Chelsea will be looking for their first home league win of the season when they face Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
No one would have imagined that the champions will be in 17th position on the log with a mere four points from a possible 15. Not even a hater like our soccer analyst this week, Patrick Agbiboa, a senior manager at Airtel Nigeria.
“From champs to chumps, a season is indeed a long time in football. Well, it’s still early days because this is definitely not the stuff champions are made of,” Patrick, a die-hard Liverpool fan, said.
He takes us through the star match of the week and predictions of the remaining fixtures.
Arsene Wenger’s record against Jose Mourinho is quite woeful – lost seven, drew six from 13 competitive fixtures – with the only victory in the 2015 Community Shield at the beginning of the season.
But it could be another victory for Wenger as the west London side are in a purple patch at the moment. Their title defence hangs in the balance after just five games and are already doing a catch-up with runaway leaders Manchester City.
Chelsea have already recorded as many defeats as last season, three, and are currently a place off the drop zone with the worst defensive record in the division – 12 goals conceded – and no clean sheets.
But they looked more like their old selves in midweek when they comfortably defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv in the UEFA Champions League. Arsenal lost their own UCL game away to Zagreb but despite that they are in a decent form in the league and they sit in fourth place with 10 points.
This 12.45pm kick-off at Stamford Bridge is unquestionably Wenger’s best chance yet to get a unique back-to-back win over Mourinho. That, however, could well depend on Arsenal dominating some key battles on the pitch. I will look at four of such.
DIEGO COSTA V PER MERTESACKER, LAURENT KOSCIENLY, AND PETR CECH
Mertesacker sat out the midweek Champions League game with a virus and his aerial dominance was badly missed as Arsenal conceded twice against Dynamo Zagreb.
He is expected to return this weekend to face one of the most formidable front men in the Barclays Premier League – Diego Costa.
Costa has struggled for form this season but then the entire Chelsea side has! The Spain international showed he’s still a threat, though, with a fantastic strike against Maccabi Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
A confidence boost? Well, he desperately needs one at the moment.
I expect Laurent Koscienly to sweep up behind, so it will be Mertesacker’s job to keep Costa at bay. But if the 6-foot striker regains his ruthlessly efficient swagger of last season and intimidates Mertesacker and Koscienly, then Petr Cech should not expect a hero’s welcome. He will be kept busy on his return to the Bridge.
MESUT OZIL V NEMANJA MATIC
I don’t know if Matic was left out of the Champions League game because of this encounter but if recalled – which I expect – he will have an important job up against Ozil, who has set up two of Arsenal’s five league goals this season.
Matic was outstanding for the Blues last season but will need to improve on some of his recent displays when he comes up against the intelligence and technical quality of Ozil.
The jury’s still out on whether Ozil has proved a worthwhile addition at a club-record cost of £42.2million after his third season with the Gunners.
The German revolves between being the best player on the pitch one week and completely anonymous the next.
Overall, he’s yet to truly prove the deciding factor for Arsenal in an important game – perhaps he will do it in this tie and bring back his eye-catching Man of the Match display against Napoli in 2013.
Like I said earlier, Matic has struggled to assert his dominance on the middle of the park in the Blues’ opening games.
Against Everton, he scored a great goal but his passes and interceptions are what will be needed against Ozil and the Gunners. Well, another wonder strike won’t be bad, though!
SANCHEZ VS IVANOVIC/ AZPILICUETA
I have a feeling that somebody else will take the No.2 shirt for Chelsea against Arsenal.
Ivanovic has been dribbled past on ten occasions already this season – the most of any Premier League defender – in just five games!
Cesar Azpilicueta could switch back to his favoured right-hand side, making way for Baba Rahman on the left.
But if Mourinho sticks with Ivanovic, then the Sanchez-Ivanovic flank could well be where this fixture is won and lost.
The Chile international is Arsenal’s most dangerous attacking threat, despite being yet to get off the mark this season. And it is quite obvious that Ivanovic has been amongst the biggest culprits behind the woeful start to Chelsea’s title defence.
CESC FABREGAS V SANTI CAZORLA OR FRANCIS COQUELIN
Fabregas’ position is under scrutiny ahead of the match against his former club because of a very poor start to the season. Coquelin, on the other hand, has developed impressively and is likely to have a key role in midfield for the visitors if he’s preferred to Cazorla.
To his credit, Fabregas was one of the best players in Chelsea win in midweek and the former Arsenal man will more than likely play in the number 10 role again and will want to impress. He hasn’t been at his best this season so far, but Coquelin will still have to be at his own best to restrict Fabregas’ effectiveness.
But this battle may not happen because Wenger may decide to deploy Cazorla for the role instead.
Even if Fabregas is selected at No.10 – which is a possibility considering the injury to Willian – Wenger won’t expect Cazorla to keep tabs on his fellow Spaniard. Coquelin will be best suited for that.
However, whoever Fabregas comes up against he will be determined to put in an improved performance against the club he once captained to silence the criticisms that have continuously bugged him this season.
Arsenal will be looking to take advantage of Chelsea’s dreadful start to the league. I don’t think they will win the game, though. But they need to avoid defeat to show they are serious about their title challenge. Moreover, Wenger would be happy to take a point and keep Chelsea six points behind them. 1-1
HEAD TO HEAD (Last five games)
Sun 02/08/15 COS Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea
Sun 26/04/15 BPL Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea
Sun 05/10/14 BPL Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal
Sat 22/03/14 BPL Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal
Mon 23/12/13 BPL Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea
Match Facts: (Courtesy Opta)
Chelsea are unbeaten against Arsenal in their last seven Barclays Premier League encounters (W4 D3).
The Gunners have failed to score in their last four Premier League matches against the Blues and have managed just two goals in their last seven league games against them.
Wenger secured his first win over Mourinho in the Community Shield on his 14th attempt in all competitions (D6 L7).
Eden Hazard has scored in the Blues’ last two BPL clashes with Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, with both goals coming in the first half from the penalty spot.
Mourinho has never lost successive league home games as a manager – he lost his last home league game against Crystal Palace (1-2).
Theo Walcott has scored 11 goals in his last 11 Premier League starts for Arsenal.
The Gunners have won seven and lost none of their last eight Premier League away matches.
Chelsea have kept five clean sheets in their last seven Premier League games against Arsenal, including the last four in a row.
Arsenal have fired in the most shots on target in the Premier League (39), while Chelsea have allowed their opponents the most in the top flight (38).
Only David James (169) has kept more clean sheets than Petr Cech (165) in Premier League history and the Czech has not been beaten in his last three league outings.
PREDICTIONS OF OTHER GAMES
Swansea City 1-2 Everton
Stoke City 1-0 Leicester City
Bournemouth 0-0 Sunderland
Newcastle United 2-2 Watford
Aston Villa 2-0 West Brom
Manchester City 1-1 West Ham
Tottenham 0-1 Crystal Palace
Southampton 2-2 Manchester United
Liverpool 3-1 Norwich City