22 January 2016

Arsenal vs. Chelsea: Tactical Preview (bring on Diego Costa, by all means)....

We might be deprived of a chance at rubbing Mourinho's face after he was unceremoniously sacked by—I'm sorry—after he and Chelsea "parted by mutual consent" in December, but that should take none of the edge of an encounter that stil offers plenty of history and perhaps even hatred. For as much as we love the fact that Chelsea sit just a few points from relegation, this is still by and large the same squad that won the Prem just eight months ago. After dropping points at Anfield and the Brit in recent weeks, we simply have to smash Chelsea for all three, both for the schadenfreude as well as the strategic value.

After all, we've been watching and waiting for Leicester's improbable form to drop—and it has, but so too has ours. Only goal-difference separates us. When Chelsea arrive on Sunday, we may have a chance to claim the top of the table for ourselves, pending the results at King Power and at Upton Park on Saturday. Boosting our hopes are the returns to fitness of Alexis Sánchez and Meust Özil, allowing Arsène a chance at naming something close to a full-strength XI for the first time in weeks if not months. Even better, we have less to worry about from the referee as Mark Clattenburg represents a considerable upgrade from incompetence and worse that is Mike Dean.Clattenburg might not be quite as heroic as, say, Michael Oliver after our FA Cup win at Old Trafford in March, but he's not nearly the villain that Mike Dean was when we ended up playing 9v12 as we did at Stamford Bridge in September.

Then again, rumours of injuries keeping Costa and Hazard out have been exaggerated and both should be available. Fine. I'd rather face a full-strength Chelsea than let them fall back on any excuses. Hazard, as we all know, has struggled for form all season, having failed to score a single goal to date. There is apparently more to scoring than going to ground and hoping the referee points to the spot. The combustible Costa, though, has been in fine form, grabbing five goals and two assists in his last five appearances, paralleling Chelsea's more-open approach under Huddink. Still, I'd rather have him on the pitch and see if he'll get sent off instead of facing someone of sounder mind. Clattenburg's sent him off in the past; he'd do it again if given the chance.

As to the larger tactical front, we've started to graft greater defensive stolidity to our still-open attack, and Chelsea have opened up their attack and their defense. Witness their struggles last week against Everton, who twice went ahead. For as impressive as Chelsea's fightback was, Chelsea's defense is surprisingly suspect. Maybe it's age; Cahill, Terry and Ivanovic are no spring-chickens and look increasingly weary. Courtois seems to suffer the opposite problem. At 23, he shows little of the form, command, or savvy of the man he dethroned.

If Huddink can take a page from Mourinho's book—the page that tells the players to listen to rather than tune out their manager—and get those players to sit back and at least idle the bus if not park it, Chelsea could come away with the point. However, I don't think there's enough pride or fight left in this squad to match our desire. We've beaten Chelsea in the Community Shield to end that little hex, and we have fond memories of that travesty at Stamford Bridge to fuel our fire for this one.

LAST 3
Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal (19.09.2015)
Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea (02.08.2015)
Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea (26.04.2015)

FACTFILE
Since Huddink took over, Chelsea have gone undefeated in their last seven outings.
Chelsea have not won at the Emirates since September 2012.
Arsenal have won nine of their last ten matches at home across all competitions.

INJURIES
Wilshere, Welbeck, Cazorla, Coquelin, and Rosický are out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerín; Ramsey, Flamini; Alexis, Özil, Campbell; Giroud.

Despite reviving Chelsea's hopes, Huddink will suffer his first loss as Arsenal run out to an early lead.

Arsenal 2-0 Chelsea.