Two of the Premier League’s top three meet on Monday night when Arsenal host Chelsea at the Emirates (20:00 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
The Gunners have made a strong start to the season and lead the way with 35 points from 11 wins, two draws and three defeats, but received a little dose of realism last weekend, going down 6-3 to a rampant Manchester City.
Arsenal struggled to contain their hosts, who dominated in midfield and created numerous chances in the final third, outshooting the Gunners 22 to 12, 11 to 4 on target. It was a comprehensive defeat, but Arsene Wenger’s squad are still very well placed in the table and have the necessary attributes to maintain their title challenge into the new year.
Arsenal’s defence had, until that match, enjoyed the best defensive record in the Premier League and they were certainly not the first side to come away from the Etihad having failed to contain a vibrant City attack. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker still look a solid pairing, while Wojciech Szczesny continues to mature into a fine goalkeeper.
The Gunners also remain a potent attacking force, with Mezut Ozil (pictured) and Santiago Cazorla providing invention and Theo Walcott offering pace and directness. They do, however, lack strength in depth. Olivier Giroud is their only fit top line striker and his relative dip in form in recent weeks could be attributed to fatigue. Others could soon suffer a similar fate.
The good news for Wenger is that some of other attacking options are starting to regain fitness. Lukas Podolski will return to the squad on Monday after four months out with a hamstring problem, while Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain is expected back in early January. Despite this, Wenger may still look to add to his squad in the January transfer window.
In addition to Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Wenger will also be without Abou Diaby and Yaya Sanogo for Monday’s match, while Koscielny will also miss out after picking up a knee injury in the defeat to City. Jack Wilshere begins his two-match ban for aiming rude gestures at home supporters during last weekend’s defeat.
Chelsea are hot on the heels of their hosts on Monday with 33 points from 10 wins, three draws and three defeats. They have been involved in some high-scoring encounters over the last month or so, but now look set to move to a more pragmatic style in light of Jose Mourinho’s comments in the wake of their midweek Capital One Cup defeat to Sunderland.
Mourinho is a coach who likes his sides to be compact in the defensive phase and is clearly battling against his instincts by regularly employing a line of three attacking midfielders. Oscar is tactically aware and comfortable dropping back to form a midfield three, but opponents have still been able to find gaps on the counter attack.
The club’s record of 18 goals conceded is among the league’s best, but it is already three more than Chelsea conceded in the entirety of Mourinho’s debut, title-winning, season in 2003/04. His three senior strikers have managed just five league goals between them and Mourinho may feel that tightening up defensively is the best route to success.
The attacking bright spots have all come from the aforementioned attacking midfielders, with Oscar and Eden Hazard both thriving under Mourinho’s command. Hazard is blessed with clear natural gifts but has struggled to parlay them into consistent high-level performances. That has changed this season and he leads Chelsea in goals and assists.
Chelsea will be without long-term injury absentee Marco Van Ginkel for Monday’s match, while Michael Essien will miss out through suspension after picking up his fifth domestic booking of the season in the defeat to Sunderland. Mourinho has confirmed that Cesar Azpilicueta will continue at left-back, with Ashley Cole “on the bench or at home.”
Arsenal vs Chelsea Betting Tips Verdict
Chelsea won last season’s equivalent fixture 2-1 thanks to goals from Fernando Torres and Juan Mata and generally have a good record at the Emirates in recent times, having won three, drawn one and lost just one of the last five league meetings between the sides in North London.
Arsenal have enjoyed good home form this season, winning six of their eight matches at the Emirates, including victories over top half sides Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Liverpool. There have been signs in recent times, both domestically and in Europe, that the momentum that carried them through the early part of the campaign is beginning to slow.
All three of Chelsea’s league defeats to date have come away from Stamford Bridge and they have lost four of their last six away matches in all competitions. Mourinho’s comments in midweek do, however, suggest that he will employ a more conservative approach for this match, seeking, first, to prevent Arsenal from scoring.
We expect to see a closely fought encounter and one that is most likely to end in a low-scoring draw.