A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s visit to North London for their Premier League match against Arsenal.
Chelsea head to The Emirates Stadium this Saturday for their Premier League match away to London rivals Arsenal. It is a clash that will be very emotional for a player who is unlikely to be involved. Petr Cech may have won an FA Cup and 2 Community Shields in his 3 and a half years in North London, but it is his record at The Blues that stands out as one of the all time greats of the Premier League era.
In 11 years at Chelsea, the 6’ 5” keeper won 4 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 Europa League and The Champions League in 2012. “Big Pete” holds the record for the most clean sheets in a Premier League season and the most clean sheets of any Chelsea goalkeeper. But it was his personality, determination and stature as a man that makes him stand out above the others. He continued to play despite nearly losing his life on the pitch at the Madejski Stadium and his heroics in Munich on THAT night kept The Blues within touching distance of the European Cup. It will be with the humblest of honours to say a big thank you to part of Chelsea’s epic spine before he retires from his amazing playing career at the end of the season.
But there is more to this clash than just a send off from the Chelsea fans or the local bragging rites, as it is a derby match between the teams lying in 4th and 5th place and are vying for prestigious and lucrative qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Arsenal had dominated the matches between the 2 sides during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s with The Blues coming out on top only sporadically. However after a 5-0 away win in a League Cup clash at Highbury in November 1998, Chelsea did not beat Arsenal until that glorious night at Highbury in the Champions League in April 2004 when Wayne Bridge’s winner sent The Blues to their first ever European Cup semi final. That was a run of 17 matches, including 11 defeats and 6 draws.
Since then, The Blues have enjoyed a winning record over The Gunners. 2 losses in 18 matches emphasised Chelsea’s general dominance in English football as Chelsea enjoyed winning 3 more league titles. However more recently Arsenal have found more success over The Blues, especially in the cup competitions. The FA Cup Final victory in 2017 and last season’s semi final success in the League Cup had help keep Arsene Wenger in employment in North London, but Chelsea have only lost once in their last 13 Premier League clashes against Arsenal.
A narrow 3-2 victory at Stamford Bridge back on 18 August should have been a far more comfortable win for The Blues, who deservedly went into an early 2-0 lead. Some non existent defending allowed The Gunners to level the scores and it appeared that Chelsea would drop 2 points until Marcos Alonso popped up to score an 81st minute winner.
With no midweek matches to contend with, both managers are blessed with almost full squads to choose from. Maurizio Sarri is only missing Ruben Loftus-Cheek through injury. And with 5 full days until their next match, the second leg of the League Cup semi final against Tottenham Hotspur, we can expect the Italian to name his strongest team.
That is only likely to leave a query over who the front 3 are. Will the manager persist with the diminutive Eden Hazard as the central striker or will he recall either former Gunner Olivier Giroud or want away Alvaro Morata. Also will Willian and Pedro keep their places in the starting line up, meaning Callum Hudson-Odoi starts again from the bench.
The greater oddity though is the situation at Arsenal with Mezut Ozil. The German playmaker is clearly unfancied by manager Unai Emery, despite his side’s lack of creativity. Only the top 2 have scored more league goals than The Gunners so far this season, but last time out was the second time this season that they failed to score. They were completely outplayed by a West Ham side who had already lost 5 times at home. Emery even called upon Aaron Ramsey, who is about to leave the club, as an impact substitution in the hope of finding an equaliser at The London Stadium.
Add to that the fact that Arsenal have not kept a clean sheet in the league since 8 December, a run of 6 matches. These are the main reasons why The Gunners are now 6 points adrift of the top 4 despite their run of 7 consecutive league wins early on in their campaign.
Victory for The Blues would all but eliminate The Gunners from a top 4 finish, especially with the rejuvenation of 6th placed Manchester United under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. So the impetus will be on the home side to take the match to The Blues, but another example of Sarri’s preference for his side to keep possession for long spells should negate Arsenal’s ability to do that. Provided Chelsea do not give the ball away as often as they did against Newcastle last weekend and they can start to reignite their goal scoring ability, The Blues should stretch their lead over The Gunners to 9 points.
With Tottenham Hotspur not playing until Sunday, a Blues victory will temporarily move them up in to 3rd place in the league. Not bad for a team not firing on all cylinders, with a few players out of form and a squad in desperate need of a quality striker. The next few days will be very key to Chelsea’s potential progress for the rest of their season.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue