The usual five talking points ahead of today’s Premier League match at home to Chelsea
A Classic Six Pointer
There is a perception that the top two will now be Liverpool and Manchester City, although the order is not so certain. Spurs should drop away a little with the absence of Kane and Son, which means they should face a battle for a top four spot with Chelsea, a resurgent Manchester United… and Arsenal? There is a feeling that this is a must win game for Unai Emery’s side because Maurizio Sarri’s men are direct rivals for a top four spot. A draw would not be a total disaster, but given recent results, and with a visit to Manchester City before too long, the Gunners could really use the points. Defeat would certainly give them a very steep climb to get back in the Champions League qualifying places.
Will he, won’t he?
Mesut Ozil trained with the first team this week. There is no pretence that he is injured. Arsenal struggled creatively against West Ham last weekend. I reckon Ozil will start this game, if for no other reason than Unai Emery will want to shake things up after the most recent fixture. The player has an opportunity to really make a point with a match winning display, should he get the chance.
First Choice Defence?
This game presents the Arsenal head coach with the opportunity for the first time to play the defenders he would have selected at the season’s start (remembering that Rob Holding played his way into the team). Monreal and Bellerin should begin. Mustafi is fit, and assuming he sticks with three at the back, Koscielny and Sokratis will accompany the German. Will it make the Gunners more resilient? In fairness, the defence played better at West Ham last weekend, it was a poor defensive header from Granit Xhaka that cost them the game. There is no debate they will need to dramatically lessen the number of goals conceded to have even a prayer of making the top four.
Home is where the points are
Since the opening day defeat v Man City, Arsenal have remained undefeated at the Emirates, a record that survived visits from Spurs and Liverpool. There have been two draws in that time, against Jurgen Klopp’s team and more disappointingly, against Wolves. So, yes, the away form has gone to pot, but there is something to cling onto here.
Playing against a team with no forward
Eden Hazard is likely to be picked up front in preference to more orthodox strikers Morata and Olivier Giroud. The Belgian will not be as predictable in his movement, and Emery will hopefully have prepared his players for this specific threat. Willian and Pedro look most likely to line up wide of Hazard. Chelsea’s greatest strength is in midfield, where Kante and Jorginho are certain starters, with the question of whether Ross Barkley or Kovacic partner them. They may have been fallen out of the title race due to three defeats and a draw in their last ten games, but they remain a difficult prospect, as their victory over Manchester City should remind us.
Arsenal will probably need to play to the level demonstrated to beat Spurs in early December to have a chance of taking the three points, but I am uncertain where such a performance might come from, given the understandable dip in confidence. Maybe the return of Ozil might rejuvenate the team? Assuming he even makes the 18 of course. Does this look like straw clutching? Even with my optimistic hat on, I can only go as far as predicting a 1-1 draw for this one folks.
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