Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Chelsea vs Arsenal Match Preview (10/01/18): Expect a Carabao Classic Between Two Full-Strength Teams

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Probably the worst outcome from Chelsea’s FA Cup third round trip to Norwich was the 0-0 draw we had to make do with.

That means a replay, and yet another midweek game, for the Blues, and Antonio Conte will once again have to shuffle the pack to get his squad blend right.

One of the main factors for our disinterest in the FA Cup is that, for now at least, the Carabao Cup has to take priority as far as the domestic cup competitions are concerned. We are into the semi-finals, and a two-legged encounter with Arsenal dangles the carrot of a trip to Wembley and the chance for Conte and his men to get their hands on some silverware.

However, the Gunners aren’t going to be pushovers, and the fact that they are now out of the FA Cup means they can pool all of their resources into winning this tie with Chelsea – a fact alluded to by the Daily Mirror, who report that Arsene Wenger will name a full strength side at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. We would expect Conte to follow suit.

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The Norwich game is worthy of nothing more than a footnote. A much-changed Chelsea side dominated the shots on target count by 7-0, but simply could not find a way to put the ball in the net with the likes of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata rested.

With that duo restored to the starting eleven alongside the others who were given Saturday off, we can be confident of a much improved showing against Arsenal.

Chelsea Team News

We had predicted that Antonio Conte would make wholesale changes for the trip to Carrow Road, and the Italian certainly didn’t disappoint on that front!

Expect him to take Wednesday’s fixture rather more seriously, however, and if possible pick a starting eleven that closely resembles that which drew 2-2 against Arsenal a week or so ago.

So Thibaut Courtois returns between the sticks, the normal back three of Azpilicueta, Christensen and Cahill resumes their partnership and the wing backs of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso return – despite Davide Zappacosta impressing against the Gunners when coming on as a sub in that exhilarating stalemate during the New Year.

We know that Conte prefers to play a 3-5-1-1 formation in these games against big clubs, so expect him to opt for the same strategy here with N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas returning alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko.

Eden Hazard has been struggling with a calf injury of late but appears to be winning the race for full fitness, and he will slot in behind Alvaro Morata, whose desperation to end a mini goal drought is clear for all to see.

Chelsea vs Arsenal Head to Head

We can add another draw to the history books following the 2-2 stalemate at the Emirates last week, with the head-to-head record now reading Chelsea with 62 wins, Arsenal with 75 and 53 draws.

Since the dawn of the new millennium, or the post-Abramovich years, we have turned the tables on the Gunners with a run of W18 D8 L7.

More pressingly, take a look at our record against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge: W8 D1 L1 in our last ten speaks volumes.

How the Match Will Be Won

As was the case in the meeting between the pair, Wednesday’s clash is likely to be dictated in some respects by Arsenal’s defensive injury woes.

It appears as if both Nacho Monreal and Saed Kolasinac are definitely out, while Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny will need to pass late fitness tests. Just in front of them Granit Xhaka is rated no better than 50/50.

So the Gunners may line up with a central defensive trio of Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker….and if that doesn’t get the juices flowing within Hazard, Morata et al then nothing will.

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Arsenal remain strong going forward though with a front three of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette liable to cause any side problems; assuming that is, in the case of Sanchez, that he isn’t distracted by rumours suggesting a move to Manchester City is imminent.

Coming so quickly after the battle of the Emirates last week, we simply have to assume that this game will follow hot on the tails of that fixture. As such, we can expect an end-to-end contest with plenty of goalscoring opportunities created by both sides.

That said, Chelsea were the better team on the day and should have won it – Morata missed a couple of golden chances and Davide Zappacosta hit the bar, while both of Arsenal’s goals were world-class, ‘once in a blue moon’ strikes.

With home advantage restored, we have to really fancy our chances of securing a positive result to take across the capital for the second leg in a fortnight’s time.

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