Arsenal vs Chelsea | Sunday 26 April | Emirates Stadium | 17:00
The biggest match of the weekend pits would-be champions Chelsea against in-form Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in what is usually a fiercely-contested London Derby. Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho have a rather famous hostility toward each other. The two who love to engage in a war of words were involved in a shoving contest at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season when Chelsea won 2-0 with goals courtesy of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa. The rivalry also means both managers will be even more encouraged to get a win over the other, with Wenger probably craving it more because of his dismal record against Mourinho.
To Win (90mins)
Arsenal are unquestionably the form team in the league right now and their last outing against Burnley made it eight wins on the trot – the first time they managed to achieve that feat since their title-winning campaign of 2003/04. At home, they’ve won eleven of their fifteen matches with three draws and just one defeat that came against Southampton in September last year. The Gunners have a chance to prove themselves in the league this season, even if first place is beyond them. The team has fought well to battle back from a very poor run of injuries and surge a late title charge or prolong it, either-or. Wenger might mourn those sloppy beginnings as an opportunity squandered. After all, Chelsea have not set a truly breakneck pace and certainly not since the beginning of 2015. This is the most impressive team the Gunners have boasted since the dying embers of the glorious Invincibles side of more than a decade ago. They have pace, power, energy and invention in attack – and that is just Alexis Sanchez.
At the other end they have hit upon an understanding which has seen them not concede more than once in the league since New Year’s Day. In Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin, Wenger has revived his previous mastery in polishing rough diamonds. Since Coquelin was rescued from exile at Championship side Charlton in December to man the anchor position, Arsenal have won 33 points from 36 available, while Bellerin has excelled at right back with potential to be even better than the consistent Bacary Sagna was for the Gunners. Sanchez and Olivier Giroud have accounted for fourteen goals apiece this term, tied for fifth in the Premier League, with Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck rounding out the top of the attack with four goals each. But the creativity of Wenger's midfield has been most important. The Gunners are enjoying an excellent season from playmaker Santi Cazorla with his seven goals and eight assists. The Spaniard brings creativity and invention—not to mention goal threat—to Wenger’s side and he could be a nuisance for Mourinho’s men on Sunday. The Gunners will be confident of beating Chelsea this time, especially at home where they have won their last eight matches.
Two more victories and the Premier League title is Chelsea's, though in truth, they have been champions-in-waiting since August. After defeating Manchester United 1-0 thanks to a brilliant Hazard strike at Stamford Bridge, they are now agonisingly close to confirming their status as the 2014/15 Premier League champions for the first time in five years. Mourinho is the master at putting together defensive strategies that are hard on the eye but effective on the scoreboard and that was evident against United. Chelsea have a 10-point lead over Arsenal in second place, having now played the same amount of games. Should they go on to win at the Emirates and grab another three points at Leicester the following Wednesday they will be crowned deserved champions. The Blues are undefeated in their last twelve league matches with nine victories including four wins on the spin. They have a good record away from home and as for their head-to-head record against Arsenal – they’re undefeated in the last seven meetings having won on five occasions including the last two ties.
Hazard has been the shining star for the Blues this season with eighteen goals in all competitions – thirteen of them coming in the league with eight assists. There are a few players blessed with the ability to create something out of nothing and not only does the Belgian create goals but he can score them in a moment of brilliance. It will be a painful reunion when former club legend Cesc Fabregas returns to Arsenal, a club he once said he’d return to. He’s also with the club he once said he’d never play for. The Spanish maestro has been crucial to Chelsea’s impressive campaign and currently leads the assist charts with seventeen – not to mention his three goals to his name. Fabregas is the rhythm in Chelsea’s melody and he’ll be going all out to see his team get closer to lifting the title with a vital win. Costa's recovery from a hamstring injury is going well and the nineteen-goal frontman could return for this weekend's showdown which will give his side a massive boost. If he’s match fit, all well and good but Loic Remy is another good option who’ll return from a two-week injury layoff. Remy been impressive whenever he's started and has scored the winner in each of his last two games. Didier Drogba is facing a race to be fit after picking up an ankle injury against United which will come as music to Wenger’s ears given his marvellous record against the Gunners. The Ivorian has fifteen goals in fifteen games against them and Mourinho will be hoping to have him in his matchday squad.
VERDICT: Chelsea 2/1
The bookies have priced up Arsenal as favourites at 27/20 while the champions-elect are valued at 2/1. The Gunners have been in superb form in the league but come against a Chelsea team they haven’t beaten since 2011. The Blues have lost just twice in fourteen games against Arsenal, winning ten times with two draws while Wenger has never beaten Mourinho in twelve attempts with the Portuguese winning seven times and drawing five. With their eyes on the title, Chelsea should put in another star performance and I’m tipping them to pick up maximum points and extend their impressive record against their local rivals. Back Jose’s boys to paint the town blue this weekend, after all, it is their town.