Match Preview: Chelsea vs. Arsenal #CHEARS
Stamford Bridge | February 4, 2017
The two London Rivals meet on Saturday, a game Chelsea must be looking at as a revenge game. It was a 3-0 loss at the Emirates the last time these two times met in September, but a lot has changed since then. Specifically, a formation change and subsequent domination. The Blues come into this game with a 9 point lead over Arsenal at the top of the league, and desire to beat the Gunners will be at an all time high. With one of the must watch games of the season coming up, let's get set with everything you need to know for the Derby
Although the club record winning streak is in the rear view mirror, this is still a team for which winning is becoming a habit. They have not lost since Spurs at the beginning of January, a stretch that includes the 1-1 draw against Liverpool last time out. If only Costa had not missed a late penalty, we could be talking about a win against the Reds, but a draw is a fair result for two teams of such caliber. The stretch to the finish line and a potential title is well underway, and after no reinforcements during the January transfer window (aside from recalling Ake), Conte has shown he is comfortable with the squad he has right now.
Could this be the day Conte switches from a 3-4-2-1 to a 3-5-2? The latter formation is something the gaffer has been recently finishing games with, with some positive results. Pundits and fans alike are calling for a permanent switch to that formation in an attempt to make this current squad even more lethal on the pitch. I personally would be surprised to see such a change in such a big game, but it will be interesting to see whether that formation is used at any point in the game. Either Pedro or Willian will have to be sacrificed, but it allows both Fabregas and Matic to be on the pitch at once, and combined with Kante that is not an easy midfield group to play against.
Call it luck or good work by the club's fitness staff, but Chelsea are the only current team in the Premier League to be completely healthy. There are no injuries or suspensions to speak of, which at this point of the season is a godsend for Conte.
The Gunners head into this match on the heels of a 2-1 loss against Watford, and once again missing their manager due to a continuing touchline ban (to be honest I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing for Arsenal. I mean...it's Wenger). We're into February and Arsenal are right there battling for the fourth spot, just where they usually are at this point of the season. With that being said they remain a dangerous team, and their 3-0 win over us was no fluke, whatever our formation might have been. Alexis Sanchez has matched Costa atop the Premier League goal leaders with 15, Ozil might be the most gifted number 10 in England, and Chelsea fans are all too familiar with what Cech is capable of between the sticks. Combine that with the fact that Giroud has 4 goals in his last 7 games, and we can see how dangerous they can be.
Their defensive line is no slouch either. Hector Bellerin is possibly the best right-back in the Premier Leauge, while Koscielny is arguably the best center-back equivalent. The latter has a history with Costa too, promising for a tantalizing matchup on Saturday.
All of this means the area for Chelsea to exploit is in center-midfield, where the Gunners are suffering from several absences. Xhaka, Cazorla, and Elneny are all absent for various reasons, while Aaron Ramsey picked up a knock against Watford and might not be a 100%. Wenger is known for being stubborn to change, particularly in terms of his 4-2-3-1 formation. This means the two central midfielders could be an injured Ramsey and Coquelin. There is a clear weakness that Chelsea can exploit
Injuries: Cazorla, Sanogo (out), Debuchy (unlikely), Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain (probable)
Away at Africa Cup of Nations: Elneny
3 Matchups to Watch
- Hazard v. Bellerin: After a good stretch of form, Eden Hazard has relapsed back into a familiar cold spell. Although he did get an assist against Liverpool he was subbed off with 30 minutes left and he hasn't had a goal since a 3-0 win against Bournemouth. We know all too well how Hazard can either show up or not, and in such a big match having an energized Hazard would be massive. Like mentioned previously, Bellerin is possibly the best right-back in England, so Hazard will need to be at his best to make a difference.
- Kante v. Ozil: If you want to know just how good N'golo Kante can be on his day, look no further than the last game against Liverpool. It was arguably his best individual performance of the season. Against the highest scoring team in the Premier league, the little engine that could was everywhere, intercepting passes and making key tackles. Arsenal happens to be the second highest scoring team in the league, and the German maestro Ozil is a big reason for that. Possibly the most tantalizing matchup of not just this game, but of every fixture this weekend.
- Costa v. Koscielny: Safe to say these two aren't exactly best friends on the pitch. Their animosity towards each other have been well documented:
Another chapter of their rivalry will be written on Saturday. Like it usually is when these two face off, whoever gets the better of the other will give their team a massive advantage
- The last time Arsenal beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was 6 years ago, in 2011
- There are reports that due to his media obligations and the restrictions of his ban, Arsene Wenger will be forced to sit with Chelsea fans in the East stand. Security and bodyguards will be provided by both teams
- The last time Arsenal did the double over Chelsea was in 2003/2004, the last time they won the title
- On a somewhat separate note, Frank Lampard announced his retirement this week. I began following the Blues way back in 2007, and Lamps was a big reason why. He was my personal role model and my idol, he was my favourite player and the one I always watched closely during games. I would personally just like to say thank you to Frank for getting me invested in this club and giving all Blues fans so many great memories over the years