Thursday, October 19
 

Preview: Chelsea vs. Arsenal

Sports Mole previews Sunday lunchtime's Premier League meeting between champions Chelsea and London rivals Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.

The highlight fixture of this weekend's Premier League action comes at Stamford Bridge, where champions Chelsea host Arsenal on Sunday.

The two teams have already met once this season, with Arsenal coming out on top on penalties in the Community Shield, but it is Chelsea who have made the superior start to the Premier League season.


Chelsea

Some Chelsea fans may have begun to fear a repeat of their last title defence when they fell three goals down at home to Burnley before half time on the opening day of the season, but a second-half revival with 10 men began to show the early signs of recovery which have continued in recent weeks.

Antonio Conte's side have won each of their four matches across all competitions since that false start at Stamford Bridge, and against some tough opposition too with Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Leicester City among those dispatched.

The return of the Champions League in midweek brought with it an easier test as Chelsea laid down an early marker by thrashing Azerbaijani opponents Qarabag FK 6-0 on their first appearance back in the competition following a year-long absence.

Chelsea's difficult start to the season continues this weekend, though, and looking further ahead they have a tricky away trip to Stoke City, a visit to Atletico Madrid's new stadium and a home tie against free-scoring Manchester City to come in their next three league and European outings.

To be sitting third in the table and just one point off the leading Manchester clubs after their difficult start can be counted as a success for Chelsea, then, and they could even top the standings with a win should Man City slip up at high-flying Watford on Saturday.

The Blues will certainly be confident of keeping up their end of the bargain having lost just one of their last 11 Premier League meetings with Arsenal, and even that solitary defeat proved to be a blessing in disguise last season as it convinced Conte to switch to the 3-4-3 formation which brought his side immediate success on their way to the title.

Chelsea have won seven of their last eight home games and 23 of 26 across all competitions at Stamford Bridge since Conte's arrival, scoring 10 goals in their three outings in front of their own fans so far this term.

Conte also had the luxury of resting a number of key players for the comfortable win over Qarabag in midweek, so it will be a fresh Chelsea side that welcomes the Gunners to West London on Sunday.

Recent form in Premier League: LWWW
Recent form (all competitions): LLWWWW


Arsenal

While the midweek return of European football was plain-sailing and straightforward for Chelsea, that could not have been further from the case for Arsenal.

Already attempting to adapt to a late Thursday kickoff following 19 years in the Champions League, the Gunners saw the start of their Europa League match against Koln delayed by an hour due to crowd trouble before finally finishing at almost 11pm.

The saving grace was the fact that Arsenal were at home and so do not face a long journey back to England, while the relatively short trip to Stamford Bridge should also serve to limit the unfamiliar fatigue issues of a Thursday-Sunday turnaround.

The result will have also helped Arsenal to overcome the unsettling circumstances off the field as Arsene Wenger's side produced a second-half comeback to run out 3-1 winners.

In addition to the three points, perhaps the most valuable thing to come out of the game was a goal for Alexis Sanchez - his first of the season following a transfer window which saw him kept at the Emirates Stadium against his will.

It may be a case of papering over the cracks to some extent, but Arsenal have certainly shown a reaction to their back-to-back defeats at the hands of Stoke City and Liverpool with consecutive wins over Bournemouth and Koln.

Indeed, another win this weekend would see the Gunners move level with Chelsea, and suddenly things would not seem too bad following the talk of crisis which greeted two defeats in their opening three games.

History suggests that an Arsenal victory is unlikely, though. Wenger's side have lost eight and won none of their last 13 away games against a top-six team, with the most recent instance seeing them humiliated by Liverpool in one of the worst performances of the Frenchman's tenure.

The Gunners have also lost both of their away matches so far this season without scoring a goal and since January have been beaten seven times in 11 Premier League games on the road.

Wenger's side have won three of their last four meetings with Chelsea, though, including the FA Cup final last season and Community Shield this term, and if they can make it three wins in a row over their bitter London rivals - something they haven't managed since the Invincibles of 2004 - then it would ease some of the pressure on the Frenchman's shoulders.

Recent form in Premier League: WLLW
Recent form (all competitions): WWLLWW


Team News

Conte may be able to call upon the services of Eden Hazard from the start for the first time this season after he came through two substitute appearances unscathed on his return from injury.

The Belgian has scored three goals in his last four Premier League home games against Arsenal, including one of the goals of the season last term when he finished off a stunning solo effort.

The hosts also welcome Gary Cahill back from suspension, and the captain is expected to be restored straight into the starting lineup in place of Antonio Rudiger.

Conte could afford to rest a number of first-teamers for the win over Qarabag, and David Luiz, Alvaro Morata and Victor Moses are amongst the players who could be recalled this weekend - although the latter will face competition from Davide Zappacosta.

Arsenal also took the opportunity to rest of host of players in midweek, but Sanchez was amongst the starters and is expected to be so again having been left out of the Gunners' last league game.

Sead Kolasinac, whose half-time introduction helped to swing the game in Arsenal's favour, should start, while the likes of Petr Cech, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck will also be pushing for a starting berth.

The visitors are likely to be without Francis Coquelin due to a hamstring injury, though, while Santi Cazorla remains a long-term absentee.

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso; Pedro, Morata, Hazard

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolasinac; Sanchez, Ozil, Lacazette


Head To Head

Chelsea have won their last five home meetings against Arsenal, including a comfortable 3-1 victory when they last faced off in the league seven months ago.

The sides have met on three occasions since then, with the Gunners coming out on top in the FA Cup final and Community Shield, while the Blues were 3-0 winners in a summer friendly in between.

This will be Wenger's 59th encounter with London rivals Chelsea, making them the side he has managed the most games against during his 21 years as Arsenal manager.


We say: Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal

The prospect of Arsenal being well beaten away to one of their major rivals so soon after the Liverpool debacle should be enough to convince Wenger to opt for caution at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea should still have enough to come out on top against their London rivals, but Arsenal simply cannot afford it to be another rout.


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