Chelsea vs Arsenal – A Season Definer
Half of this season’s Premier League’s story has been told, and the title battle remains firmly a two-horse race, but there is significant intrigue in positions 3-6 that could produce a dark horse contender if the stars align and either Liverpool or Manchester City falter.
Two teams with contention aspirations face each other this Saturday. Let’s take a closer look at their current situations, and why this particular match could shape the top-four finishers of PL, and decide who will eventually miss out on European competitions.
Arsenal’s top-four finish hangs in the balance over the next two weeks with a match against the two teams ranked above and below them – Chelsea and Manchester United respectively.
The Gunners’ hot start to the season has slowly petered, with Arsenal losing 4 out of their last 8 games, after a scorching 23-game unbeaten streak.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery is facing criticism for his baffling omission of Arsenal’s highest paid player, Mesut Özil for “tactical reasons” from the chosen 18 in their deflating 1-0 loss to West Ham this past weekend. The West Ham loss means Arsenal are now without an away League win since November.
Gunners CB Sokratis Papastathopoulos claims Arsenal’s incapacity to create scoring chances was to blame for the defeat. “It is not about the two shots on target,” he said. “Look at how many chances we would have had if we had done better with the last pass.”
Arsenal needs a victory against Chelsea if they hope to see a top-four finish this season, especially with a rejuvenated Manchester United breathing down their necks. United tied Arsenal on points and reduced their distance from the top 4 with a 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.
A win for Arsenal would stave off a United overtake for another week, while directly reducing the distance between them and Chelsea to 4 points with 15 games left in the season. A victory would also provide a desperately-needed jolt of confidence in the squad ahead of what will arguably be a marquee match for both teams when they face Manchester United the week after.
CHELSEA FEELING BLUE
Sarri’s squad currently find themselves at the bottom of the top 4, lingering precariously above Arsenal and Manchester United’s desperate attempts to redeem themselves and enter Champions League contention.
On the other hand, with a win versus Arsenal, and a corresponding loss for Tottenham, the Blues could propel themselves above reeling Spurs and keep pace with frontrunners Manchester City & Liverpool.
Chelsea narrowly escaped with a win versus Newcastle last weekend, with Sarri calling on his players to improve their mentality after being left frustrated with how the Blues thought they would “easily” beat the Magpies.
“Today we started very well for 10 minutes. After the goal I think we thought ‘now it’s easy’, but it wasn’t. We slept for 20, 25 minutes, so at the end of the first half we were in trouble. We need to improve in the mental reaction. We need to improve. It was really very important to get three points. For now it’s enough.”
Will it be enough to dispatch Arsenal and keep their season on track? Chelsea have relied heavily on their number 10, Eden Hazard, to create scoring opportunities, and this tactic has been largely successful. But can Hazard maintain his impressive performance until the end of the season, once European play begins?
Eden Hazard in the Premier League: 10 Goals. (4th Most). 10 Assists. (Most). 60 Successful Take-Ons. (Most). 58 Chances Created. (Most). 66 Fouls Won. (Most). 8 Man of the Matches. (Most).
He has undoubtedly been impressive so far, but Chelsea are attempting to recruit another star forward to hopefully ease the creative load and take on the scoring burden. Their bid to acquire Gonzalo Higuaín on loan, currently being farmed to AC Milan by Juventus, was shut down earlier this week which means the Blues are back to square one on this front unless they sign the 31-year-old permanently for £32 million.
WHO WILL TRIUMPH?
With the Manchester United match looming, along with the fact that United have now tied them after their contrasting starts to the season, the Gunners have to feel disheartened. This is the lowest point of their season so far, and their reaction is what will make or break their year.
Chelsea, on the other hand, require another strong Hazard performance and need all their players to be mentally ready for a battle against the Gunners. Sarri was pleased with their first 10 minutes against Newcastle, but the players seemed to relax after they took the lead. Sarri will be hoping that Arsenal being on their tail in the league table will keep his squad sufficiently motivated to get the job done. And we believe they will.