posed by the Arsenal striker.
This surely is a top four six-pointer! Neither team can afford to slip up further in the race for the top four and with both Manchester clubs winning Chelsea will start this match in third just a point ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and five and seven ahead of both Tottenham and Arsenal respectively. A win will send us back to second ahead of the next Premier League fixtures which will see Liverpool and Manchester City go up against each other. This is not going to be easy but I see Chelsea proving too hot to handle for the Gunners even on their own patch. Let’s go and win us some points at the Emirates, shall we? Keep The Blue Flag Flying High and Happy New Year!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Chelsea FC
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