As Arsene Wenger gets ready to celebrate his 20th season as Arsenal manager, a familiar nemesis will pay a visit to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday evening, as Chelsea look to once again triumph over an Arsenal side that seem to struggle against the Blues in recent years.
In fact, since their last defeat at the Emirates back in 2010, the BLues are unbeaten, winning twice and drawing three times as visitors to North London.
Arsenal will hope to break that cycle while also giving the home supporters a victory to celebrate their manager’s achievement of 20 years at the club.
But a Chelsea victory on Saturday wouldn’t be the first time that the Blues have interrupted an Arsenal milestone. Just two years ago, Arsenal visited Stamford Bridge for Wenger’s 1,000th match in charge and endured a sobering 6-0 defeat to a Chelsea side managed by Wenger’s longtime nemesis Jose Mourinho.
This time around, the manager standing opposite Wenger on the touchline has changed, but the team that his Arsenal side will face has not changed that much.
Diego Costa is once more expected to lead the line, leading to the Arsenal boss to call for his team to exercise discipline against the Spain international.
Last season, Arsenal had a man sent off in both meeting against Chelsea — one for an alleged kick-out off the ball by Gabriel Paulista in the match at the Emirates and a cynical challenge by Per Mertesacker that prevented a one-on-one chance in the match at Stamford Bridge.
Mertesacker will definitely miss out due to injury and Gabriel Paulista may have to be content with a place on the bench, as Arsenal most likely will start Laurent Koscielny, who was on the receiving end of a blow to face from Costa last season, and new signing Shkrodan Mustafi.
Aaron Ramsey is also likely to miss out due to a hamstring injury.
For Chelsea, Antonio Conte has a bit of a conundrum in defence, as well, which has only kept one clean sheet this season. John Terry has not recovered from his ankle problem in time for Saturday’s match, so David Luiz and Gary Cahill will likely start at centre back. The real selection headache is at fullback.
Branislav Ivanovic has not had the best of times for the past two seasons, and against Liverpool, he once again looked vulnerable to quickness and pace. Against Arsenal, that’s a concern since he would likely be looking after Alexis Sanchez.
Cesar Azpilicueta started at right back midweek in the EFL Cup match against Leicester City and looked good going forward, but his positional play in defence left something to be desired — not surprising since he’s mostly played left back since the departure of Ashley Cole. His backup Marcos Alonso had a solid match against Leicester, but looked a little off the pace and may need time to readjust to the English game after spending time in Italy.
Conte also has a decision to make on his starting midfield. To this point, Conte has gone for more solidity in midfield, deploying Nemanja Matic and Oscar with N’Golo Kante behind, in an effort to provide stability when defending.
However, the weakness of that midfield was shown against Liverpool last Friday night when that trio failed to impose themselves on the match when in possession and lacked a touch of composure and creativity when on the ball.
That conundrum is easily solved by one Cesc Fabregas, who demonstrated his quality in the final third with two goals and an assist against Leicester on Tuesday night. But the Spaniard isn’t known for his defensive prowess, even though he can give that control of possession that sometimes the midfield lacks.
More importantly, Chelsea’s mentality in this match could be the deciding factor. Against Liverpool and Leicester, the Blues looked sluggish at the start of the match and committed errors that led to early goals. Against Leicester, the team showed a resiliency to overturn a 2-0 deficit, but against Liverpool, that fight back only materialized for a 10-minute spell in the second half.
Chelsea will need to avoid that complacency against an Arsenal side that are capable of punishing you on their day. If nothing else, a sharper start will help to banish some of the doubts that may still linger from last season’s problems.