So we arrive at game number 6 sitting fourth on 10 points ahead of today’s opponents on goal difference. Suffice to say even at this early stage of the campaign the Arsenal v Chelsea fixture is as significant as ever. Arsenal are in form, have positive selection decisions to make, are at home and are favourites with the bookies. Balance that with the fact that we have not beaten our West London neighbours in the league for 5 years and have failed to score against them in the competition since January 2013.
It would be fair to say that a win for either side would be damaging to the other both for the points gained and lost and certainly psychologically. A win for the Gunners would be hugely significant and it truly does feel like now is the time. Both teams can score freely but for the first time in many a year it would not be stretching it to suggest that the home side have the greater security in defence. Even with the aging Terry the Blues have looked suspect and without him perhaps even more so. The footballing world raised its collective eyebrow as David Luiz was re-signed and the Arsenal’s fluid and fast moving front three will relish facing a Cahill/Luiz partnership. Conte also has to decide whether to recall Ivanovic and move Azpilicueta back to the left back position. Given the form of Iwobi he might be tempted to leave the Spaniard on the right but that leaves a patently not fully match fit Alonzo facing a resurgent Walcott.
Wenger conversely has a steady back 4 playing well as a unit and led by the best central defender in the league. Koscielny is one of only 2 Gunners available for selection who has savoured a Premier League victory over Chelsea. It was the fabulous 5-3 win in 2011 from which he and Theo survive. It would be lovely for the man deserving of the armband to be the man who finally captain’s an Arsenal home league over Chelsea. Particularly since the last man to do so from memory was Cesc Fabregas in 2010. A record I am sure most would like to see disappear as it seems inappropriate the the last skipper to help us beat Chelsea is playing for them. Arsenal’s 3-1 win in December 2010 inspired by Fabregas and Walcott saw the Gunners move into second and if resulkst go our way a win could do the same today.
It will lovely too to have Mustafi up against Costa rather than Gabriel. The German will be relishing the prospect of truly showing the Arsenal home crowd how good he is, against one of the toughest strikers to play against. It will also be intriguing to see Bellerin and Hazard as an on pitch duel and our young in demand Spaniard will need to be on the top of his game for sure.
For Arsenal despite Lucas Perez opening his account in midweek I would be surprised to see a change on the fluid interchanging front three of Alexis, Walcott and Iwobi. How lovely though to be able to bring the Spaniard on in any of the three positions and I am sure we will see our number 9 at some point.
That being the case the only real decision for Wenger is whether to alter the Coquelin/Cazorla midfield axis. Elneny has done little wrong but it is our star signing Granit Xhaka who is doing everything right and must be pushing for a starting berth this afternoon. Given the pace of William and Hazard it must be tempting to retain Coquelin, for his pace and recovery rate in support of the fullbacks.
Out of interest I ran a poll on Twitter asking the pivot the supporters wanted to see face Chelsea. The poll saw close to 700 votes so is a reasonable representation of the current view:
Cazorla and Coquelin – 30%
Coquelin and Xhaka – 18%
Cazorla and Xhaka – 52%
The message long term seems fairly clear at present. Over 80% want Santi, with his ball retention, ability to turn either way when facing his own goal and his distribution in the team. Over half want to see Xhaka and Cazorla given a chance to blossom and just below a third are content to stick with the current winning formula.
My guess is that we will see the status quo at outset today, wary of Chelsea’s pace on the counter but on Wednesday in the Champions League we will see Santi and Granit or perhaps even Xhaka and Elneny.
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Arsenal unchanged and to finally secure the Premier League win over the team that has become their nemesis. Chelsea will score but Arsenal will score more!
A better outcome on Wenger’s 20th anniversary against the same opposition than when he marked his 1000th game.