Chelsea-Arsenal Match Preview: Desperate Measures for Desperate Times Or Remember September?

Things have changed since we blew by the Blues on 24 September and this match will be played at their place instead of ours.  Still, as Gooners grasp for straws of hope, we should not forget how our most recent meeting turned out.

Back then, Antonio Conte’s group were still reeling from the woeful end to Jose Mourinho’s 2nd stint at Stamford Bridge.  Early season results had done little to suggest that Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea–despite its steroid driven economics–was ready to rise up from mid-table mediocrity.

After that fine day, however, Conte switched things up in a big way, notably going to a formation that featured three central defenders and a pair of wingbacks.  Out went stalwarts like John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and, further upfield, guys like Oscar and former Gunner Cesc Fabregas.  In came pacier players like Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso (as wingbacks) and freer roles for a front three that has featured Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Pedro and Willian, all anchored by a group of central players including Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta in the deeper roles and a pairing of Nemanja Matic and a guy we wanted, N’golo Kante, just ahead.  Last season’s woeful showing means that Chelsea have no European distractions.  Playing fewer games has allowed the main group to stay fit and fresh, the result being a run of 13 matches without dropping a single point.  Finally, with a 2-nil loss at Spurs, and, most recently, a 1-1 draw at Liverpool, their momentum has been dented.  Nonetheless, they still hold a commanding nine point lead in the league table.

In the same intervening period Arsenal have struggled.  A home draw to Middlesborough might have been seen as a one off but it was soon followed by poor performances and a series of draws against Spurs, Manchester United and a pair against Paris St. Germain in the Champions League.  A slow start at Ludogorets, also in the Champions League, was rescued with late heroics by Mesut Ozil, but then leads–and matches–were lost at Everton and Manchester City.  Instead of keeping pace with Chelsea we fell back.  Over the festive period and carrying into the new year the slow starts returned.  Wins were rescued vs West Bromwich Albion and Burnley in league play–and at Preston North End in the FA Cup–but shipping three goals at Bournemouth netted us only a draw despite a massive fightback.  This past Tuesday it finally caught up to us with a home loss to a team well down the table; Going two goals down to Watford proved one goal too many and all three points were gone.

Luckily, the other top teams (except Manchester City) all drew but it was still a killer blow.  Instead of winning and coming into this one only six points down, the margin is nine.  Moreover, we approach it with our confidence shattered and all the criticisms of manager Arsene Wenger’s team fully resuscitated.  Yesterday was Ground Hog Day here in the States and that feeling of “here we go again” (as per the Bill Murray film of the same name) cannot be escaped.

So, how to get back on track and get a result at Stamford Bridge?  We cannot quite play the same line-up as we did so successfully back in September.  The lynchpin of our midfield, Santi Cazorla, is likely out for the season after an ankle injury and a pair of surgeries.  So too are a slew of would-be replacements including Granit Xhaka (suspended), Mohamed Elneny (still with his Egyptian team who are playing in the final of the African Cup of Nations) and Aaron Ramsey (injured).  Francis Coquelin, who went off early in the September match, is just back from an injury of his own and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain faces a late fitness test.  The Ox looked quite commanding in a deep midfield position a week ago in the FA Cup match at Southampton, so, if he’s passed fit, he’ll likely be the guy who steps into the Cazorla role, much as he did on Tuesday when Ramsey hobbled off.

Also facing a late test will be center forward Olivier Giroud, a player who divides opinion as much as any other Gunner.  In the September match he was only given a bench seat and a few minutes as a substitute with the match already well in hand.  Should he be dropped again for this one?  Many Gooners believe we are a better attacking team with Alexis Sanchez at the center forward spot despite big Ollie’s fine goal-scoring record.  Theo Walcott–who scored one in the September match–is fit again and had a hat trick at Southampton.  So too is Danny Welbeck who scored the first two goals in that game.  Then there’s Lucas Perez, a player many would like to see finally given a start against a big rival.  We don’t lack for options up front.

