MATCH REPORT: Chelsea 3-2 Arsenal

Arsenal have picked up second consecutive Premier League defeat after losing 3-2 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, this evening.

The Gunners were facing an uphill battle early on, as two first-half goals from Pedro Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata placed Chelsea two goals up.

Unai Emery’s men bit back in a spirited fashion, however, with two goals of their own before half-time, as the two sides took to the interval locked at 2-2.

Chelsea’s dominance in the second half was telling, granting them the final say in the clash, as Marcos Alonso’s 80th minute finish snatched all three points for his side in a five-goal-thriller.

Among the changes in Emery’s ranks was Iwobi’s introduction, coming in for the benched Aaron Ramsey, meanwhile Nacho Monreal marked his return to the first-team following Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ injury last week.

The Arsenal full-back came close to delivering for the visitors early doors, as his cross from the left was glanced on by Mesut Özil on the volley before skipping just wide of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s goal.

Chelsea’s response was fatal, however, as Jorginho freed Marcos Alonso in behind the Arsenal defence before setting Pedro up for a first-time finish past Čech, placing Maurizio Sarri’s team 1-0 up by the 9th minute.

The Gunners should’ve bounced back through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the 19th minute, found by Héctor Bellerín’s cut-back, but the Gabonese striker’s effort floated way over the bar with much of the goal at his mercy.

Once more, Chelsea were able to flaunt their clinical eye for goal through Alvaro Morata’s first goal of the season, as the Spaniard peeled away from the Arsenal backline to run through on goal, shifting Shkodran Mustafi out of his way and finishing in the 20th minute.

Another golden opportunity came the North Londoners’ way, this time falling to Mkhitaryan following Iwobi’s good work down the by-line, but the Armenian would suffer from the same fate as his ex-Dortmund teammate Aubameyang when blazing an effort over from a prime position.

Mkhitaryan was quick to make amends, however, drilling a loose ball from the edge of the box into the back of the net in the 37th minute, as Arsenal pulled a goal back.

At the other end, Morata was bringing Čech into action with an arced effort, requiring the veteran goalkeeper to tip the Spaniard’s effort over the bar.

Low crosses continued to cause chaos in the Chelsea box, with Arsenal finally making one count through Iwobi’s finish inside the area to level the game in the 41st minute.

A chance each for Iwobi and Aubameyang threatened to complete the turnaround for the Gunners on the brink of half-time, as the two London rivals entered the interval tied at 2-2.

Chelsea emerged rejuvenated for the second half, enjoying large spells of possession before Ross Barkley looked to force his way through in the 56th minute, as Čech got a strong and important hand to the ex-Everton man’s low strike.

Čech was there again to deny David Luiz from a free-kick position in the 74th minute, with Chelsea attempting to squeeze the Gunners in for the final 15 minutes, in search of a winner.

Ramsey aimed to drag some life into Arsenal’s attack with a cross-shot at the other end, as Kepa kept things tight for his side.

But Chelsea’s dominance soon translated itself into a goal, with Eden Hazard waltzing past Alexandre Lacazette down the wing to feed Alonso inside the box, who made no mistake when squeezing a shot under the goalkeeper and putting the Blues ahead in the 80th minute.

Arsenal old boy Giroud neared a killer blow against his former side with a measured left-footed strike, but Čech stood firm to deny another attempt at goal.

Ramsey was later on hand to offer the hosts a final fright, volleying just over the bar from Mkhitaryan’s knock-down before Arsenal surrendered to a 3-2 defeat.

By Patrick Ribeiro

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7) – Héctor Bellerín (4), Shkodran Mustafi (5), Sokratis (5), Nacho Monreal (6) – Mattéo Guendouzi (7), Granit Xhaka (4) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (6), Mesut Özil (5), Alex Iwobi (7) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (5)

Subs: Lucas Torreira (6), Aaron Ramsey (5), Alexandre Lacazette (5)

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 2-2 CHELSEA

Arsenal rescued a point in a thrilling London derby that saw Chelsea and the Gunners play out a 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium, courtesy of a storming Héctor Bellerín strike in stoppage time.

