At the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, Arsenal welcome Chelsea for the lunchtime kick off of what should be the first major league test for the new-look Blues. While Chelsea have certainly had their tests in Europe, in the form of Atletico Madrid and Juventus, their domestic opponents have provided interesting tactical and emotional challenges, but not necessarily the battles of quality that their European opponents provided.
The Gunners will be that first test, as they are coming off of their own test against Manchester City last Sunday. Though the match ended 1-1, it could be argued that Arsenal had much better possession than City did last week, and they played the reigning champions much closer than previous meetings last season.
Part of the issue for Arsene Wenger is finding a way to replace the 30+ goals that Robin van Persie provided for them last season. This is the second consecutive year that Wenger has had to try to cope with the loss of a star player; Cesc Fabregas having left for Barcelona last season. However, this time, Wenger has invested much better, having added the likes of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, and Santi Cazorla before the start of the season.
Chelsea have also had to deal with their share of transformation. Though the summer signings have provided the kind of attractive football at times that Roman Abramovich has craved, it also hasn’t provide the ruthlessness in front of goal and the plan B of physicality that departed with the loss of Didier Drogba. However, Chelsea began to take steps towards finding their finishing ability with a 6-0 thrashing of Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Capital One Cup midweek.
Off the pitch, the Blues have had to deal with the distractions of the John Terry case before the FA and will be able to call on him against Arsenal while he ponders appealing his four-match ban. Roberto Di Matteo will also have a fully fit squad to select from with Marko Marin making his debut midweek after returning from a hamstring injury.
For Arsenal, Thomas Vermaelen should be fit to take on Chelsea, despite missing the City match with a virus, and Wenger’s midfield options could be boosted with a possible return of Emmanuel Frimpong from a serious knee injury, though he featured just a few minutes midweek.
If nothing else, expect there to be some goals, as in the 40 matches in the Premier League era between these two clubs, 108 goals have been scored. However, neither side quite resembles the sides that played last season. For one, Wenger will be glad to not have to face Drogba this year.