Because he was able to soldier on while Giroud was subbed at halftime vs Watford, I believe that the Ox will play but that Wenger will opt to play the other ten available guys who won so convincingly in the earlier match.  As such, here’s my best guess at his line-up:






Substitutes: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Maitland-Niles, Lucas, Welbeck, Giroud

Such a line-up represents three changes from the squad that started vs Watford on Tuesday.  It may not be enough change for some supporters, while it could also be too much for others.  Some (see previous post) believe we’re strongest with Giroud up top and would prefer a more attacking approach with guys like Lucas and Welbeck in the mix from the start.  Other Gooners want even more radical changes like benching Ozil (who often appears a very frustrated figure in many of our disappointing matches) or starting some of the youngsters (Maitland-Niles or Jeff Reine-Adelaide) who did so well at Southampton.  New formations with different personnel have been mooted.  In the end, of course, Wenger picks the team and must get his men to play well enough to get the result.  Nine points back could be cut to six and our season could get a much needed infusion of oxygen; anything less does not bear consideration.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace




57 thoughts on “Chelsea-Arsenal Match Preview: Desperate Measures for Desperate Times Or Remember September?

  • It’s a tough one 17ht but I think for this game, Alexis up front is more likely to cause Chelsea problems. The trouble is we know exactly how Chelsea will play. Hazard will skip around inside the box and may welll win a penalty. costa will annoy the hell out of everyone and probably score the winning goal. The Chelsea defensive midfield will be stronger than ours (I think this is probably true if we had everyone fit. I don’t want to sound like a miserable old sod, but with our team at the moment you have to ask. Will Ozil be strong enough (or have the strength around him) to be able to dominate in midfield? Will the Ox have one of his good game? Or will he give the ball away in important positions as he is prone to do. Will Theo have one of his good games or will he disappear?

    Will we get the iwobi who played the 1st half against
    Watford or the much better one in the 2nd half ?

    For those reasons, I would change things around a bit and try 4 3 3 with a more cautious approach

    Defence as per yours

    Coquelin. the Ox. maitland- Niles

    Wellbeck Alexis. Lucas

    Probably miles out, but to my mind it gives us a tougher midfield shield and three forwards who are not afraid to shoot


  • Soooo… One vote to drop Ozil (not to mention Giroud and Theo, although I guess he’s only dropped from my predicted line-up)… Inneresting (and, IMO, very doubtful)…

    You’re right to point out how divey the Chavs are…The ref is Martin Atkinson who let stand a pair of fairly offside goals in our match at ManCity…

    You’re also right that we’ll need to see our players–to a man, most likely–step up and be their better selves. If we can get that sort of performance we should be in with a shout. In the end it may come down to who gets the first piece of luck in terms of a goal or maybe a big save or two. Both teams, as they will likely set up, I think, play more effectively on the break so a goal against makes the task harder. More hopeful sorts will note that Chelsea haven’t been so good if they fail to score first (with the notable exception of their win at ManCity…) but we’ve had plenty of trouble with both slow starts AND weak finishes.

    We shall see…Cheers for the comment…

  • Good preview, 17ht, and goes with the line up I think Wenger will roll out. If I had my way, it will be Welbeck on in place of Ozil (with Iwobi in the 10 role), just to give the Chelsea defence something to think about. But, with Welbeck only returning from injury, the manager is more likely to introduce him as an impact sub, which I can’t argue with. So, Ozil starts; here’s hoping he plays and scores like he did in the reverse fixture.

    Retsub1, it may be meaningless trying to match Chelsea in midfield, if we agree they have a better midfield, so easier to give their midfielders something to keep looking behind for. We should just press them once they get into our own half and hit on the counter as often as possible. If the game stays safe into the 70th minutes, we know we can finish stronger and that’s when to introduce Danny and Perez/Giroud. A lot will ride on Ox in that formation and I feel he will have a great game in intercepting balls and starting attacksf our own.