The Spanish wing-back was on hand to claw a point with a wonderfully-hit first-time volley in a game that saw Arsenal take the lead through Jack Wilshere, already in the second-half.

Chelsea completed the turnaround, firstly through Eden Hazard’s controversial spot-kick and later through Marcos Alonso from close-range.

But as the clock ticked down, up stepped Bellerín the ensure the spoils were shared in the 92nd minute, as the likes of Alvaro Morata and Davide Zappacosta closed in on the winning goal at the other end in an exciting finish to the contest.

With Mesut Özil fit again, plenty of focus was also placed upon his compatriot, Shkodran Mustafi, to guide the defence in Laurent Koscielny’s absence, with Calum Chambers and Rob Holding lining up either side of him.

Chelsea would target the youthful backline of Arsenal’s and near the opening goal as early as the 14th minute, as Alvaro Morata spun in behind Chambers before stroking the ball wide when one-on-one with Petr Čech.

The Gunners readied their response through Özil’s intricate play with Ainsley Maitland-Niles inside the area, allowing Alexis Sanchez to charge through, fire at goal and strike the inside of both posts from Thibaut Courtois’ handy save.

Chelsea’s Belgian shot-stopper would again be called into action in the 22nd minute when Alexandre Lacazette found the space to turn and strike his shot low, with the effort being met by Courtois’ strong left hand.

A cute backheel from Eden Hazard allowed Cesc Fabregas to take aim with a curler and threaten to break the deadlock on the brink of half-time, but goalless is how the first-half would remain after the Spaniard arced his shot wide.

The second-half returned with chances at either end, as Čech denied Hazard well with his feet before a fortuitous turn from Lacazette in Chelsea’s area saw the Frenchman try his luck with power, enabling Courtois’ save when closing down his angle.

A neat give-and-go between Özil and Lacazette opened up space for the German on the right-hand-side of the area, but the angle would escape the Arsenal playmaker when surrendering with a hopeful pass across the box, as Chelsea cleared their lines.

The Gunners would finally make Chelsea pay in the 61st minute, however, as Holding’s deflected pass into the box was picked up by Jack Wilshere and thundered in at the front-post.

Wilshere’s goal seemed to revive the visitors, who’d be gifted a lifeline when Héctor Bellerín’s tame kick against the under-side of Hazard’s boot saw the Chelsea man go to ground and the referee point to the spot.

Hazard himself claimed responsibility from the 12-yard-mark, bringing Antonio Conte’s men level in the 68th minute.

Matters could’ve worsened for the Gunners when Morata got the better of Mustafi in pursuit of the ball, but the Spaniard’s clinical eye would evade him once more when floating his effort one-on-one high and wide.

The punishment would come, however, as Davide Zappacosta took aim with a low cross to assist the alert Marcos Alonso and put Chelsea ahead with six minutes to go.

From one Spanish full-back to another, the last say fell to Bellerín with an expertly-combed volley, flying past Courtois to level the game at 2-2 in the 92nd minute.

It could easily have been the West London outfit to decide the game in the last exchanges, though, as Morata scuppered yet another chance in front of goal before Zappacosta hit the crossbar in Chelsea’s second wave, with both sides exiting the game with a point apiece.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7) – Calum Chambers (4), Shkodran Mustafi (5), Rob Holding (6) – Héctor Bellerín (6), Jack Wilshere (6), Granit Xhaka (5), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (7) – Mesut Özil (8), Alexis Sanchez (7), Alexandre Lacazette (6)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (-), Theo Walcott (-)

BLOG: HOW WOULD ARSENAL LOOK IN A 3-4-3 FORMATION?

It’s that time of year again. Arsenal are in full-on crisis mode as their season, once full of promise and optimism, has well and truly unraveled into an utter disaster.

This time it’s even worse than usual, with the Gunners sliding all the way down to sixth place after losing four of their last five Premier League matches. At the moment, Arsenal look devoid of direction and ideas—in the 3-1 loss to West Brom, they managed just two shots on target despite having an incredible 77% possession.

