The new season is now upon us, and as defending champions, we have earned the right to open our season at Wembley stadium this Sunday in the community shield.
Opponents Arsenal meet us after deservedly beating us in the FA cup final. They were better all over the pitch that day. Choosing on that occasion to match us man for man, we were unable to get the better of them in any area. Combined with a high tempo press that we were unable to play around, much like in our defeat against them at the emirates stadium earlier in the season, meant that we were on the back foot for long periods of the match.
Positives can however be taken from our 3-1 win against them at Stamford Bridge in the league, where we were better all over the pitch on this occasion. The most recent meeting of the sides was only 2 weeks ago. We opened our pre-season campaign with a resounding 3-0 victory against them. If Arsenal are to beat us at Wembley again, they will have to show significant improvement from that match, in which their defence was all over the place, and we made them look woefully inadequate. This was of course only a friendly match, but with an extremely worrying lack of depth in the current Chelsea squad, we will more than likely line up with the exact same eleven that started in that friendly. Arsene Wenger got his tactics spot on in the FA cup final, so if he chooses to use the same approach again we can expect to see both teams lining up in a 3-4-3.
In the recent friendly meeting, Arsenal were extremely exposed in behind on the break, particularly in the wing back areas. They did however field some younger players in those positions who may be replaced for this encounter by other alternatives. Willian combined magnificently with Michy Batshuayi throughout, and their quick movement of the ball, coupled with intelligent runs in behind were the key to victory on this occasion. Alvaro Morata was not available at this stage, so it may be that he lines up upfront in place of Batshuayi, but nevertheless expect to see the Frenchman at some stage, as Morata has not completed more than 65 minutes in our other friendlies so far.
Costa was blunted by Mertesacker in the cup final, but hopefully these two will provide a more mobile alternative and stretch the Arsenal defence. Cesc Fabregas is also highly likely to start, which will provide more of a threat from deeper with balls in behind, something we lacked in the cup final. Picking passes from deeper is a good way to negate the high press that Arsenal are likely to use, having found it a successful tactic against us twice last season.
Looking to the long-term with the current squad, at present without additional purchases we are going to struggle if hit by injuries, and with the addition of champions league fixtures this season, but we can only hope more signings are forthcoming to bolster the squad. In the immediate short-term, Conte may be hamstrung if tactical changes are required in the community shield. With only three central midfielders currently on the books, and Bakayoko coming into pre-season with an injury, we may have to move players into as yet untried positions, if for instance Conte wanted to change to his preferred alternative system- 3-5-2. It is worrying that it has been left this late to bolster the midfield, after letting so many players go. Oscar, Chalobah, Matic, Loftus-Cheek and Ake are all possible midfield options who have departed, and the unless promotions from the youth and academy sides are to be brought into the first team squad this season, we need at least two central midfielders brought in. We are also in need of more depth upfront. Despite the signing of Morata. He and Batshuayi are the only out and out strikers available, assuming that Costa is on the way out. Although Hazard was often used as the second forward when changing to 3-5-2 last season, he is yet to recover from injury, and an injury to either centre forward leaves us lacking cover.
Hopefully we can get this season of to a good start with victory on Sunday, but expect an improved Arsenal to the one we beat in pre-season. If we can match the intensity we played with in that match though, we will have a great chance of winning.