Although it is lacking the glamour of previous years, this fixture takes on a new intriguing storyline this season, as the pressure is on the hosts to beat the current Champions. Chelsea have little pressure on them this weekend and this could provide the perfect opportunity for them to show the quality they possess, as they have a good record against Arsene Wenger’s men. The season means little for the Champions now, as they are 14 points off the Champions League places and would need a near perfect run to get into the top four. However, they will relish the opportunity of causing problems for the teams chasing the title and they have that chance this weekend.
Arsenal are leading the table on goal difference ahead of the surprise package of the season, Leicester City. They haven’t been in the best of form since their heavy defeat against Southampton, and we fortunate to beat both Bournemouth and Newcastle United. They could easily have lost the matches against Liverpool and Stoke too on different days, but their ability to grind out 8 points from four under-par performances is the mark of a genuine title contender. Although their opponents have been extremely poor this season, Arsenal will know that it will be a tough game and that Chelsea still have a very good team, which beat them earlier in the season.
Chelsea are in 14th position and could finish the weekend just one point off the relegation zone if results go against them, which is extraordinary. Throughout Premier League history, this drastic fall from champions to potential relegation candidates hasn’t been seen before, and for it to happen to a side as talented as Chelsea is very surprising. However it highlights that poor direction from the board room and constant managerial changes isn’t even sustainable for the biggest clubs in the division.
Last season, this fixture ended in a 0-0 draw, as the visitors took a crucial step in clinching the Premier League title. In the earlier meeting this campaign, Chelsea secured a 2-0 win thanks to a goal from Kurt Zouma and a Calum Chambers own goal. Gabriel and Santi Cazorla were both sent off in a match clouded in controversy. Arsenal did secure their first win over Chelsea since 2011 with a 1-0 victory in the Community Shield, which they must use to give them confidence this weekend.
Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are likely to start after both overcoming injuries, which is a huge boost to Arsenal, who lacked something in attack against Stoke. Mohamed Elneny could make his debut at some stage. Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere are getting closer to a return, but won’t feature this weekend.
Diego Costa and Eden Hazard could both feature, but they are doubts with injuries. Radamel Falcao won’t play as he is still suffering with a thigh injury.
Arsenal have kept three clean sheets in their last four league matches, showing the importance of the signing of Petr Cech in the summer.
Chelsea are unbeaten under Guus Hiddink, but they have only won two of the six league games since the departure of Jose Mourinho.
Olivier Giroud has been really good recently, and showed his big game mentality in Arsenal’s crucial Champions League game against Olympiakos, and against Liverpool, in which he scored a brace. The Frenchman is much maligned in some sections of the Arsenal fanbase, but he is a really good forward, who guarantees upwards of 15 goals a season, which is impressive considering Alexis Sanchez is the fulcrum of their frontline when fit. Chelsea haven’t been very good defensively this season and will be nervous at the Emirates Stadium, which will play to Giroud’s strength as he likes to bully defenders. The Frenchman has 12 goals in the league this season and will be hoping to reach 20 in the league for the first time as an Arsenal player. If he does manage to get to 20 goals, that could be the key to securing the points to lead Arsenal to their first league title since 2004. The best part to Giroud’s game is his link up play with the attacking midfielders that Arsenal have in abundance. He brings the best out of the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Joel Campbell, which is why Arsenal have stuck with him instead of going all out for a better forward.
He will be returning to the Emirates on Sunday and is likely to be receive a bad reception, but he is getting back to form recently with an excellent performance against Everton. He managed to get a goal and an assist in the entertaining 3-3 draw, which could give him the confidence to go on a similar run to the one he went on when he joined the club. His range of passing has been off this season, but that has returned under Hiddink and he will be hoping that he can get into the Spanish side for the European Championships. Chelsea’s form this season will have had a negative effect on his hopes, but a strong finish to the campaign should be able to see Fabregas re-emerge as one of the best midfielders in the league. Arsenal’s central midfield is vulnerable with Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey not being the best partnership in the squad. Fabregas and Matic have the ability to win the midfield battle, which could lay the platform for the Blues to beat Arsenal once again.
It is going to be a tight affair, with both sides needing to win the match. Arsenal will be on the frontfoot and dominate possession, with Hiddink likely to start both Matic and John Obi Mikel to try and soak in the Arsenal pressure. Chelsea will play on the counter attack, which could be successful, especially if Eden Hazard is back on his game after a groin injury. The Belgian has been poor this season and I think he is the key to Chelsea getting any sort of success in the second half of the season. However, Arsenal will know they need to win this to confirm themselves as favourites for the title, and with with return of Ozil and Sanchez, I expect them to do so.
Arsenal 2-0 Chelsea