As Wenger’s system clearly isn’t getting the best out of his players right now, it would be refreshing to see him attempt to reverse Arsenal’s misfortunes by shaking things up tactically. While it would be unlike the Frenchman to revert from his 4-2-3-1, a change to a completely new formation could be just the revamp that the squad needs. Playing a three-man defense is one of the hottest tactical trends in world football, with Antonio Conte’s Chelsea playing a 3-4-3 since their 3-0 defeat to Arsenal back in September (the irony!), and Luis Enrique’s Barcelona recently pulling off the greatest comeback in Champions League history using
a 3-4-3.

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Lionel Messi celebrates Barcelona’s 6-1 win over PSG, in which the Catalans used a 3-4-3

Here’s how Arsene Wenger’s side might look if they switched to a 3-4-3.

Goalkeeper: Petr Cech

Since signing for Arsenal last summer, Petr Cech has been the Gunners’ first-choice keeper and would remain so if they switched to a 3-4-3.

The 34-year-old has shown some signs of aging this season: he lets in shots he wouldn’t have let in five years ago and doesn’t get to ground quite as quickly as he used to. Still, he’s capable of making crucial saves and, as a Premier League veteran, brings valuable experience and leadership to the team.

Alternate: David Ospina

Right Center-Back: Shkodran Mustafi

Mustafi’s Arsenal career began in tremendous form, setting a club record by going unbeaten in his first 20 games in red and white. He’s gone off the boil since the turn of the year though, playing all 180 minutes of Arsenal’s 10-2 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and failing to cope with the departure of Laurent Koscielny in both legs.

Still 24-years-old, Mustafi is young for a center-back and has shown as much promise as he has weaknesses during his first season in North London. Frequently deployed as the right center-back alongside Koscielny in Arsenal’s back four, it would make sense for the German international to be deployed on the right of Arsenal’s three-man defense.

Alternate: Rob Holding

Center-Back: Laurent Koscielny

As Arsenal’s defensive rock and captain, Laurent Koscielny would be deployed in the heart of the three-man defense.

The Frenchman’s importance to the Gunners was reinforced by their Champions League loss to Bayern Munich: with Koscielny on the pitch, Arsenal won 2-1; without him, they lost 9-0.

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Koscielny’s sending off against Bayern Munich was the catalyst for Arsenal’s 5-1 loss at home

David Luiz plays in the center of Chelsea’s back three and often acts as a sweeper, bringing the ball forward into midfield to start attacks and dropping deeper into defense when needed. As Koscielny already performs this role for Arsenal, he would naturally slot into the center of the back three.

Alternate: Shkodran Mustafi

Left Center-Back: Nacho Monreal

Given that his natural position is left-back, Nacho might seem like a strange choice here.

The Spaniard has some experience playing center-back for Arsenal, though, having been deployed there a handful of times during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns when the club faced extreme injury crises. He looked solid when he played there, too, despite being in an uncomfortable position.

Gabriel Paulista, a natural center-back, is another potential option to complete Arsenal’s back three, but Nacho’s passing ability and left-footedness sees him just edge it out.

Alternate: Gabriel

Right Wing-Back: Hector Bellerin

Bellerin wouldn’t have to adjust his game much if he were to play right wing-back. A winger in his academy days, the 22-year-old is often Arsenal’s biggest attacking threat on the right side with his searing pace and overlapping runs.

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In this position, Bellerin would have the lay of the land on Arsenal’s right wing. When the Gunners don’t have the ball he would assume his normal role at right back, essentially turning the back three into a back four or five, depending on if the left wing-back drops back as well.

Although the Spaniard would have more responsibility than he’s used to, this could end up being the perfect position for him.

Alternate: Mathieu Debuchy

Central Midfield: Santi Cazorla

There’s an argument to be made that Arsenal’s troubles in the last two seasons largely stem from Santi Cazorla’s absence.

The diminutive Spaniard is essential to the way Arsenal plays, keeping things ticking and linking the midfield to attack. His season-ending injuries in November of the past two campaigns have left Arsene Wenger struggling to find a functional midfield pairing.

