If Zouma plays on Sunday, Arsenal will win.

Respect

It’s a concept apparently lost on Jose Mourinho when it comes to talking about Arsene Wenger.

The man is clearly envious of how Arsene commands such respect among his contemporaries for his achievements, despite the fact that in Mourinho’s eyes he has failed. For all his cleverness, Mourinho apparently lacks the gift of context.

I wrote a more in depth piece on the roots of Mourinho’s envy a few weeks ago, and how the fact that he is now regularly and publicly commenting on Arsenal demonstrates that he now sees us as a threat, even if not to his short term Premier League ambitions.

Since then, Arsenal have gone on an eight-game winning streak, a fact that Mourinho won’t have been able to ignore. The question is whether it causes him to start Sunday’s game with an outlook that has been missing in recent games between the two clubs – respect.

Predictable

If Jose Mourinho respects Arsene Wenger and this Arsenal side at the weekend, it will manifest in one key way – he will start Kurt Zouma alongside Nemanja Matic at the heart of the Chelsea midfield. This means that he will have to sacrifice one of his attacking five (Oscar is the likely candidate) and push Fabregas in behind the striker, with Hazard and Willian flanking him.

The 20-year-old Zouma has made 11 league appearances for Chelsea this season, clocking up 599 minutes, but has started on just six occasions. However, he has typically been employed in games where Mourinho expects a real battle, and in 2015 he has played the full 90 minutes against United, City and Everton, as well as the League Cup final.

In short, then, Mourinho has picked him in games where he respects the opposition, and where a defence-first approach is of utmost importance. In a game where every Arsenal fan out there expects him to park the bus, it’s nigh on impossible to believe Zouma won’t start on Sunday.

But why, I hear you ask, is that a good thing?

A chink in the armour

Zouma and Mourinho came out after the United game to brag about how they had planned and succeeded in nullifying the Mancunian threat by man-marking Fellaini. That might work in a team as one dimensional as United this year, but Arsenal are a different animal altogether.

In 2015, we have watched our players slowly mastering the holy grail of midfield fluidity, where players rotate positionally to overload the defence and exploit the gaps that appear, where it’s hard to even vaguely pin down where each player is ostensibly playing.

Imagine trying to man-mark Cazorla, when he will simply drift out of the central action and allow Ozil to take over, or imagine trying to sit in front of Olivier Giroud when he will run the channels and Alexis Sanchez will slip in between the centre back and full back instead.

Zouma might smugly think that he holds the key to curtailing the Gunners’ threat, but that would be extremely naive. The experienced heads that now occupy our central positions have the nous and understanding to manipulate him so that he doesn’t know whether to sit deep or press out against the player with the ball.

Reality bites

It’s still not going to be a cakewalk – Matic is a player at the top of his game who will still provide an effective shield for the Chelsea defence, but employing Zouma alongside him could actually reduce his effectiveness as he has less clarity on which areas are his responsibility.

Ultimately Arsenal’s best hopes will come from inviting Chelsea forward onto us, so that we can then exploit the gaps that appear. Neither Zouma nor Matic have much to add going forward, so any tactic which encourages them to get out of their own half and allows our speedy forwards in behind them will be an effective one.

Mourinho may choose not to show any respect to this Arsenal team and our esteemed manager, but let’s hope that he does. In targeting our supposedly lightweight midfielders with a pair of heavy-duty Rottweilers, he may well find that he has been outfoxed as they lead his dogs a merry dance.

The likes of Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey and Alexis all have the wherewithal to play across the front line, and in moving in ever more mesmerising patterns, even the bus driver might get distracted.

And that’s when we’ll pounce.

Previous articleArsene Wenger and the eleven lords
Next articleUefa lower Arsenal to second seed status
Helen is a season ticket holder with a desperate addiction to both chocolate and the Arsenal. It's really just a question of which kills her first! Since making the (near) fatal mistake of setting up home with a Tottenham season ticket holder, life has become much more complicated. She finds solace by writing for Daily Cannon and cleansing herself of all traces of Spurs on Twitter @nellypop13.