Arsenal v Chelsea
Live on Sky Sports 1
Match Odds: Arsenal [2.44], Chelsea [3.3], The Draw [3.4].
This fixture is second versus first, just six games from the end of the season, and therefore should be a fantastically tense, title-deciding fixture. The problem, of course, is that Chelsea are 10 points clear of Arsenal and could win the Premier League this coming week – and therefore this game feels somewhat underwhelming.
That said, there’s nothing to suggest either side will take the game lightly. Arsenal will be determined to get the better of the champions elect and prove they’re capable of beating a Jose Mourinho side – Arsene Wenger has never done that – while Chelsea would love to win the next couple of games in style, following a succession of efficient-but-boring victories in recent weeks.
Wenger is unlikely to make any shock selections for this game. The one problematic area is in defence, where Per Mertesacker limped off injured, and he could be replaced by Gabriel Paulista. The Brazilian is clearly a talented footballer but is an extremely impetuous defender and has looked prone to needless errors so far at Arsenal, so Laurent Koscielny will need to play a covering role alongside him.
Wenger also has the option of bringing back Spanish full-back duo Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin after Kieran Gibbs and Mathieu Debuchy started at Wembley, while it would be hugely surprising if Olivier Giroud didn’t return in place of Danny Welbeck. The midfield quintet, however, should remain the same, with Santi Cazorla deep alongside Francis Coquelin.
Mourinho’s main worry is upfront, where the fitness levels of Didier Drogba, Loic Remy and Diego Costa are all unknown. Clearly, Costa would be first-choice, and while he was expected to miss a few weeks through injury, Mourinho has repeatedly brought him back earlier than expected this season. This is Chelsea’s last truly big game this season, and therefore he might feel Costa is worth risking.
Drogba has an amazingly good record against Arsenal, but Remy would probably be a better bet to start upfront if Costa misses out – Chelsea are likely to play on the break, and the Frenchman is better at running the channels.
Elsewhere, expect Mourinho to select his more defensive options across the pitch. This means Cesc Fabregas playing at the head of a midfield trio on his first return to the Emirates, with Nemanja Matic supported by another disciplined player. That’s generally been Ramires, although Kurt Zouma has increasingly been fielded in midfield and should continue here after a decent performance against Manchester United.
Oscar started on the right last weekend, but Willian – or Ramires – seems a more likely bet to play on that side, especially as Mourinho will be keen to offer Branislav Ivanovic protection against Alexis Sanchez, who will start on Arsenal’s left.
The key factor, in truth, will be Chelsea’s level of ambition. They’ll surely play on the counter-attack, but might be content with a draw. They’ll need to provide Fabregas and Eden Hazard with good service when possession is won, and the latter – surely set to be voted PFA Player of the Year – is the player most likely to hurt Arsenal. Wenger’s decision between Debuchy and Bellerin will be important.
Arsenal might have trouble breaking down Chelsea. Mesut Ozil will struggle to find space up against both Matic and Zouma, Aaron Ramsey isn’t entirely happy on the right and will play narrow, playing into the hands of Chelsea’s defence, while John Terry and Gary Cahill are happy against a striker like Giroud, rather than someone with raw pace. Cazorla is likely to control the game in the centre of the pitch, while Sanchez seems the obvious route to goal.
Under 2.5 goals looks likely here, although with the market offering only [1.74], it’s not a particularly tempting option to back.
Instead, I like the look of Draw / Draw in Half-Time / Full-Time at [5.4]. This obviously covers the 0-0, which can’t be ruled out, although I can see a fast start, the teams exchanging goals, before Chelsea gradually kill the game with the type of know-how and experience that makes them imminent champions.
Back Draw / Draw in Half-Time / Full-Time at [5.4]
The Betfair Trader’s View: Alan Thompson
Chelsea are coming into this top-of-the-table clash off a 1-0 home victory over Manchester United, and they have now lost just one Premier League game in their last 18. Mourinho’s men arrive at the Emirates to take on their nearest challengers on the verge of picking up another Premier League title with a nice 10-point cushion.
Arsenal though could not be coming into this game in better form. They reached the FA Cup final with victory over Reading last weekend and have won their last eight Premier League starts. The Gunners have scored 37 goals from their 15 starts at the Emirates, averaging 2.47 goals per game, currently the best return in the league, scoring at least twice in their last eight home matches.
Mourinho always seems to get these big games right and against Arsene Wenger he is unbeaten in 12 meetings (D5, L7). So far this season Chelsea have avoided defeat by drawing 1-1 away at both Manchester clubs and last season away against the top four they won two and drew one.
As per usual finding out the starting XI is critical as both sides are reporting doubts over key players, as Michael outlines above. I think Chelsea will have enough to continue their impressive stats against the Premier League elite and avoid defeat at the Emirates so I will be backing them in the Draw No Bet market at [2.34]