As one of the first names on the team sheet when he’s fit, Cazorla would be a crucial cog in Arsenal’s 3-4-3.

Alternate: Aaron Ramsey

Central Midfield: Granit Xhaka

While Xhaka’s debut season for Arsenal has had its ups and downs, the 24-year-old has nonetheless established himself as a first-team regular.

Xhaka’s form hasn’t been helped by the lack of consistency in midfield, as Wenger has tried pairing him with Francis Coquelin, Mohammed Elneny, and Aaron Ramsey, with mixed results. The partnership of Xhaka and Cazorla, however, worked well at the start of the season (notably in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Watford) and ended all too soon due to the Spaniard’s injury.

In a 3-4-3 Xhaka would anchor the midfield, sitting deep to break up play and launch long balls to the forwards, while Cazorla buzzes around with energy and creativity.

Alternate: Francis Coquelin

Left Wing-Back: Kieran Gibbs

Marcos Alonso’s fluency at left wing-back has been key to Chelsea’s 3-4-3 working as well as it does. The closest thing Arsenal have to Alonso is Kieran Gibbs, who’s essentially been out of the picture this season making just six Premier League appearances.

Although his ability has plateaued in recent seasons, Gibbs would be hungry to win back his place in the first team if he was given a chance in the league. Bringing him back into the fold to play an unfamiliar position would certainly be a risk, but risk is something an increasingly stale Arsenal side could use right now.

Alternate: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Right Forward: Danny Welbeck

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On his day, Danny Welbeck can be Arsenal’s most dangerous player. He possesses a combination of pace and power that few, if any other players in the squad have.

While he’s still shaking off the rust after returning from a knee injury sustained last May, Welbeck’s attacking threat will be an asset for Arsenal in the final weeks of the season as they aim to finish in the top four.

On the right side of the attacking trio, Welbeck would play off of the other two forwards while supporting Bellerin when necessary.

Alternate: Theo Walcott

Center Forward: Alexis Sanchez

Spearheading Arsenal’s attack is none other than Alexis Sanchez, the club’s star player this season with 22 goals in all competitions.

Arsene Wenger’s decision to play the Chilean at center forward has maximized his attacking prowess—Alexis has 17 goals from 23 appearances there. Not only is Alexis having the most prolific season of his career, but he’s also having the most creative, with 12 assists in all competitions.

As a center forward, Alexis often drops into the No. 10 position to stamp his influence on the game and look for runners ahead of him. He would certainly benefit from the movement of another forward, like Welbeck, to play in tandem with.

Alternate: Olivier Giroud

Left Forward: Mesut Özil

Mesut Özil completes the attacking trident as the left forward, an unfamiliar position for the German.

The front three of the 3-4-3 should be fluid, though, as Chelsea’s three (usually Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, and Pedro) are. Özil would be less of a forward than a creator, operating in the area just behind Alexis and Welbeck. Having two quick forwards ahead of him takes full advantage of the World Cup winner’s ability to drift into space and play the final ball.

That said, the fluidity of the front three means that Özil could be the one on the end of through balls, especially when Alexis drops back to create. The former Real Madrid man demonstrated his ability to score goals earlier this season, and regaining that goalscoring touch will be key to Arsenal putting together a run in the final stretch of the season.

Alternate: Lucas Perez

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Although undeniably a risky move, a switch to a 3-4-3 formation would give Arsenal an element of unpredictability that they’ve desperately lacked since the turn of the year. The fluid front three takes advantage of Arsenal’s attacking talent as it allows them to freely interchange positions on the pitch. The extra support at the back—when the Gunners don’t have the ball, the back three essentially turns into a back five—would help to shore up a defense that’s shipped 11 goals in its last five league outings.

The chance that Arsene Wenger makes a radical formation change is slim, but it may be just the type of fresh thinking needed for Arsenal to break out of their rut.

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly

BLOG: SHOULD ARSENAL SCRAP THE TRADITIONAL ‘NUMBER 10’ ROLE?

