The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Chelsea
The Premier League decider. Sort of.
- Reading 1-2e Arsenal (FAC)
- Burnley 0-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Monaco 0-2 Arsenal (CL)
- Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- QPR 0-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Hull 2-3 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-1 So’ton (Prem)
Should Arsene Wenger’s men win on Sunday afternoon, then the west Londoners’ march to a first title in five years will be delayed by another week.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that this has been coming ever since Jose Mourinho recruited Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa last summer. So strong and well balanced has the Chelsea first XI been, rotation hasn’t been an option.
Sometimes Oscar plays, other times Ramires does. Against the Prem’s better teams, hulking slab of wrecking ball meat Kurt Zouma may play in midfield – and expect him to do just that against the Gunners. Those personnel changes apart, you know what you’re going to get.
The Blues will go into the game with a no-lose mentality, one which has served them well against the big teams this season.
They drew home and away with Southampton and Manchester City, despite the latter’s jittery campaign, and finished level with Manchester United earlier in the season. Elsewhere, ensuring victory is more than enough. Chelsea haven’t won by more than one goal since beating Swansea 5-0 in mid-January.
Sunday may yet prove another close encounter, but there’s nothing Mourinho loves more than getting under the skin of Wenger. The Premier League’s two alpha males have sat in opposite dugouts on 12 occasions over the years and the Frenchman is yet to win, losing seven and drawing five.
Few barbs have cut Wenger as deeply as the Special One’s description that the Gunners boss “is a specialist in failure”. Last season’s FA Cup triumph, and a second successive final this term, at least prove Arsenal are on an upward curve. Few would have predicted, either, that they would sit second, especially after the traumatic first leg of the Champions League last 16 tie with Monaco. They’ve won every game since.
With Santi Cazorla and the much-maligned Mesut Ozil shining, Olivier Giroud in good form and Alexis Sanchez continuing to electrify, Arsenal approach the game in full confidence. Should that first victory over Mourinho arrive, then, is it definitive proof that the new Arsenal have arrived? Though undoubtedly encouraging, it may not. It would be peak Arsenal for them to beat Chelsea with little riding on the outcome.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain misses out with his latest muscle injury, while Per Mertesacker’s ankle sprain picked up against Reading in last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final success makes the giant German "50-50". Chelsea’s injury worries all concern their centre-forwards. Question marks surround Diego Costa and Loic Remy's fitness, while the ankle knack Didier Drogba has been managing all season has flared up again. Should the Ivorian not make it, it will be interesting quite who Mourinho plays up front.
Key battle: Francis Coquelin vs Cesc Fabregas
When Coquelin returned to the Emirates after an impressive loan at Charlton, your reporter was known to wonder aloud at FFT Towers (sometimes at length) about the Frenchman’s sustainability in the Arsenal engine room. But the 23-year-old midfield anchor has performed brilliantly as the sole defensively minded destroyer for Wenger’s men. Though you’d still expect the Gunners to go shopping in the summer, Coquelin has been the driving force behind the revamped 4-1-4-1 that has really got Arsenal playing.
How he deals with the returning Cesc will go a long way to deciding the fixture. Zouma should partner Nemanja Matic in defensive midfield, with the Spaniard encouraged to play further forward, coming into direct contact with Coquelin. Fabregas’s first game back at the Emirates in Blue adds further intrigue.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal (PL, Oct 14)
- Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal (PL, Mar 14)
- Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea (PL, Dec 13)
- Arsenal 0-2 Chelsea (LC, Oct 13)
- Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal (PL, Jan 13)
Where do you start with these two? Along with the now-departed Sir Alex Ferguson, Wenger and Mourinho complete the Premier League’s trident of stellar managerial names. Constantly at each other’s throats since the Special One’s arrival 11 years ago, they’re like a snipey married couple. The latest barb? Wenger’s response at the weekend to whether he knew the Chelsea score against United: “1-0... the usual, then.” Sweet.
Facts and figures
- Chelsea have scored first in all 20 of their games in all competitions in 2015.
- Wenger has lost just 5 competitive home games by a 3+ goal margin during his tenure as Arsenal manager; 3 of which have come against Chelsea.
- In the reverse fixture against the Blues back in October, Arsenal failed to have a shot on target for the first time in a Premier League match since September 2003 (at Manchester United).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
1-1. Chelsea won’t lose, Arsenal won’t have enough to win.