Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Arsenal vs Chelsea Match Preview (24/01/18): Can Blues Nick All-Important Away Goal?

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We hope this sentiment proves to be untrue, but Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final, second leg could prove to be the most important game of our season.

It’s certainly an excellent chance to get our hands on some silverware, and while ambitions of lifting the Champions League trophy won’t diminish while we are in the competition this League Cup is, by all accounts, our best shot of glory in 2017/18.

The same rings true for Arsenal, and so there is plenty on the line – particularly given that the scoreline is poised beautifully at 0-0 from the first leg.

As such, an away goal would put us firmly in the driving seat, although note these only become active AFTER the standard 30-minute period of extra time should the match end in stalemate.

We go into the game in good heart anyway following the 4-0 demolition of Brighton at the weekend. The Seagulls are rarely hammered on home soil – indeed, this was just the second time all season they had conceded three or more goals at the Amex Stadium.

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The catalyst was some fine attacking play between Eden Hazard and Willian principally, with the pair sharing a trio of goals and helping to create our best moments. The latter in particular impressed, and he will surely start against the Gunners.

Indeed, Hazard himself has called for his teammates to attack at the Emirates Stadium, rather than simply look to contain their opponents. “It's a semi-final. We will go there to win, for sure,” he said.

“If we are thinking about setting up defensively against Arsenal then that's a bad thing, because we need to score goals. We will see what the team is like - maybe the manager can change some players.”

We shall wait and see if Antonio Conte heeds Hazard’s words or not….

Chelsea Team News

We do agree with Hazard: Chelsea will be best served lining up in their usual 3-4-3 fashion, rather than adopting the 3-5-1-1 system that Conte deploys when he is, perhaps, fearful of the opposition’s attacking threat.

That’s not to denigrate Arsenal’s talents by any means, but without Alexis Sanchez they are clearly a less potent force. Yes, they put four past Crystal Palace without him, but the Eagles have been absolutely decimated by injuries.

Alvaro Morata returns from suspension and should lead the line with Hazard and Willian, dovetailing so well against Brighton, in behind him.

Cesc Fabregas has a hamstring strain and will miss the trip to his former club, and Danny Drinkwater is struggling with his ankle – so N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko will continue in midfield.

It appears though Kenedy is on his way to Newcastle on loan, so Marcos Alonso is the only left wing back on our books at present; he will start on the opposite flank to Victor Moses, who is facing strong competition from Davide Zappacosta at the moment.

Gary Cahill’s thigh injury should keep him out until the weekend at the earliest, although Andreas Christensen should have recovered from the head injury that forced him off against Brighton.

Thibaut Courtois rolled his ankle in training and missed out against the Seagulls, but he should be fine to return between the sticks in place of Willy Caballero.

Arsenal vs Chelsea Head to Head

This will be the fifth meeting between Chelsea and Arsenal in the 2017/18 campaign alone….with the previous four all ending in stalemate!

The 0-0 in the first leg of this tie follows the goalless draw at Stamford Bridge in the league, while the first meeting of the campaign ended 1-1 in the Community Shield. And the last time the pair met at the Emirates it was a 2-2 barnburner.

Our record against the Gunners since Roman Abramovich came to the club reads W18 D9 L7, and we have only lost one of our last seven league outings at the Emirates Stadium.

How the Match Will Be Won

Clashes between two quality operators are often defined by who isn’t playing just as much as who is, and while Chelsea can be comfortable even without Fabregas and Cahill, Arsenal’s list of absentees is rather more overwhelming.

Alexis Sanchez is gone and hasn’t really been replaced: Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a fine player, but he isn’t a left winger. Besides which, he can’t play against us on Wednesday anyway.

Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck are both definitely out, while Nacho Monreal was subbed off in the first half against Palace after tweaking his hamstring.

The Spaniard has been a key performer for the Gunners this term, and his absence will hit them hard. Arsene Wenger’s determination to play three at the back, despite not really having the defensive resources, will continue to undermine his team’s efforts, and Monreal’s absence would not aid matters.

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The pace of Alexandre Lacazette and the guile of Mesut Ozil are the Gunners’ two key weapons, but both can be stopped with thoughtful planning. Kante, in particular, will be relied on to minimise Ozil’s time and space on the ball.

Attacking Arsenal is the only way: they haven’t kept a clean sheet in six Premier League outings, conceding two or more in four of those, and their defensive vulnerability is clear for all to see.

Hopefully Conte gets the memo….now let’s go and outgun the Gunners.

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