Chelsea will be looking to a reilable record against Arsenal to help steer them towards curing a poor league start on Saturday lunchtime.
If looking purely at league form, there is surely only one way the three points are heading. We are six points behind the Gunners at this early stage, and we have only won once so far – not that you need reminding, I’m sure. We are, of course, a further five points behind early pacesetters Manchester City and so it is no exaggeration to say that this game is vitally important, even if we are only in mid-September.
However, developments in midweek have put an entirely different slant on the forecast of this match. We warmed up to tomorrow’s game with a morale-boosting (if not entirely needed) trouncing of Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv, running out 4-0 winners. Arsenal however, were the wrong end of a shock 2-1 loss to Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb. Sure, Olivier Giroud’s red card did not help their cause, but in all honesty, they never truly looked like beating Zagreb even with parity on the field.
So, it can be argued that neither side on the balance of it are coming into this game with any form. Chelsea can however rely on history being a good judge of how they will fare in tomorrow’s clash. Arsenal have not won at the Bridge for four years now, and who can forget the 6-0 drubbing that was handed to them – a scoreline that remains the heaviest defeat for either side in this fixture’s history. It is also set to be our most played fixture in our history too, with this to be our 186th meeting.
Also intruiging is the selection issues that both sides are facing ahead of the tie. While Chelsea’s headaches are mainly down to a lack of form, Arsenal are boasting a stereotypically long injury list. Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck are both long-term absentees, but now the glass-legged Jack Wilshere is back on the treatment table, with his absence due to last until Christmas. Per Mertesacker is also a doubt, but considerably more short-term than the previous trio mentioned.
As mentioned, our issues lie more with form than injuries. That said, Thibaut Courtois, Pedro and Willian are all out of contention with injuries. Branislav Ivanovic are two players who have started the season inauspiciously and may well be dropped. Abdul Baba Rahman acquitted himself well in his debut versus Maccabi and will be pushing for a start in the Serbians’ place, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek put in a man of the match performance in his first Champions League start and will be looking to push on from that and may displace the Spaniard.
It feels strange as a Chelsea fan to be saying a game agaisnt Arsenal at home in September can be classified as vital to our title defence, but the truth is, that is exactly what it is. The gap between us and Man City – who play West Ham – could be as big as 14 points by the end of play, which is surely insurmountable even with so long to go. The midweek results however, will give us a huge shot in the arm and maybe, just maybe, help us gain three points here and get our season back on track.