Arsenal vs Chelsea | Monday 23 December | Emirates | 22:00
English Premier League leaders Arsenal have so far struggled with their tough December fixtures, drawing to Everton and losing to Manchester City last weekend. Monday night they host Chelsea in the North London derby, a vital clash, as the Blues lie just two points off them. The Gunners were well and truly humbled at the Etihad and will be looking forward to being back on their own turf, though Chelsea will have found memories of their visits to the Emirates.
To Win (90mins)
Manchester City exposed the first cracks in Arsenal’s title challenge, beating the log leaders 6-3 at the Etihad Stadium. For Arsenal, this was a result they feared, even if they still sit three points ahead of the team who demolished them. It capped a bad week for the Gunners, losing 2-0 to Napoli in the Champions League. Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil ended up arguing after the latter’s lax pass had gifted City one of their goals. Before Saturday, Arsenal were the only team who have put anything like a title-winning run together, but after dropping points at home to Everton and City it will be interesting to see how they react in this important derby. In a game where they conceded six goals, they still demonstrated great quality, and will surely be in the reckoning for the title come May. With Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott, Arsenal possess inventiveness, pace, passing and skill in abundance. Their home form has been strong with just one loss from eight games and six wins. The Gunners are fearing that they could be without central defender Laurent Koscielny and midfielder Jack Wilshere. Koscielny was forced out of Arsenal’s defeat at Manchester City with a deep gash on his right knee and Wilshere is expected to be handed a one-match ban for improper conduct, after raising his middle finger towards the City fans.
Arsenal’s failure to pull clear at the top was encouraging for Chelsea, but struggling Crystal Palace proved trickier opponents than expected and manager Jose Mourinho ended the match grateful to Petr Cech for helping them over the finish line. The Chelsea ‘keeper made a string of fine saves to keep the visitors at bay, after Chelsea went 2-1 up. The hosts went in front courtesy of Fernando Torres' second Premier League goal of the season, but Marouane Chamakh's equaliser on the half-hour mark stunned the home crowd. However, Ramires ensured the Blues regained their one-goal cushion just six minutes later and Chelsea hung on for the all important three points. Mourinho has said he wants to get more end product from Eden Hazard this season and there are signs his message is getting home as the Belgian winger has been Chelsea’s key player. The Belgian created one goal and made six more chances in Chelsea’s win over Palace and before that match he made an average of just over two per game, while last season it was only 1.6.
VERDICT: Draw 23/10
Chelsea have quite a superb record against the Gunners, losing on just one of their last seven trips to the Emirates. In fact, they have won eight times in the last eleven derby matches, although Arsene Wenger will be thankful Didier Drogba is no longer a Blue - he scored thirteen times against them during his time at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho's men did also win a Capital One Cup tie between the sides 2-0 earlier this season to progress to the quarter-finals. That success ensured the Portuguese had never been beaten by Wenger in nine matches between the two bosses. The corresponding fixture between them last season ended 2-1 to Chelsea, courtesy of goals from Fernando Torres and Juan Mata. Arsenal have failed to perform at their best against the Premier League’s top teams this season and that is especially evident in their last two league matches. The draw is tipped.