Chelsea vs Arsenal | Saturday 19 September | Stamford Bridge | 13:45
Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger will renew hostilities on Saturday as Chelsea host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in an epic London derby. The Blues have had the better of the Gunners in recent years having won ten of their last sixteen encounters, suffering defeat on just three occasions. However, Arsenal will be looking to capitalise on Chelsea’s miserable patch and will look to their Community Shield triumph last month for inspiration.
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To Win (90mins)
Mourinho will need to show just how special he is as the Portuguese faces a huge task to quickly repair the shattered confidence of his Chelsea players, who fear they may have fallen too far behind Manchester City to successfully defend their Premier League title. Chelsea suffered a 3-1 defeat against Everton at Goodison Park last weekend with Steven Naismith punishing them with a hat-trick, which means the defending champions have now lost three games — the same amount they lost all of last season. What’s worse, the Blues dropped eleven points back of Manchester City. Sure, it’s only five games into the campaign, but unless Mourinho’s men turn it around quickly they could be out of the title race well before Christmas.
To make matters worse, they’ve lost starting goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for the next few months due to injury and things do not look good for the champions. Obviously they have issues at the back — their twelve goals against ranks as the worst defensive record in the Premier League. The three standout defensive performers from a season ago — John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic — have been shadows of themselves. It also doesn’t help matters that Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas have been pretty quiet, while Diego Costa has only one goal — last season he had seven after five games. Chelsea’s best players haven’t been their best players and that’s the main reason why the Blues find themselves in big trouble early on.
If Fabregas is given time on the ball in midfield, we will see the best of him. It's for that reason that the Spaniard hasn't been effective this season. Opposition teams have flooded the central areas to impact Fabregas' game and it's worked by stopping Chelsea's forward movement. Without Fabregas releasing any of Hazard, Costa or Pedro, Chelsea struggle to get in behind teams, and as such, their attacking threat becomes void. The key to getting them on the front foot against teams is by playing through Fabregas, which will be the same on Saturday. If Chelsea are to win this game, they need a performance from him. Eventually, Chelsea's quality will undoubtedly shine through and at the very least they should still expect a top-four finish. The Blues find themselves in an uncomfortable situation but knowing Mourinho, he has probably still managed to find a way to revel in the misery surrounding their start to the season. His attacking ranks remain frightening and the individual qualities of Costa, Pedro, Hazard, Fabregas and even Radamel Falcao, are enough to win games single-handedly. This weekend, the Premier League champions will be desperate to return to winning ways and there’s probably no other team they’d rather beat than Wenger’s side.
It’s fair to say they’ve looked much better away from home this season and are unbeaten in their last eight league matches on the road, winning seven times and drawing once. Arsenal will travel to Stamford Bridge feeling confident of leaving with all three points on Saturday especially as the Premier League champions drew with Swansea and were beaten by Crystal Palace there. The Gunners have won at the Bridge just once in six outings with five defeats but with Chelsea struggling to recapture last season’s form, Arsenal will be going all out to win. For Petr Cech, the game will have a great deal of personal significance. Not only will the ‘keeper make his return to Stamford Bridge for the first time since leaving Chelsea in the summer, when he ended his eleven-year stay with the west London side, but he could also be set to break a long-standing Premier League record. Cech is now level with David James on 169 clean sheets, 166 of which came at his former club and he’ll be looking to claim that record at his old home.
Wenger has an extremely talented squad at his disposal with the likes of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud. Cazorla will be a key player for the Gunners in midfield, starving opposition of the ball and creating goalscoring chances. His nimble feet enable him to skip away from defenders, while his vision allows him to pick penetrative passes from deep. Along with Mesut Ozil, he forms the creative hub at the heart of this Arsenal side. Alexis Sanchez is the most potent player in the Arsenal squad in front of goal. The Chilean moves through the gears at pace, with his close control and superb skill meaning he can beat players and take Arsenal up the pitch within seconds. His mobile play and diagonal movement is a nightmare for defenders which makes it literally impossible to man mark him.
VERDICT: Arsenal + Both Teams To Score 4/1
Chelsea are struggling to find their rhythm and find themselves still searching for their first home win of the season. The Gunners have won both of their away games this season and will be looking to add further misery to the champions. Arsenal’s last league victory against Chelsea came in a 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge in 2011. They showed in the Community Shield that they can beat Chelsea and with the Blues looking a shadow of themselves and without first-choice goalkeeper Courtois, the Gunners should be fancied here. Chelsea are yet to keep a clean sheet this season but with their quality in attack should get on the scoresheet. Take Arsenal to Win + Both Teams To Score at 4/1.