Arsenal and Chelsea renew Premier League hostilities at the Emirates Stadium this weekend (5.30pm Saturday, BT Sport 1).
Arsenal extended their unbeaten run to four matches in the League with a 4-1 thrashing of Hull City last weekend. A brace from Alexis Sanchez and further goals from Theo Walcott and Granit Xhaka helped the Gunners record a resounding triumph over the promoted outfit.
It was an excellent display from Arsene Wenger’s charges, who had a slightly shaky start to the 2016/17 campaign in terms of performances. The North Londoners are now looking like more of a coherent outfit at both ends of the pitch.
It remains to be seen whether they have the quality – tactically and mentally rather than technically – to finish on top of the pile this term. A win against Chelsea in this match would go a long way to convincing some of their doubters that they can win the title for the first time since 2004.
Antonio Conte’s men were defeated for the first time in the top flight last time out, with Liverpool running out 2-1 winners at Stamford Bridge thanks to goals from Dejan Lovren and Jordan Henderson.
It was a disappointing showing from Chelsea, who demonstrated signs of vulnerability for the first time since the Italian took charge in the summer, and a major improvement will be needed if they are to triumph at the Emirates. Question marks remain about whether the Blues have the midfield creativity to unlock opponents, although the fact that Arsenal will look to push up the pitch and dominate possession on Saturday could play into their hands.
Arsenal are without Danny Welbeck and defensive duo Per Mertesacker and Carl Jenkinson (all knee), but Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud could feature after respective hamstring and toe problems. Gabriel Paulista is fit again but Shokdran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny are likely to continue in the heart of the backline.
It will be interesting to see which two central midfielders Wenger selects in the engine room. Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla have been his preferred pair in recent matches, but Mohamed Elneny and, in particular, Xhaka are also pushing to be involved from the start. Sanchez could continue through the middle even if Giroud is available for selection. Alex Iwobi and Walcott are favourites for the wide roles either side of central playmaker Mesut Ozil.
Chelsea will again be unable to call upon the services of long-term absentee Kurt Zouma, although captain and defensive stalwart John Terry could be included in the starting XI after shaking off ankle ligament damage.
Diego Costa (pictured) has been in excellent form so far this year. The Brazil-born Spain international has found the back of the net on five occasions in five top-flight appearances. He has a habit of scoring against Arsenal, who will need to keep him quiet if they are to emerge victorious. Cesc Fabregas will probably have to make do with a place on the substitutes’ bench against his former club. Summer signing Marcos Alonso will be pushing for the left-back slot in Conte’s defensive line of four.
Taking everything into account, this preview reckons that it is worth backing both teams to pick up a point at the Emirates. The two London sides clearly have their weaknesses and may come up short in the title race, but Arsenal and Chelsea do possess enough attacking quality to harm one another this weekend. There may be little to choose between the two, however, with a 1-1 draw and Costa to score worth considering for this highly-anticipated London derby.
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