    It’s a (the proverbial) must-win game, if ever there was one. We deserve some luck.

  • In the last 4 matches, Chelsea have won 2, drawn 1 and lost 1. I believe that’s closer to Chelsea than the 13 match winning streak. Our starting point must be to recognize that Chelsea is not an all conquering team. They are simply a good team, played off the pack by Liv, but lucky to earn a draw in that game. We can beat them.

    Gengen pressing might be a route for us. To successfully do that we have to use players who can press: Sanchez, Welbeck, Walcott, Coquelin. Coqueli joining the high press entails Niles at the base of the midfield shielding the back four. Ox becomes the b2b. That’s already 6 players plus the regular back 5 to give my starting 11. What!! Ozil is missing! Giroud, Iwobi, Perez also! We got depth!

  • 4:1:2:3. Ox b2b. Coq box to high press. Niles DM.


    The formation is offensively tilted but balanced by personnels with good defensive abilities.

  • You described the prematch connotations very well, Seventeenho. I don’t like the line up, but that will be no surprise. Not a game for two kids in the team, so either Ox or Iwobi, or ideally both, out for me. Ozil will of course play and leaving him out would be criminal and unthinkable. I published my dream line up in previous post and have not changed my mind.

  • Comfirmed line up:


    Subs: Ops, Gab, Gibbs, Niles, Jeff, Welbz, Giroud.

  • OMG this is an early kickoff for me…Ominously, the espresso machine–on a timer–had yet to switch on…

    I don’t get it TA, but the other three comment writers all would have preferred Ozil out of the team, I guess we know who to blame if it doesn’t go well… 😀 😦

    At least I picked the first 11 right…Bench is off by one…No Lucas (JRA instead)…


  • 1-nil Chavs… Alonso heads in the looping rebound off the bar, leaving Bellering down injured after an elbow to the head… Big trouble here…

  • Half-time… We made a couple of chances but Gabby’s header and Ozil’s shot were both straight at Cortois… Chavs look dangerous on the break but we’ve been able to make the key interventions. Hopefully AW has some ideas for getting us back into the match…

  • 17ht, don’t forget I did call the same line up in the last article and even up there. I preferred Ozil out and gave reasons but stated it won’t happen, anyway. As it turns out, he is doing well, from the parts I have seen (I woke up 16 minutes late despite my best efforts. Will see the highlights and make what I can of it.

  • Alexis needs to release the ball much quicker if we are going to break them down. Iwobi needs to get in the game like he did in the last 5 mins of the half

  • How can that not be a foul? Are you allowed fore arm smashed to the head now?

    We looked very indisciplined after the goal for 15 minutes or so, but finally seemed to gain some shape again.

    We are still in this, but have to be aware of getting caught in the break. Not sure what the instructions to Gabriel are, but he is popping up everywhere but right back?

  • Retsub1, the ref has a very good view and didn’t give it as a foul. And after that, 3 clear offsides ungiven.

    Referee bashing again?

  • Shouldn’t have been given as a goal, in my view. While they’ve been in more dangerous situations in front of goal, we have played better, territorially and with a bit more composure and luck, who knows? With Bellerin out, we will lose some thrust in attack, which isn’t the substitution we would have hoped for. Very sad because he has been rested and prepared well for the game.

    Alexis should be releasing the ball quicker instead of dwelling while he waits for the runs of Ozil. He gets caught on it and dispossessed too often these days.

    I say retain the same 11 to start the 2nd half and retain same shape, pepper their defence to wear them out and if nothing gives after 20 minutes, throw on Welbeck and Giroud/Gibbs to change the approach, for Theo and Coq.

  • Unfortunate to be behind and not playing too bad. Bring on Giroud and/or Welbeck for Ox, Iwobi or Theo, and we can give them a proper game. Foul all day long btw.

