Chelsea bid to extend gap at the top
After drawing at Liverpool on Tuesday to go nine points clear, we face another important match against title rivals Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. After other results fell our way midweek, another draw here would leave us a minimum of seven points clear of whoever might rise to second after this weekend. Arsenal will more than likely have to get a win to keep pace with Tottenham and Manchester City, who both host clubs in the bottom six this weekend. Manchester City are only a point behind the two north London clubs, who are only separated by goal difference respectively.
Arsenals come into this match under pressure to get a result, after having lost at home to Watford on Tuesday. If they fail to win at Stamford Bridge, they could fall to fifth by the end of this weekend. However, prior to their midweek defeat, they had won four on the bounce in all competitions, netting thirteen times.
Our last meeting was our final defeat before embarking on our fourteen match winning streak. Losing 3-0 at the emirates, we were completely out played all over the pitch, and struggled to play out from the back as Arsenal pressed us high up the pitch. Halftime saw Conte switch to his now famous 3-4-3 system, and from there things looked up significantly. We managed to double Arsenal last season, winning 2-0 at home and 0-1 away. Taking a look at a larger slice of the head to head record, we compare favourably, with two defeats (one in the community shield) and two draws in our last ten matches against Arsenal. It has always appeared to be a fixture in which dominance goes in cycles. In our most played fixture, we have endured years without a win in the past. Between December 1920 and April 1937 we didn’t manage to beat them, this period did include a six season stint in division two for ourselves though. This period also included the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge which saw our highest recorded attendance of 82,905. This of course has been bettered when we faced Moscow Dynamo in 1945, with an unofficial attendance north of 100,000. The tide then swung in Chelsea’s favour, with only two defeats in the next ten meetings. A defeat in an FA cup replay in 1950 heralded the start of another long barren run, a Christmas Eve win in 1955 being the sole victory in nine years. The sixties belonged to Chelsea though, only losing twice in the whole decade. The 70’s began with back to back 3-0 wins, Tommy Baldwin netting in both, before Arsenal started to dominate the fixture again. Fifteen years would pass with only a sole Chelsea win this time, Boxing Day 1974, Chris Garland scoring both in a 1-2 victory. In truth Chelsea wins remained sporadic until 2004, since when we have pretty much dominated this fixture. A classic match began this run, with Wayne Bridge netting a famous late winner to put us into the Champions league semi finals. A 1-4 away win in 2009 was another high point, perhaps only bettered by the 6-0 thrashing we dished out at Stamford Bridge in 2014.
Chelsea will likely keep with the status quo in terms of team selection, with perhaps Pedro coming back in for Willian the likeliest change. Branislav Ivanovic has departed, signing off in style after scoring against Brentford. His service has been exemplary, capped by his last minute winning header in the 2013 Europa league final.
For Arsenal, Ramsey is a doubt after going of injured midweek, so Coquelin will likely start. Oxlade-Chamberlain is likely to be available for selection.
We couldn’t play out from the back under pressure from the Arsenal forward line in our last meeting, but the change to a back three since then should help to alleviate this issue, and Wenger may not be so keen for his side to press with such vigour.