Friday, 3 February 2017

Chelsea v Arsenal Match Preview (04/02/17): Blues to Take One Step Closer to the Title?

If this is to be the defining week in Chelsea’s campaign, then it has started in excellent fashion.

Okay, so the more pessimistic Blues supporters will label the 1-1 draw with Liverpool on Tuesday as two points dropped, rather than one gained, after Diego Costa’s penalty miss which could have sealed the game.

But let’s be honest: it was an excellent save from Simon Mignolet, and with both Spurs and Arsenal dropping points in their midweek fixtures to come away from Anfield with a point is a fine result.

So if that is part one of the ‘Week of Destiny’ ticked off, then how about part two? Well, we welcome Arsenal to the Bridge for the Saturday lunchtime kick off, and they will be absolutely seething after going down 1-2 to Watford on Tuesday evening.

The Gunners have often been accused of self-sabotaging their title ambitions by losing silly games like the one against the Hornets, and while we have to be wary of the ‘wounded animal’ syndrome, you would imagine that their confidence has taken quite a battering. They are now nine points behind the Blues.

With 15 Premier League games to go, there are stacks of points to be played for. But victory for Chelsea on Saturday would certainly drive the second nail of the week into Arsenal’s title coffin.

Chelsea Team News

Antonio Conte once again has the luxury of a full-strength squad to choose from. Branislav Ivanovic has departed for Zenit in a deadline day move – and what an excellent servant he has been to the club – and we were unsure if the likes of Lionel Zouma, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Nathaniel Chalobah might have left on loan. But the Italian boss has kept as many of his cards in hand as possible, as a testing final third of the campaign awaits.

And so an unchanged team is expected. There’s no real tactical reasons for changing that set-up, and really the only question Conte has, as ever, is who to pick out of Pedro and Willian in the insight right position. Typically he’s gone for Pedro, although Willian got the nod on Tuesday, so we’ll back the Brazilian to be selected once again.

Chelsea v Arsenal Head to Head

One of the most celebrated fixtures in the English football calendar, there have been some 188 meetings between the two sides dating back to 1907….with Arsenal just having the upper hand in the head-to-head rankings.

The better news is that the Blues have enjoyed the bulk of the more recent success. They have lost just two of the last twelve; one of which was an inconsequential Community Shield game, the second was the 0-3 drubbing earlier in the season. That result drove Conte to switch to his preferred 3-4-3 formation….and the rest is history!

The Blues have won the last four meetings at the Bridge with a goal difference of +11.

How the Match Will Be Won

The main problem for Arsenal is that they simply cannot defend; three clean sheets in fourteen starts is simply not good enough for a side with title aspirations.

So we’re expecting Chelsea to score once, maybe twice, maybe more times, and the question then is can the Blues keep out the Gunners at the other end.

With six clean sheets in eight league starts on our own patch, the omens are certainly good, and historically that has been the case on home soil against the Gunners, who haven’t scored at the Bridge in 270 minutes of football.

It will require discipline though, with Arsenal looking to play those pretty little triangles in front of our back three. As long as we defend with organisation – e.g. Hazard and Willian dropping in to marshal the Gunners’ defensive midfield pairing, we should be able to cramp them for space.

Arsenal’s Plan B is to launch diagonal balls aerially to Olivier Giroud, although we suspect that Luiz and Cahill will have the measure of the Frenchman in the air.

Arsenal look particularly vulnerable down their right flank, where Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi provide in sufficient cover for Gabriel, Arsenal’s stand-in right back in the absence of Hector Bellerin. If Alonso, Matic and Hazard can play in pockets of space on the left-most third of the pitch, handy overloads could be created.

For most pundits, Arsenal are there to be shot at. They can be unsettled by breaking up their passages of play, and by preventing the likes of Alexis Sanchez drifting in-between the lines. If we can do that, there is no doubting our ability to score the goal(s) required to win this match.

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