  • At 2-0, it is going to be hard to claw this one back, unless some unexpected twists occur.

    At some point, we would have to go for it with both Welbeck and Giroud on. We have not given up, clearly, but as we seek a goal, we get easily opened up.

  • Too little too late, maybe, but Welbeck on will give them some concern; Giroud will only be active when the ball is crossed. He’s been like a man carrying an injury and not his fighting self, lately.

  • I’m listening on BBC5L, it’s all Chelsea, they are clearly the best team in the EPL…

    We’ve had the odd chance but our finishing hasn’t been good enough.
    Maybe fatigue will kick in, post their visit to Anfield and we could score with 10 minutes plus added time?
    But from what I’ve heard Chelsea have pretty much dominated.

    Ah well, we’ve still got the FACup I suppose…

  • We have played without believe and cohesion, Kev, making it easy for the Chavs. But we are not being dominated at all, yet it has been easy for them..

  • I’m still awake (got a coffee at halftime…) but I will be getting back under the covers shortly…

    3-nil… Cech with a big error and Cesc puts it in the empty net…

  • Wow! Just the score line the Chelsea faithful will have been hoping for. Revenge in full. Cech will be sick of that error. He has just gifted that ball to, of all people, the newly introduced Cesc Fabregas who has lobbed it into an open goal. 3-0!

  • TA, I can only go by what I’m hearing on the radio mate and as it’s Danny Mills co-commentating and baring in mind the bitterness he feels towards Arsenal after years of being humiliated by Bobby Pires, I can still visualise our players being outmuscled and wasting the few gilt edged chances we get.
    Chelsea have evolved and improved since we played them earlier in the season, we have not in afraid.

  • Consolation goal by Giroud. Like I stated, only when it is ball to head will he be useful to the cause. Not dissing him by any stretch, just saying it the way it is for Giroud in these games. Looks like the end of our challenge for the title now. 12 points behind and with all those around us picking up steam.

    Well, I have a busy day to look forward to and take my mind off this.

  • We need to work on keeping the ball and we were undone by mistakes.

    The mentality is definitely not there, and we are meeting Bayern next. But the first goal is definitely a no goal for me.

    The team is still sleeping?

  • TA, I defend Giroud and think he is a very useful striker to have about. There are certain games you will do better without him, is just what I am saying. This was one of them. When he comes on, the instruction should be to get the ball to the byline and cross it for him. If that doesn’t happen enough, he will be limited.

    I agree that we were not dominated at all, just that after the first goal, we played into their hands a bit. It is demoralizing but we can take solace in the fact that we did fight a bit and were unlucky to lose Bellerin that early. Alexis, though……

  • I’m sorry. But Alexis plays like he’s planning to leave the club already. Not trusting his teammates and holding the ball up to no effect. Coquelin was shocking,Ox and Koz are the only players to leave the pitch with some credit. We were so static and unwilling to make runs. 3-0 down and the players had their heads down. This was a title deciding match ffs. Show some passion. Shocking,absolutely shocking.

  • Agree with you Shrillex.

    It is the mentality that is letting the players and the fans down. We need a better psychologist who can make the team mentally better.

  • On a day Hull is leading 0-2 at Anfield….. and Spurs still to play ‘Boro. You know Spurs will want to win this and pull away from us. Chelsea will not be losing too many games as the points difference ensures they play a controlled game each time, unless……

  • Cheers Eris, it is hard for me to believe you after watching a toothless attack for most of the game. For me, this was a game to start Ollie all day long. There is an issue with using Giroud at the moment though. Of course he is strong in the air but he also scores a lot with his howitzer of a left foot. Most importantly, he needs to be used as back to the goal CF, which is not happening. Expect some changes from now on, as Wenger will go into Top-four mode.

  • Hmmmm, well. All about opinions, I guess.