As with every defeat that orbits the Arsenal world, the common retaliation the club will be faced with over the coming days are increasing calls for change, ranging from sackings, to greater focus on internal solutions that prevent games like the previous two from happening as frequently as they have done.

And meanwhile a great deal of the conversation will undoubtedly centre itself around the future of current Gunners boss, Arsène Wenger, there’s a lot more to deliberate over between now and the end of the season.

Life wasn’t kind to the Frenchman in the lead up to Arsenal’s away trip to Stamford Bridge versus Chelsea, as the midfield was left orphan to the absences of Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny.

From that perspective, against none other than the league leaders, it’s difficult to not feel somewhat sympathetic towards Wenger, but by the same token, there’s also a strand of culpability that can be attributed to the under-fire manager.

Arsenal were reduced to a midfield pairing of Francis Coquelin and the centrally-adapted Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a consequence of a depleted midfield, both of whom were also reportedly carrying knocks.

Against an organised midfield that’s subsidised by the ever-impressive N’Golo Kanté, one can’t quite believe Wenger went into this clash with JUST the newly-formed and physically-limited duo in the middle of the park.

The encounter proved to be, as feared, a complete mismatch, as Chelsea were able to control the game both with and without possession to expose our midfield frailties, meanwhile Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles watched on from the bench.

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A comprehensive 3-1 defeat to the Blues leaves plenty of room for imagination, in particular how different the contest and the eventual aftermath may have been had Wenger turned to a three-man midfield and introduced Maitland-Niles into the equation.

In a world where we place great value on mentality, a buzzword of Arsenal’s, it’s ironic that Chelsea’s first goal appeared to show Wenger’s men succumb to the admission of defeat rapidly, a heightened level of respect that wasn’t matched by the expansive 4-2-3-1 system that the players are continuously deployed in.

It’s here where the true dangers of Wenger’s perceived stubbornness threatens Arsenal’s accomplishments the most, as he ignores the clearest cue yet for him to differ tactically. If ever there was a time to revert to a 4-3-3, that time was Saturday afternoon.

Worryingly, Saturday’s clash isn’t the only example of Arsenal being sunk by an apparent susceptibility to counter-attacks and pre-organised waves of pressure made by the opposition.

Similar case studies can be found in clashes away to Bournemouth, Everton and the latest home debacle versus Watford, which constantly sees the traditional double pivot, even at full strength, overpowered in central areas.

Hope among corners of the club’s fan base is that a shift to a 4-3-3 formation, retreating an extra body into midfield, can be the remedy that combats this supposed weakness. The most alarming modification would see Arsenal move Mesut Özil, once lauded as the finest number 10 in the world, away from his natural habitat.

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A mock-up of Arsenal’s potential new look in a 4-3-3 (via lineupbuilder.com).

That may not necessarily be a bad thing, however, with the German often nonexistent in defensive transitions, whereas his goal return this season invites the prospect for him to operate further forward.

The synergy between Özil and Arsenal’s other key man, Alexis Sánchez, is also promising, and so the argument for the two to link-up exclusively in an interchangeable front three has never been more alive.

Contrarily, three central midfielders also allows for the inverse trajectory being made by Alex Iwobi and Chamberlain, who’d only add to the wealth of tools at Wenger’s disposal with regards to game-to-game midfield combinations, whereas basic theory tells us three central midfielders allow the Gunners to cover far more space than the habitual two.

There’s a good number of positives to come from such a tactical reinvention, and in Chelsea’s resurrection under Antonio Conte lies a few handy lessons for Arsenal to take on board.

It was the Gunners’ 3-0 demolition of the Blues that triggered the implementation of the newly-sought after 3-4-3 formation; a system that has enabled the galvanisation of a side that’s now hot favourites to land the title.

As Tottenham Hotspur and arch-nemesis José Mourinho threaten to outperform Wenger in what could be the Frenchman’s final season at the club, it’s now in Arsenal’s best interests that they manage to rectify apparent weaknesses in the same vein.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

MATCH REPORT: CHELSEA 3-1 ARSENAL

Arsenal succumbed to a 3-1 defeat to Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this afternoon, with the Gunners lagging behind their London rivals by 12 points.

