Arsenal welcome Chelsea to the Emirates on Monday night in a game which holds great importance for both teams. The winner of the game will spend Christmas day above the other, which gives an added incentive to both teams. If Arsenal win they will increase the gap between them and the Blues to five points. If Chelsea come out on top they will be a point ahead of the Gunners. The importance of the outcome means it is sure to be an exciting fixture. The Gunners will need to bounce back following their disappointing 6-3 loss to Manchester City last weekend. Chelsea will also want to bounce back after exiting the League Cup in disappointing fashion to Sunderland in midweek.
Arsenal still have a number of long term injuries. Lukas Podolski (Hamstring) is still a few days away from a return. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Knee), Yaya Sanogo (Back), Abou Diaby (Knee) and Ryo Miaychi (Hamstring) are all out for the Christmas period. Defender Laurent Koscielny is out of this game with the knee injury he sustained at Man City, but he should be back for the Boxing Day fixture against West Ham. Chelsea currently have two injury problems. Midfielder Marco Van Ginkel is out for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury and Ryan Betrand is also out with a knock. Azpilicueta will keep his place at left back ahead of Ashley Cole.
The rivalry of the two has been intense for a number of years. The fixture itself has been played in every Premier League season since the league’s inception. The fixture is one that has tended to be dominated by a single team for prolonged periods. Up until the 2004/05 season, the Gunners had only been beaten by the Blues three times in the Premier League. Since that time, Arsenal have only won four Premier League meetings against Chelsea. Chelsea have won six of their last ten league meetings with Arsenal. In the last five games, both teams have two wins apiece with a 0-0 draw the result in the other fixture. Surprisingly, Arsene Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho in any fixture. In his previous spell at Chelsea, Mourinho won four and drew four of his eight games against Arsenal.
Theo Walcott has recently returned to action for the Gunners, and his two goals in the game against Man City were the one shining light from the performance. Walcott has a good record against Chelsea. He scored his first ever goal for the Gunners against the Blues and has now score five goals against them. Whilst Arsenal have been relying on the technique and skill of the players they have employed in midfield, Walcott offers them genuine pace in behind which can stretch opposition. Walcott finished last season with fourteen league goals last season which is a career best return. If he can get near that total again, he will have contributed a great deal for the Gunners. After missing much of the season, he now has two goals and three assists which is a return that Arsene Wenger will want him to build on.
Hazard has been a constant in Chelsea’s squad this season. He has started fifteen of his sixteen league appearances have been starts, showing the importance he holds in Jose Mourinho’s side. Hazard has managed six goals so far this season, which is only three goals off the nine he managed last term. This shows that he has stepped up and taken some of the goal scoring responsibility at a time when Chelsea’s strikers are misfiring. Hazard also has provided four assists, showing how big his all-round contribution has been. Adding more goals to his game was the next step for Hazard after a solid first season, and Mourinho’s arrival has brought out the best in him.
The importance of this game means that both managers will be putting great preparation into the fixture. The fact that the game comes at the start of the Christmas period and on a Monday night means that both teams will be fresh for the game. Arsenal may have a slight advantage as they will have had a nine day break since their last game at Man City. Chelsea’s loss in midweek could spur them on to a good performance, which will make the game very interesting for spectators. Chelsea’s good record against the Gunners counts a lot, but they’re not in the best of form and the Gunners will want to bounce back and show that they are truly title contenders. A 1-1 draw is my prediction for this one.