Saturday 4th February 2017 – Sky Sports 1 HD – 12.30
Following the stacked midweek Premier League action, we kick off the weekend with an absolute barn burner of a match with a top of the table London Derby.
Chelsea start the day 9 points clear of Arsenal who are joint 2nd on points with Tottenham (separated only by a 3 goal difference). With 15 games remaining Arsenal still have a small chance of winning the league, those slim hopes will be dashed if they lose to Chelsea on Saturday.
When Arsenal brilliantly tore Chelsea apart on the 24th September, they were 3 points ahead of their rivals after the first six games. A defeat on Saturday lunchtime however will leave them 12 points behind Chelsea and title hopes over. It’s a tough ask against a Chelsea side who have only lost 1 league game in the last 17.
It’s even worse news for Arsene Wengers side who don’t have the best of records at Stamford Bridge. The Gunners have lost their last four games at Stamford Bridge, conceding 12 goals and scoring just 1. In fact Arsenal have not done the league double over Chelsea in 13 years which was coincidentally the last time they won the league.
Chelsea’s home record has been fantastic this season with only 1 defeat, coming against Liverpool back in September. They have won 8 successive home league matches, scoring 24 and conceding just 3. And that great defensive record has been a key factor in Chelsea’s form this season, Conte has the side very well drilled and well organised. In fact Chelsea have kept 13 clean sheets in the league this season, level with Paris St-Germain as the most clean sheets this season across Europe’s top 5 leagues.
Diego Costa’s form continues to be strong following an alleged falling out with Manager Antonio Conte recently. He is the key danger man that Arsenal need to look out for having already bagged 15 league goals for Chelsea this season, he’s seriously putting his hat in the ring to be the league’s golden boot winner. Much of his transformation from last season is due to Antonio Conte’s man management, an influence that has been seen in the form of David Luiz and Victor Moses to name a few.
Chelsea currently have a fully fit squad available. Conte may decide to recall Pedro who lost his place to Willian on Tuesday night as they drew with Liverpool. There is also the option of seeing ex-Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas get a shout, hoping to add to his 6 league assists in 14 appearances this season.
For Arsenal, they will go into this game following a crushing defeat to Watford on Tuesday night, a game they threw away with an inept first half display. This defeat, one too many for Arsenal fans who are growing ever more frustrated by their teams lack of title challenge.
Arsenal have lost 3 of their last eight Premier League games, the same as they did in their previous 30 in the league. One of the main frustrations from Tuesday night was the amount of changes Arsene Wenger made to the team that so comfortably beat Southampton in the FA Cup last week. They were fast and incisive, Walcott with a hat trick and Welbeck making his presence known. But the players were not rewarded for their performances and this lead to disgruntlement amongst the Arsenal faithful.
Arsenal will know a defeat at Stamford Bridge will realistically end their title hope for another season and will be playing to ensure a top 4 finish, a task in itself which is easier said than done with only 5 points separating 2nd and 6th.
On a positive note, Arsenal have scored in 14 successive league games, the longest run in the league. Much of this has been due to Alexis Sanchez, a man Arsenal rely upon so heavily, he is to Arsenal what Costa is to Chelsea, perhaps even more so.
Olivier Giroud and Oxlade-Chamberlain are both facing late fitness tests although Aaron Ramsay is ruled out for up to 3 weeks with injury. Arsenal are of course without Mohamed Elneny who is at the Africa cup of nations. Granit Xhaka is still unavailable due to suspension.
Arsenal will do into this game knowing that that have it in them to get 3 points, on their day can beat anyone and did so against Chelsea so spectacularly earlier on in the season.
However since Antonio switched the Chelsea formation to 3-4-3, they have seemed a completely different beast. Where Chelsea faltered earlier on in the season, they have since tightened up. For Arsenal to get anything from this game they will need to be on their best, but the momentum is with Chelsea, and at home you wouldn’t bet against them.
By Michael Thatcher