A controversial goal from Marcos Alonso and an Eden Hazard solo effort charged the Blues to a 2-0 lead, whereas Cesc Fàbregas’ late third reduced Olivier Giroud’s goal to a mere consolation before the referee’s final whistle.

The north Londoners, off the back of a 2-1 defeat at home to Watford, were braced for an uphill battle against Antonio Conte’s men from the beginning, as the absences of Santi Cazorla, Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey depleted the away side’s midfield.

Nevertheless, it was Arsenal who started brightest, as Alex Iwobi tried his luck early before David Luiz’s intervention.

At the other end, Gary Cahill registered Chelsea’s first opportunity from Hazard’s free kick, but the English defender’s header into the ground floated harmlessly over Petr Čech’s net.

The Blues weren’t as forgiving the second time around inside the box, however, as Diego Costa’s initial attempt at goal was followed up Marcos Alonso’s headed rebound in the 13th minute, but the Gunners had a strong case against the Spaniard’s goal.

Replays showed Alonso landing an elbow against Héctor Bellerín’s head as he rose for the opener, but the referee, Martin Atkinson, ignored such claims when validating the goal.

Chelsea’s domination continued, as both Pedro and Costa threatened Čech’s goal, whereas Gabriel Paulista almost clawed a goal back for Arsenal with a free header inside the hosts’ area, but the Brazilian’s attempt fell within Thibaut Courtois’ reach.

The Gunners also offered renewed hope on the brink of half time, as Francis Coquelin switched the ball wide from the edge of the box to an unmarked Mesut Özil, with the German cutting back inside before attempting and failing to surprise Courtois at his near post with a shot.

Hazard killed off much of the hope stored by Arsenal, however, as play resumed for the second half, gliding past a handful of bodies en route to completing a solo effort with Chelsea’s second goal of the game in the 53rd minute.

As Arsène Wenger’s men looked susceptible to the counter, the league leaders looked the likeliest to grab the all-important third goal of the game, but second-half substitute Danny Welbeck came close to averting that trend with a low header at goal, later parried away by Courtois.

From the subsequent corner, Shkodran Mustafi almost bagged Arsenal’s first goal of the day himself when attacking the near-post unattended, but the German’s header flew just wide of the mark.

With five minutes of the 90 left to play out, Chelsea landed the killer blow through Fàbregas, as Čech’s miscalculated pass found itself to the ex-Arsenal man’s feet who needed no invitation to lob the Gunners shot-stopper and amplify the score line to 3-0.

Olivier Giroud picked up the visitors’ only goal of the game within stoppage time with a headed effort inside the box, as the clash concluded itself at 3-1 to Chelsea.

Arsenal Player Ratings:

Petr Čech (3); Héctor Bellerín (4), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (6), Nacho Monreal (6); Francis Coquelin (3), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (4); Theo Walcott (4), Mesut Özil (4), Alex Iwobi (5); Alexis Sanchez (4)

Subs:

Gabriel Paulista (4); Danny Welbeck (4); Olivier Giroud (5)

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

BLOG: HOW BIG IS THE GULF BETWEEN ARSENAL AND CHELSEA?

Chelsea has quickly established themselves as the team to beat this season, storming to the top of the table with a 13-game winning streak in the past few months. Revitalized by Antonio Conte and his 3-4-3 formation, as well as—cough cough—a lack of Champions League football—the Blues now sit a pretty 5 points clear in first place.

Where does it leave Arsenal? Despite whooping their London rivals 3-0 back in September—funnily enough, this result was what inspired Conte to change to the revered 3-4-3—Arsenal have been unable to keep up with Chelsea. Recent results have seen the Gunners slide down into fifth place, eight points adrift of the top.

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While the drop out of the top four might be discouraging, if we’ve learned anything over the past few weeks of Premier League action it’s that things can change very quickly in football. We’re going to take a look at how Arsenal compare with league leaders Chelsea this season and how they can catch up with them in the coming weeks.

