Finally the day has arrived. A match that has been a feast for the media for a while, a fight between the two best sides in England at the moment, a battle between two of the most successful active managers in Premiership history. The prodigal son returns to his home only in attempt to set it on fire, it’s a a chance to shake the monkey off our back, a situation where the referee will be under huge pressure, a time where one successful streak will come to an end and, possibly, a duel that might turn out to be either a penultimate step on the road to the title or a huge step towards the best final place in the league since 2005 for another.
We have all read all about the rivalry between the two managers. Jose Mourinho hasn’t lost in twelve previous meetings with Arsene Wenger but some of the media had to blow it out of proportion. Mourinho has always had an upper hand over Wenger in terms of money spent, squad depth and referees’ bias. But try to explain that to journalists who claim “Mourinho has had the better of Wenger on twelve occasions”.
The two best sides in England at the moment
Even if Manchester City are currently ahead of us, Arsenal have two games in hand and have been the best team in 2015 in terms of points (33). We have won eleven out of thirteen matches in the league, sixteen out of eighteen in domestic competitions, seventeen out of twenty in all competitions, eight in a row in the league, nine in a row in the league at home, eleven in a row in domestic competitions, eleven in a row at home in domestic competitions, and nine in a row in all competitions.
Chelsea have won nine out of thirteen matches in the league, twelve out of eighteen in domestic competitions, twelve out of twenty in all competitions, four in a row in the league, five away from home in the league, six in a row in domestic competitions and have lost none out of their last fourteen in all competitions.
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The two most successful active managers in Premiership history
Arsene Wenger has won the league three times including the famous 2003-04 title without a single defeat and the one that included the underrated success of not losing a single away game in 2001-02. Jose Mourinho has won the league back-to-back in 2004-05 and 2005-06 including when his Chelsea had conceded just 15 goals, losing just one game in the process. Arsene Wenger has never finished outside the Top Four during his nineteen-year-spell at Arsenal while Chelsea under Jose Mourinho have never ended below third place.
The prodigal son
Personally, I don’t care about Cesc Fabregas. He forced his move to Barcelona in 2011-12 leaving us in all sorts of trouble. If I ever make a list of Arsenal’s best Spanish midfielders, Fabregas will end up behind Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla. Fabregas’ return in a Chelsea shirt shouldn’t be a big deal for us – he showed his true colours in 2011 and that’s it. He’ll be a huge threat today even if his form in the second half of the season has undergone a serious decline. He’s capable of delivering the final ball like the one that put the game to bed in the reverse fixture or scoring a decisive goal like against QPR two weeks ago.
The monkey on our back
We haven’t beaten Chelsea at home since December 2010 when a rampant Arsenal side buried Chelsea before the hour mark. Since then we have played four games at the Emirates – The Blues won twice (1:2 in the league 2012-13 and 0:2 in Capital One Cup last term) and twice matches ended as a draw (0:0 in the league in 2011-12 and last term). As you can see, we have scored just one goal in those four matches and that final blow to Chelsea was delivered by the world-beater Gervinho.
The South West Londoners have won more games in this fixture since our move from Highbury to Emirates (three times in the league and once in Capital One Cup) than us (1:0 victory in 2007-08 thanks to William Gallas’ header and the aforementioned 3:1 victory in 2010 with goals from Alex Song, Fabregas and Theo Walcott).
Michael Oliver’s performance at the Old Trafford has gone through a serious analysis. His decision to give the marching orders to Angel Di Maria was accepted among Gooners as a sign of a new dawn, a sign of times where the refs won’t be twelfth player of Arsenal’s big rivals.
Today, he’ll be under pressure from Mourinho who will moan about whatever Oliver does. And, if Diego Costa turns up on the pitch, he’ll have to watch the Spanish striker very, very, very closely and sanction his dirty moves with a card or two. Our players have to avoid dirty tackles like the one Welbeck delivered in injury-time during the reverse fixture or two-footed-challenges that Coquelin got away with in a few matches. Oliver’s biggest test and the most worrying threat for our defence will be Eden Hazard. He will look for contact and dive whenever he feels a touch from our defenders so Oliver has to be careful in order not to be fooled by the Belgian.
