Thursday, 16 August 2018

Chelsea vs Arsenal Match Preview (18/08/18): The Joy of Six for the Blues

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The majority of football fans, no matter who they support or what level they play at, are prone to feelings of optimism and expectation before the new season begins.

Those can be extinguished within a tawdry 90 minute performance, of course, but sometimes the feelings of excitement are justified.

That was certainly the case for Chelsea supporters last week as we witnessed our boys hit the ground running in fine style at Huddersfield.

A goal from debutant Jorginho and further strikes from N’Golo Kante and Pedro were enough to secure the three points in Yorkshire, and there were no obvious signs of concern in the switch from 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3 formation installed by new boss Maurizio Sarri.

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In an ominous warning for the rest of the Premier League, the Italian has said it could be up to three months before his new side are firing on all cylinders. When quizzed how long before the Blues were comfortable with his tactics, Sarri said: “It depends on me and the players. I don't know. Hopefully two months and not three.

“I have to know the characteristics of the players. I have to adapt myself to the characteristics of the championship and the players. Now I study my players.”

To give an indication of our progress, we are odds-on with the bookmakers to beat Arsenal in Saturday’s tea-time kick off. The Gunners were well beaten by Manchester City last time out, and with injury problems Sarri and his players will be hoping for the joy of six (points) by the close of play.

Chelsea Team News

There were nothing but positives to be taken from the 3-0 win at Huddersfield, with the new players shining and the new shape seemingly bedded in well.

Kepa seemed to be a failry solid and dependable figure in goal, communicating with the defenders in front of him (despite the language barrier) and pulling off a routine save from an Alex Pritchard free kick. The Spaniard can expect to be busier this week!

Jorginho is a player that Sarri knows well from his time at Napoli, and you can see why the new boss was so keen to bring his old charge in. He barely gave the ball away in a congested midfield area, and showed great composure to score from the penalty spot on his competitive debut. He and Kante could form a formidable pairing in the middle of the park.

And while they aren’t new players to the club, there was an obvious spring in the step of the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Ross Barkley and Pedro as they pulled on the blue shirt.

Azpilicueta was reborn in the right back role, given the freedom to attack as he pleased down the side; as an outstanding crosser, this is great to see compared to his conservative role as a third centre back last term.

Luiz came into the side and barely looked as if he had been away despite his lengthy absences last season, while another injury-ravaged Chelsea boy – Barkley – looked sharp, fit and focused.

And Pedro, so often deployed in a defensive context by Conte, appeared to have his attacking joie de vivre back.

With Cesc Fabregas the only absentee, as far as we aware, Sarri must decide whether to keep the same starting eleven that defeated the Terriers or bring back his rested World Cup stars.

You suspect that Eden Hazard might get the nod against the Gunners….

Chelsea vs Arsenal Head to Head

This is one of the most storied rivalries in English football, with the nominal ‘king of London’ title at stake as well as three massive points in the shake-up for a top four finish.

Our record against the Gunners, dating back to 1907 no less, reads W62 D57 L76, but of course we’re more interested in the modern battles.

And it’s here where our record is not good. We’ve only beaten Arsenal once in our last eight meetings, and haven’t defeated them at all in a six-match streak dating back to early 2017.

Let’s hope the Sarri effect can take hold on Saturday!

How the Match Will Be Won

Maybe the key narrative here is not about Chelsea but instead about Arsenal’s defensive injury woes.

Undoubtedly their best defender, Laurent Koscielny, is out until November at the earliest, while Sead Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Carl Jenkinson are all on the treatment table.

Nacho Monreal may come back in, but this could be a back four unfamiliar with one another if the likes of Sokratis and Stephan Lichtsteiner alongside the error-prone Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi.

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They will be protected by fledgling defensive midfielder Matteo Guendouzi, a 19-year-old who was playing Ligue 2 football last season and who was exposed by Manchester City at times on Sunday.

The Gunners are good for a goal – Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Ramsey et al – but defensively they look weak. So, expect Chelsea to win an entertaining contest with plenty of goals.

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