Squad Depth

On paper, there’s not much to separate Arsenal and Chelsea. Both teams have deep squads assembled to challenge for the title and relatively equipped to deal with injuries and suspensions.

In terms of pure talent, they go toe-to-toe as two of the strongest squads in the league. For starters, each side has a pair of world-class star attackers: Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal, and Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea. While both teams have a plethora of offensive firepower, Arsenal seem to have more depth in attacking players. The likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi, Lucas Perez, Danny Welbeck, and Olivier Giroud are all options for Arsenal, while Chelsea have just Pedro, Willian, Michy Batshuayi, and Victor Moses.

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They both boast strong midfields, too, though the Gunners appear to have more depth in this area as well. In typical Arsenal fashion, however, three of their five central midfielders are currently unavailable: Santi Cazorla is out until March at the earliest, Francis Coquelin is sidelined until the end of the month with a hamstring injury, and Mohamed Elneny is off at the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have the trio of Ngolo Kanté, Nemanja Matic, and Cesc Fabregas, and rotate them to good effect. Luckily for Antonio Conte, his side are bottom of the injury table with zero players out.

In defense the Blues have been far stronger this season, conceding seven fewer goals than their London counterparts. Gary Cahill has done a full 180 from his calamitous 2015-16 campaign, while David Luiz has silenced his critics by marshalling Chelsea’s back three with surprising composure. The dependable Cesar Azpilicueta, who played every Premier League minute of 2016, has been as consistently solid as ever.

Arsenal, on the other hand, have been blighted by their usual defensive troubles despite finally finding an adequate partner for Laurent Koscielny in Shkodran Mustafi. When the pair start together Arsenal do look safer at the back, though as a defensive unit the Gunners remain prone to lapses in concentration—all three goals conceded against Bournemouth last week serve as a prime example.

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Between the sticks, Arsenal and Chelsea have two of the Premier League’s finest keepers in Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois, respectively. Courtois leads the league in clean sheets this season with 11 compared to Cech’s six, though the former Chelsea man boasts a slightly higher save percentage with 70.3% compared to Courtois’ 68.6%.

There really doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between Arsenal and Chelsea, yet the table says otherwise. The key difference, then, is the system that each side plays with. Antonio Conte has created a system that gets the most out of the players at his disposal—or at least it did for 13 games—while Arsene Wenger has persisted with the classic yet predictable 4-2-3-1 he’s been using for years.

One possible chink in the armor of Conte’s Chelsea is the wingbacks. The 3-4-3 requires wingbacks with a very specific skillset—without them, the formation simply doesn’t work. Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso have surprised everyone with how comfortable they look in a generally uncomfortable position to play, but Chelsea don’t have much backup for the pair. As the season continues to wear on, fatigue and/or injuries could take their toll on Conte’s well-oiled machine.

Upcoming Fixtures (Premier League only)

Arsenal: Swansea City (a), Burnley (h), Watford (h), Chelsea (a)

Chelsea: Leicester City (a), Hull City (h), Liverpool (a), Arsenal (h)

As the old cliché goes, there’s no easy game in the Premier League. Some games are certainly easier than others, though, and Chelsea’s 13-game winning streak was partly thanks to a run of favorable fixtures. Their five wins leading up to the recent defeat at Tottenham were against Stoke City, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Sunderland, and West Brom.

Chelsea’s fixture list gets a bit trickier now, starting with a trip to reigning champions Leicester City. Claudio Ranieri’s men have been a shadow of their 2015-16 selves this season, but still have the ability to wow on their day—see the 4-2 win against Manchester City last month.

The following game against Hull City at Stamford Bridge should be relatively straightforward. The Tigers are currently rooted to the bottom of the table and winless in nine games, so anything but a comfortable win for Conte’s side would be a surprise.

Chelsea’s match against Liverpool—their final game before facing Arsenal at the Bridge—could be the Blues’ biggest test of the season thus far. From an Arsenal perspective, it’s the perfect match to come before the London derby. Ninety minutes at Anfield against Jürgen Klopp’s notoriously tiring “gegenpress” is as taxing as it gets. The fact that they play on the Tuesday before the Saturday match against Arsenal is only good news for the Gunners.

