Arsenal have much to do if they’re to turn around their appalling record at Stamford Bridge.
There are always a few games on the calendar that fill you with dread before a ball has been kicked. For Arsenal, one of those games is Chelsea away. The reason is very simple: Arsenal haven’t won a game at Stamford Bridge since 2011.
It’s not just that Arsenal are in the habit of losing at Chelsea, but that they’re in the habit of losing in increasingly chaotic and depressing ways.
We wish we could forget the 6-0 defeat in the 2013/14 season, while the 2-0 defeat in the 2015/16 season was notable for Diego Costa winding up Gabriel until he was sent off just before half-time. Last season, we went down 3-1. Hector Bellerin was knocked out by Marcos Alonso for Chelsea’s first, Francis Coquelin bounced off Eden Hazard trying to stop their second and Petr Cech was lobbed from distance by Cesc Fabregas for the third.
We tend to go down in style.
This year, to have a game where we aren’t a jittery mess prone to comedic errors would be a step in the right direction.
Arsenal know how to beat this version of Chelsea: we’ve won three of our last four encounters against them, and at least two of those victories were very convincing. In those games, Arsenal were highly focused and intense. They were hungry and determined. More importantly, they got the tactics on the day right.
A repeat of that could lead to a nice surprise.
In last season’s game at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal struggled with Chelsea’s wing-backs, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso. The clever timing of their movement often created overloads down our flanks and freed-up space for their inside forwards. This became less of an issue in the FA Cup final, when Arsenal lined-up in the same formation and were able to match Chelsea man-for-man.
Doing so again might be the way forward for Arsenal on Sunday.
The back three has come under scrutiny recently for how ineffective it proved to be against Cologne, but it’s the formation that Arsenal used to get wins over Chelsea and Manchester City last season. If the team are comfortable and confident in that shape, it should stick around.
In terms of the starting line-up, the team should select itself. Cech will return in goal, and should have Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal in front of him. Bellerin and Kolasinac are expected to be the wing-backs, with Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey in the middle. The only real question is which three of Danny Welbeck, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette will play.
Arsene Wenger surprised everyone when he decided to drop Lacazette for the trip to Anfield last month. The reason back then was that Lacazette was still adapting to the league, and that Welbeck’s runs in behind would be needed. Similar reasoning could be applied again on Sunday. Welbeck has been in good form this season and it’d be difficult to leave him out after he scored twice last weekend. It could, then, come down to a choice between Lacazette and Alexis. The Frenchman scored as well last week, but the Chilean is getting fitter.
As for the hosts, they could welcome Eden Hazard back into the starting eleven after recovering from an ankle injury. Hazard has a habit of scoring against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.
We should also lookout for Alvaro Morata. Their big summer signing has four goals this season, all scored with his head. The Spaniard may not be as crazy as Diego Costa, but has plenty of presence in the penalty area and will be tricky to handle.
In midfield, the partnership of Tiemoue Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante looks powerful.
Few are convinced about Arsenal’s ability to challenge this season, so a win would be a real statement and confidence booster. A defeat, on the other hand, will bring the doom and gloom back full force. Another bad defeat will cause a meltdown and an inquest into the manager, the players and the whole club.
The optimist in me says that Arsenal can win if they turn up, but that’s a big if.
Negative as it sounds, avoiding defeat here would be a very handy result.