In the four most recent rounds, Arsenal fans have endured a season of unexpected highs and unsettling lows. Although Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was quick to point out that “stranger things have happened,” the Premier League (PL) title race is reportedly effectively over, according to some bookmakers. However, if Arsenal earns all possible points, they’ll need Manchester City to lose at least four games.
Arsenal must hold onto that scenario until winning the title is mathematically impossible, but the comeback must begin in this already postponed London derby against Chelsea. The hosts’ disappointment at the rescheduled game forced them to issue a club statement, although fans might take solace in the fact that Arsenal has never lost to Chelsea in the Premier League between Tuesday and Thursday (W4, D6).
The Blues under Frank Lampard may not pose a threat to that streak after dropping all five of their games under the interim leadership of their former coach their worst skid since 1993. In fact, if Chelsea loses again, they might lose 20 competitive games in a season for the first time since 1987/88 as they slumber toward their first bottom half finish since 1996.
Any manager knew it would be difficult to keep a group of more than 30 players happy, but it seems like the £500 million+ gamble didn’t pay off in the short run. Despite all the drawbacks, Chelsea at least has a respectable record in Premier League London derbies this year (W3, D4, L4), even though they enter this game coming off a 2-0 loss to West London rivals Brentford.
Bukayo Saka, an ever present attacker for Arsenal, assisted in the opposite match and has contributed to as many home league goals this season (G9, A7) as he has this year’s PL home appearances. Conor Gallagher continues to be credited with Chelsea’s lone goal during Lampard’s second appearance.
William Saliba’s back condition is unlikely to be resolved in time for Chelsea’s visit, as Arteta acknowledged prior to Arsenal’s thrashing at the hands of Manchester City, and concerns are mounting that the center back may not play another game this year.
While Arsenal may have left the Etihad with bruised egos, they did not pick up any new fitness concerns and should stick with a largely recognizable formula. Takehiro Tomiyasu and Mohamed Elneny are also watching from the sidelines with their season ending knee injuries.
Leandro Trossard, who scored against Chelsea for the second time this season in Brighton & Hove Albion’s 4-1 rout in October, could challenge Gabriel Martinelli for the starting spot after helping Holding score during a bright 30 minutes cameo. Nevertheless, the Belgian left the Etihad with his head held high.
Chelsea is also plagued by untimely injury concerns to important players. Mason Mount and Reece James have been sidelined for the rest of the season with pelvic and thigh issues, respectively, and Marc Cucurella could miss a few weeks with a thigh issue of his own.
In the hospital with them are Kalidou Koulibaly (thigh), Armando Broja (knee), and reverse goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli (unspecified). Kai Havertz (knee) will need to be examined, but the forward should be cleared to play in the derby.
If Havertz is permitted to rejoin the attack, Aubameyang who will undoubtedly receive a cold reception should accept a bench place once more as Joao Felix tries to breathe some life into a sputtering Chelsea assault.
Arsenal possible starting lineup
Ramsdale, White, Holding, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Xhaka, Partey, Saka, Odegaard, Trossard and Jesus.
Chelsea possible starting lineup
Kepa, Chalobah, Silva, Fofana, Chilwell, Fernandez, Kante, Gallagher, Felix, Havertz and Sterling.
We predict: Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea
Chelsea may not be able to purchase a goal right now, but Arsenal and clean sheets do not mix well at the Emirates, and this game against a Blues team willing to further harm their rivals’ chances of winning has the potential to be a banana skin for the Gunners.
Without Saliba, the hosts’ defensive awareness and build-up play are obviously worse, but the visit of a disgruntled Chelsea team presents a great opportunity for the Gunners to get back to winning ways. They may have to survive a few scares along the way to victory and return to the top, for at least 24 hours.