By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Stamford Bridge/January 10, 2017
This is the second installment of what’s going to be a triple header between Chelsea and Arsenal following the 2-2 Premier League draw at the Emirates Stadium last Wednesday. Both Arsene Wenger and Antonio Conte certainly had this game on their minds while submitting their team list for their respective FA Cup matches but the North London club came up short when they lost to a somewhat resurgent Nottingham Forest team 4-2 on Sunday. Chelsea also will take a second bite at the cherry following a 0-0 draw at Carrow Road against a stubborn Norwich City side adding an extra game to an already congested fixture list. If the thriller at the Emirates Stadium last week is anything to go by then this is going to be an interesting match for the neutrals even if it can also be a little cagey depending on the thinking of both managers.
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 56 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 16 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. The last installment of this London rivalry, with the end to end attacking manner it was played, is surely one of the best in recent memories and one can only be excited about Wednesday night under the floodlights at Stamford Bridge.
I’m sure Antonio Conte was hoping his fringe players will answer the call once again just like they did against Stoke City in the last game of 2017 but the performance against Norwich City at the weekend is nothing to write home about. That match at Carrow Road is the sort of game in which our new addition would have shine but he isn’t up to match fitness just yet. Even though we improved considerably during the second half it was ultimately too little too late. Eden Hazard should be back to partner Alvaro Morata in the Chelsea attack with the Belgian missing the trip to Carrow Road with a slight calf strain. Michy Batshuayi is the leading scorer in this season’s Carabao Cup with five goals but I doubt he’ll be starting this one considering how important Antonio Conte seems to take it. The Belgian again didn’t cover himself in glory at the weekend but he wasn’t helped by a faulty supply line, he should however manage to get a place on the substitutes’ bench tomorrow night. Willy Caballero has kept goal in all of our matches in the Carabao Cup so far but having been chosen to play at the weekend I think Thibaut Courtois might come back in for this one. David Luiz made his long awaited return to first team action at Carrow Road and based on his performance I doubt Conte will want to thrust him into such an important match with his match fitness still in doubt. Both Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen were rested at the weekend, and should be back for this one but it’s yet to be seen how Conte sets up his back three with the trio of Gary Cahill, Toni Rudiger and David Luiz vying for the other spot. Hopefully Victor Moses would have got his mojo back with the rest at the weekend as he was uncharacteristically very poor at the Emirates Stadium last week but should he not be ready I’m sure Davide Zappacosta will be all too glad to step in for him as he’s done the last two matches. Marcos Alonso is surely having the season of his life in front of goal this season having already matched last season’s tally of goals with almost half of the season still to play and like the rest of those that got the weekend off he should also be back to take on the Gunners. Danny Drinkwater has been knocking the door with his recent performances and this might just be the match in which he gets his chance if Antonio Conte decides to go with the same formation he deployed at the Emirates last week. Willian looked like the only one who could score against Norwich at the weekend but I doubt he’ll be starting this one and the same for Pedro on the opposite flank.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Victor Moses, Fabregas, Drinkwater, Kante, Alonso; Hazard, Morata.
Last Five Matches: DDWWD
This game will surely have taken on more significance for the Gunners with their unexpected exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Nottingham Forest on Sunday. Arsene Wenger also made nine changes to the team that faced Chelsea for the FA Cup match at the City Ground but I’m sure he wasn’t counting on finding the home team in such an inspired and determined form. He would still have been disappointed with his team because it was still a good enough team to beat a mid-level championship opposition but it wasn’t to be. The Carabao Cup represents Arsenal’s only real chance of a silverware this season with them being a massive 23points off the top in the Premier League and knocked out of the FA Cup and let’s be honest they don’t have the wherewithal to win the Europa League so Arsene Wenger and his team will be throwing everything at Chelsea over two legs. This isn’t the best of times for Arsene Wenger and his team with both Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi carrying knocks and will be requiring late fitness tests to determine their availabilities for tomorrow’s match. One of Mohammed Elneny and Francis Coquelin can step in for the Swiss but replacing Mustafi will be more difficult with only Per Mertesacker the only one who can replace his compatriot except Wenger decides to ditch his three at the back formation and pair both Rob Holding and Calum Chambers in the heart of defence because playing Mertesacker against Chelsea’s fast attacks will almost be disastrous. Wenger will be hoping to get all he can from his Chilean import before he departs in this window, except of course they will be willing to lose him on a free in the summer, and he’ll be hoping for more than what he saw from Sanchez at the Emirates last week. Record signing, Alexandre Lacazette is on a run of seven matches without a goal, and that’s hardly a stat you want to be taking to such an important fixture, but the run isn’t going to last forever and tomorrow is as good a time as any to end that dismal run as he’s likely to be chosen to lead the line with Olivier Giroud still out injured and Danny Welbeck is not having the best of seasons in front of goal either. Mesut Ozil will still be dictating Arsenal’s play if he gets the room to operate.
Cech; Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Maitland-Niles; Xhaka, Wilshere; Sanchez, Ozil, Iwobi; Lacazette.
Last 5 matches: LDDWD
Injuries: Olivier Giroud (Hamstring) –Out; Sead Kolasinac (Ankle) –Out; Laurent Koscielny (Achilles) –Doubt; Nacho Monreal (Ankle) –Out; Granit Xhaka (Groin) –Doubt; Aaron Ramsey (Hamstring) –Out; Santi Cazorla (Plantaris Injury) – Out; Shkodran Mustafi (Knock) – Doubt.
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 even though the Spaniard will be full of confidence going into this match after he got his team’s late equalizer the last time these two teams met last week.
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 four matches (3 goals 1 assist I aid) and the Nigerian must improve on his performance at the Emirates last week to stand a chance against Sanchez.
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 as big as it gets for both these London giants and I’m sure the Stamford Bridge crowd, and the millions that will be watching around the world, will be treated to a sumptuous feast of football at its very best. With the second leg still to come, Arsene Wenger might take a more conservative approach than usually so Antonio Conte will have to be proactive and take the initiative as it’s imperative we take a positive result to the Emirates Stadium in a fortnight to stand a chance of reaching the Carabao Cup final for the first time since winning the competition back in 2015. Continue to Keep The Blue Flag Flying High Blues!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Sky Sports
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