Arsenal vs Chelsea preview: Must-win fixture for Gunners against London rivals

Arsenal - Chelsea preview: Must-win fixture for Gunners against London rivals

Despite the visitors’ faltering form in the Premier League this season, the Gunners will know to avoid underestimating them – it’s a must-win fixture for Arsenal regardless of which Chelsea side turns up at the Emirates.

Arsenal have a golden opportunity to regain top spot in the Premier League tomorrow afternoon, but face an old rival in the form of last season’s champions, Chelsea. After Leicester‘s impressive display at home against Stoke, and Manchester City‘s enthralling draw at Upton Park, the Gunners sit in third after Saturday’s results.

They’ll be eager to record only their second victory over the Blues since their unpredictable 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge back in the 2011/12 campaign, where Robin van Persie fired Arséne Wenger‘s side to a thrilling three points away from home.

van Persie celebrates as his hat-trick inspired the Gunners to victory away at Chelsea in 2011 | Image: Arsenalpics.com

A sign of foreshadowing?

You could argue that the Gunners’ Community Shield win over the Blues was a sign of things to come – Wenger had finally beaten José Mourinho, and from then on, Chelsea looked lethargic and honestly, struggled to get going as the campaign got underway two weeks afterward.

Mourinho had lost the dressing room, supporters began to turn on players and the man at the helm was consequently sacked before Christmas. Now, the defending champions sit in a remarkable 14th, which is extraordinary considering they lifted the title back in May.

Time for Blues to respond

Guus Hiddink was the man entrusted with helping steady the sinking ship in west London, and since his arrival, the experienced Dutchman is yet to lose a game. In seven fixtures (all competitions), Chelsea have recorded three wins and been held to four draws – including goalless away at Manchester United and most recently, a 3-3 draw at home against Everton.

Willian has undoubtedly been the side’s star man this term, with eight goals and six assists in all competitions, whilst Eden Hazard has failed to reach the heights of an excellent season in the 2014/15 campaign. Questions have been asked about the talented Belgian’s commitment to the cause, and whether his mind is in the wrong place – as reports continue to link him with a lucrative move abroad, as both Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain lurk over his signature.

Perfect timing for the Gunners, meanwhile

As for tomorrow’s hosts, you could argue this season is probably their best chance to secure their first League title since the Invincibles season, back in 2004/05. Chelsea have capitulated and will be satisfied with a top-four finish, whilst Liverpool and Manchester United are both too inconsistent to suggest they’d carry any purpose in the title race.

We’re in the month of January and nearing the business end of the season. Leicester’s amazing start to the campaign has continued past the Christmas period, where many critics suggested they’d begin to fall, so it wouldn’t be too long before you’d have to acknowledge the Foxes as genuine title contenders if they maintain their encouraging run of form.

Manchester City have been inconsistent too, but many of their key players who were previously injured – including talisman Sergio Agüero, are returning, so you’d expect them to fight until the end in their quest to regain the crown in May.

Despite the Gunners having injury worries of their own, they’ve shown flashes of brilliance as well as reasons why they’ve struggled to sustain weight in a title race from previous seasons. Losing against West Brom, West Ham and Southampton – as well as draws against Norwich and Liverpool – are all examples of points dropped, which you wouldn’t normally expect from a title-winning side.

However, they haven’t been bad either, by any stretch. The signing of Petr Čech has proven a masterstroke, and his consistent displays will have his former side wincing at the possibility that he could be the man to help lift Arsenal’s first League trophy in over a decade. Olivier Giroud has netted eighteen goals in all competitions, Mesut Özil has been excellent in a creative midfield role and elsewhere in the squad, competition for places will continue to hot up as first-team players return from their respective injuries.

Team news

Arsenal’s attacking duo of Alexis Sánchez (hamstring) and Mesut Ozil (foot) are expected to return to the starting XI – which will not be welcome news for the visitors.

Mohamed Elneny is still waiting for his Gunners debut following his £7m switch from Basel last week – whilst Danny Welbeck, Santi Cazorla (knee) and Jack Wilshere (leg) are all a few weeks away from returning to full training.

As for the Blues, they’ll be sweating on the fitness of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa – the latter of which, suffered a bruised shin against Everton last weekend. Radamel Falcao (thigh) is still sidelined, having missed the last 21 fixtures (all competitions) with serious muscular problems.

If Hazard is passed fit to play, he could possibly only feature from the substitutes’ bench – Pedro Rodríguez is expected to start for the visitors, on the opposite flank to Willian.

Predicted starting XI’s

Arsenal: Cech, Bellerín, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Ramsey; Campbell, Sánchez, Özil; Giroud.

Chelsea: Courtois; Ivanovic, Terry, Zouma, Azpilicueta; Mikel, Matic; Pedro, Fábregas, Willian; Costa.

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