The one that will end successful streaks
Our victory would mean Chelsea’s unbeaten streak come to an end. A draw or Chelsea victory would mean our winning run is over.
The penultimate step towards the title or a huge step for our best finish since 2005
If Chelsea win at the Emirates, they would have to win one more game to mathematically secure their fifth league title. If we win today, we would make a huge step towards second place at the end as we would be ahead of both Manchester clubs with a game in hand.
So, what to expect today?
Chelsea have been really good this term. They’ve been playing ugly football recently – it’s amazing how they didn’t lose against QPR or against City at home – but they know how to grind out victories even when they park the bus and have less than 30% of ball possession (as seen last week against United). Everyone have been talking about their crisis but they don’t lose. They have lost just three games in all competitions (Newcastle, Spuds, Bradford).
Eden Hazard has been the most consistent performer this season and deserves the PFA Award. Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa were their driving force in the first half of the season but neither of them have enjoyed the second half. Their defence is joint best with Southampton (just 26 conceded goals except The Saints have played two games more than Chelsea), Thibaut Courtois is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and their defence is protected with one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe – Nemanja Matić.
We’ll probably go out with this starting eleven:
David Ospina will return in goal after Wojciech Szczesny didn’t excel against Reading in the FA Cup.
Mathieu Debuchy might still look rusty but I’d pick him over Hector Bellerin today. Debuchy is a more experienced defender and can keep Hazard at bay, with proper help from our right winger, of course.
Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel de Abreu might be the best choices for this game. These two pacy central defenders should keep any striker at bay.
Nacho Monreal has been immense throughout the second half of the season.
Francis Coquelin is the first name on the team-sheet. He’ll have to make quite a few arrests today without being sent off.
Santi Cazorla will have to repeat his majestic performance against Manchester City. Santi has never played well against Chelsea but today is an entirely different game.
Aaron Ramsey on the right wing will be a part of our plan to get domination in the midfield. He’ll have a lot of defensive tasks today as well.
Mesut Özil plays against his former manager and should find a way to create a goal or two against one of the meanest defensive lines in Europe.
Alexis Sánchez has usually been our best weapon at home and this should be the game where he’ll deliver the final blow.
Olivier Giroud has been rampant this season in the big matches and Chelsea have remained the elusive side which he hasn’t scored against yet. Today is the day.
Danny Welbeck has beaten Chelsea before with Sunderland and Manchester United respectively. He got himself on the scoresheet in the shocking 3:0 Sunderland victory at Stamford Bridge in 2010-11. He could also be deployed as a man-marker on either Fabregas or Hazard – just like Alex Ferguson did against Mourinho’s Real Madrid when the Englishmna was assigned to keep Xabi Alonso out of the game.
Theo Walcott has scored on five occasions against Chelsea – his first Arsenal goal was against Mourinho’s Chelsea in the Carling Cup Final 2007 – and played a key role in two of our most recent victories against them. However, the England winger is yet to return to his best form and looks rusty at the moment.
I’d go with our 3:1 victory even if a 1:1 draw looks more realistic option. Goals from Alexis, Giroud and Ramsey to end Mourinho’s unbeaten streak against Wenger, Hazard to score a consolation goal for the visitors from the penalty spot.
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 5 Oct 2014 Chelsea FC 2 – Arsenal FC 0
Premier League (EPL) 22 Mar 2014 Chelsea FC 6 – Arsenal FC 0
Premier League (EPL) 23 Dec 2013 Arsenal FC 0 – Chelsea FC 0
Capital One Cup (COC) 29 Oct 2013 Arsenal FC 0 – Chelsea FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 20 Jan 2013 Chelsea FC 2 – Arsenal FC 1
Arsenal 3 v 1 Chelsea