Match Preview: Arsenal vs Chelsea, London heavy weights clash at EMIRATES

In surely one of the biggest fixtures of the season – Arsenal host Chelsea for the first time at the Emirates Stadium in the 2016/2017 season – but does either side have a legitimate chance of winning the title?
Both Arsene Wenger and Antonio Conte have fine records when it comes to winning titles in previous decades in England and Italy respectively – but time will tell whether they can win this season’s.

Team news

Olivier Giroud has a chance of playing for Arsenal after missing out on their 4-0 win at Nottingham Forest on Tuesday. Aaron Ramsey, Per Mertesacker, Danny Welbeck and Carl Jenkinson are still out with longer term injuries.

Chelsea captain John Terry is hopeful of making a comeback from his ankle injury picked up in the draw at Swansea – which forced him to miss last Friday night’s defeat to Liverpool.Van Ginkel and Kurt Zouma are out.

One of the biggest Flak made against Arsenal in the last couple of years is that they are stuck in a cycle of repetition where they make the same mistakes year after year. The idea that Arsene Wenger’s team play out a ‘Groundhog Day’ season year after year has taken hold, and been difficult to shift.

In some respects, the toga is unfair and Arsenal have actually addressed some of their recurring weaknesses over the past couple of seasons. Unable to beat the big teams? Well, Arsenal defeated Manchester City, Manchester United (twice) and Bayern Munich in the space of nine months last year. Incapable of setting up differently and winning games after soaking up pressure? In that win against City, Arsenal came out on top despite having just 36% possession.

But there remains one constant from every year since 2012 and that is that Arsenal will fail to beat Chelsea. The Gunners are currently on a run of nine league matches without beating their south London rivals, and in those matches they have scored just two goals (the last of which was in January 2013, seven games ago), conceding 15.

During those nine games, pretty much every alleged weakness of Arsenal has been exposed – and by four different managers. Arsenal have been incapable of breaking down a well-organised defence, been outmuscled and outhought in the centre of midfield, and laughably fallen into the disciplinary trap laid by the canny Diego Costa. In total Arsenal have had four players sent off in their last five Premier League meetings with Chelsea (something that must be prevented for them to stand any chance), reflecting their frazzled approach against them and continued mental lapses.

Even last season when Chelsea were in turmoil they still did the double over Arsenal, with the win at the Emirates in January meaning that 21% of their Premier League points so far in that campaign had come against Saturday’s opponents.

Adding to the sense of repetition in the Arsenal and Chelsea narrative is the fact that when the teams met for the first time last season Arsenal had 10 points from their first five matches, which is exactly the situation this time around.

On that occasion Chelsea won 2-0, and while Wenger can speak all he likes of the team’s mental toughness and team spirit, ultimately no-one will take him seriously until they can start regularly winning games against more streetwise teams like Chelsea.

That’s why Saturday’s match against the Blues is so important. Arsenal are currently in a situation where even when they win matches most observers still struggle to take them seriously, largely because the types of successes they have tend to be followed by collapses later on in the season.

Last weekend’s 4-1 win against Hull for instance was an excellent result against a team who had already beaten champions Leicester City and held out for 90 minutes against Manchester United. But the reaction from the footballing world was a collective shrug, because everyone knows Arsenal are capable of hammering lesser teams, especially in September.

It’s proving they can achieve things that has been beyond them in recent years that will make Arsenal be taken seriously as title contenders.

Saturday offers them a big opportunity to do that. A win against a main rival, who are well drilled, physical and have Costa in their team would send out a big message that maybe this season can be different.

Fail to do that, and it’s another unhappy Groundhog Day.

culled from telegraph.co.uk

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