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Arsenal, on the other hand, have three very winnable fixtures against bottom-half sides before their clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next month. A trip to Swansea City is probably the toughest of the three games as Arsenal have had difficulties at the Liberty Stadium in recent years, but anything less than three points against the out-of-sorts Welsh side will be a huge disappointment. Home games against Burnley and Watford should be comfortable wins on paper, giving Arsenal some momentum before they face the league leaders in February.

Predicted points for Arsenal from next three games: 9

Predicted points for Chelsea from next three games: 5

Head to Head

Arsenal and Chelsea face off at Stamford Bridge on February 4th in a match that could make or break the Gunners’ title challenge.

Arsenal haven’t won at the Bridge since October 2011 (!), when a certain traitorous Dutchman scored a hattrick in a stunning 5-3 victory. Since then, there’s been some results to forget—the 6-0 demolition back in March 2014 was easily one of the worst days of the Arsene Wenger era.

This time around, the North Londoners will be playing for their title hopes—a win at the Bridge could change the dynamic of their season, while a loss could leave them too far behind Chelsea to catch up.

The inability to win at Chelsea has become somewhat of a mental block, but the 3-0 victory back in September will give the Gunners encouragement that they can indeed beat the Blues. That said, I predict a draw in what will likely be a cagey affair.

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MATCH PREVIEW: ARSENAL VS CHELSEA

In the week that marks the 20th anniversary of Arsène Wenger as Arsenal manager, Gameweek Six of the Premier League sees the Gunners host Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium this Saturday in one of the most highly-anticipated match-ups of the weekend.

Both sides come into the clash locked on 10 points, occupying 4th and 5th spot, and a defeat from either of the two sides could see an eight-point-gap form between the eventual loser and league leaders Manchester City, providing the latter defeats Swansea City prior to the 5:30pm kick-off.

For Wenger, the London derby offers him a shot at redemption, with the north Londoners having lost their last two encounters against Chelsea in somewhat ill-tempered fashion both home and away.

The Frenchman’s stronghold over the west Londoners ebbed away throughout his second decade of management at Arsenal, meanwhile Chelsea are now just one win away from leveling the 14 victories amassed by Wenger against Roman Abramovich’s club.

The Gunners will have to go back to October 2011 for their last league triumph against the Blues, a 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge that has since seen their rivals come out on top in six out of the last nine games between the two in the Premier League.

So often the bane to Arsenal’s hopes of success has been Chelsea striker Diego Costa, who was central to Gabriel Paulista’s sending off approximately a year ago and has found the back of the net twice in three league games versus Wenger’s men.

The Spain international is sure to pose a threat to Arsenal’s backline off the back of five goals in five league games so far this season, but at the other end, Antonio Conte could be without John Terry once more, as the Chelsea captain nurses an ankle injury.

Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey continues to struggle with a hamstring injury picked up against Liverpool last month, which would leave him out of Wenger’s plans for a fifth consecutive league game, whereas Olivier Giroud, yet to start for the Gunners this season, is also a doubt.

Predicted XI: Petr Čech; Héctor Bellerín, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla; Theo Walcott, Mesut Özil, Alex Iwobi; Alexis Sánchez

If the EFL Cup selection versus Nottingham Forest is anything to go by, it’s plausible to believe Wenger will opt for a totally different and familiar line-up, as far as Arsenal’s last Premier League outing goes.

Big performances from both Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin in the Gunners’ 4-1 win against Hull City last weekend might see the two midfielders extend their presence at the heart of midfield for another game, although Granit Xhaka’s recent form could interfere with the eventual decision made by the Arsenal boss.

Lucas Pérez’s chances of featuring also won’t have been done any harm after his midweek brace versus Forest, but, in Giroud’s absence, Arsenal’s three-pronged attack of Iwobi, Walcott and Sánchez is likely to remain untouched.