    Lol @ top 4 mode. Akin to something I told a gooner pal of mine, albeit not in so many words. Wenger does have such a switch. 😆. Will be a hard one this season, mind.

  • Next up, Hull.

    I watched their game at home to Liverpool, and the plug the holes very well. We might need Ollie here, but maybe rest Alexis and Theo for the Bayern match and put Perez and Welbeck in the starting lineup?

    I see the same level of deficiency in the Liv team compared to Arsenal, only that they were quicker and we were a little slower, but the ball in the final third is lacking for both teams.

    So, by making those changes and putting AMN in place of Le Coq and sticking to Ox in the DM, maybe putting Gibbs on the left and Holding on the right will make us more assured at the back?

    Your thoughts guys?

  • Tough loss to take indeed. I still maintain my view that we loose big games because of players like Ozil who most supporters glorify (what has he really done for us considering the transfer figure and salary). Sanchez has become too big headed. Yes he is a good player but must play for the team. Him and Ozil were deemed not good enough at Barca and Real and we gave them a chance they must respect the jersey. As supporters we need to be fully behind players like Gabriel and Coquelin who give all for the jersey. Desire and passion surely beats talent alone. If Ozil and Sanchez dont want to sign the club must sell and buy. We need the key players to step up for it makes life easier for the not so talented players like Coq, Monreal etc.

  • Pep Guardiola just dropped, arguably, the best striker in the league for an upstart (I know he is already an international) in Gabriel Jesus, who has already scored 3 goals in 2 games. Sometimes, I feel Wenger needs to take the risk to drop Alexis and/or Ozil in one of these big games to send the message no one is bigger than the club.

    Alexis won’t trust the players around him except when it is absolutely impossible to ignore that player, when it isn’t Ozil. It just doesn’t make sense. Even as a spectator, I can see the right pass to have taken in a certain situation; or a scenario where leaving the ball to a better placed team mate would have benefitted the team, but a player who seeks to be paid £250k/week cannot see it?

    Just to mix things up a bit, let’s start a forward line of Perez, Welbeck and Theo/Iwobi/Ox and convince me the passing will not be better as the players will depend on one another in trust. For long now, our passing game has gone as our game has become seeking out Alexis and hoping he creates magic. He was out of sorts yesterday and may need time off. Maybe, it will help get him back in form for the CL challenge.

  • Eris, I watched the end of that game and the presence of El Kun at the end, I thought, was huge for getting Gabby Jesus to be left in acres of space for the easy goal…

    It could be argued that Wenger did pretty much the same thing with Giroud yesterday, though he got his own goal even if was too little, too late…

    I will agree that I thought Alexis had a very poor game back in his (preferred, maybe?…) role as CF… I also agree with Shrillex who wrote that he looked like a player already gone from the club…

    Giving chances to younger, (so-called) hungrier players is all fine and good but then guys like that, for example OUR Gabriel, need to put their headers (served up on a plate by Ozil) inside the corner of the goal rather than on the hand of the keeper. Likewise, Coquelin, if he cannot stop Eden Hazard, needs to foul him, even if he’s only got the two yellow cards to give up… Being a little better with the ball would be nice too…

    We’re not getting a lot of comments here but they seem to be focused on dropping our best players, the two contract rebels, Ozil and Alexis… BKesque seems to be (mercifully) free of the WOB (Wenger Out Brigade) influence, but, surely, if those two don’t sign new contracts (or at least one of them…) Wenger shouldn’t either… To his credit, Wenger did say that he tried to sign Kante (my man of the match…) and we know that he was instrumental in developing the guy who scored their third goal (Cesc)… Way back when I bet he would’ve liked to sign Hazard from Lille; instead we got Gervinho…

    Personally, I think our troubles are FAR more deeply rooted and that we probably need a season like Chelsea’s a year ago (they finished 10th but rescued things a bit by taking all 6 points from us…) to re-calibrate expectations…

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