Chelsea face a huge test of their top four credentials when they travel to Arsenal on Wednesday night. The Blues take on the Gunners in a big clash in the race for the Champions League, with the champions aiming to push for a top two finish this term, with the title already a highly unrealistic target given Man City’s dominance. However, Chelsea could still be sucked into a fight for fourth given how many top sides are playing well and in contention for the top four.
There’s going to be huge pressure on matches like this from now until the end of the campaign. However, that’s going to be cranked up by the number of meetings these two are set to have. They were regular opponents in 2017, and now they start 2018 with three encounters in January. Let’s just hope they don’t end up paired together in the FA Cup Fourth Round. The Gunners haven’t always been the easiest opponents for Antonio Conte since he took over, this trip should remind the Italian of Chelsea’s big turning point on their way to the title last term.
Team News: Conte Likely to Stick With Packed Midfield
While this is the ground where Antonio Conte first switched Chelsea to the 3-4-3 system which won the title, they aren’t expected to use that formation here. They’re likely to stick with a 3-5-2 system that the Italian has gone to in big games of late. He’s switched to that set up in recent matches to fit three central midfielders into the side. Given how Arsenal pack the midfield and look to pass it around, that could be a crucial factor for the champions. They’re expected to have most of the squad available for this trip, although David Luiz will probably sit out once again.
The Gunners have lost Olivier Giroud, which is a big blow as he’s a great option from the bench. Santi Cazorla remains a long term absentee for Arsenal, while Aaron Ramsey could also sit out of this big game. The hosts have also drifted towards a 4-2-3-1 system in recent weeks, having started the year with a 3-4-3 set-up after Chelsea blazed a trail with it. The switch back seems to be working quite well for the Blues, and they’re likely to go with a back four, as that’s what they started with at home to Liverpool in their last big game.
Arsenal are have a solid season so far, but they’ve not definitively shown that they’re capable of returning to the Champions League through the top four this term. They’ve possibly got a better chance of pushing for the Europa League as Manchester United did, with the Gunners struggling for consistency in the top flight.
Their main issues are on the road, having won just three of their away trips this season. That isn’t good enough for a side who want to make the top four, but that form won’t have much of a bearing on this clash. The Gunners are much better at home, having won eight and drawn one of their 10 matches here, but the manner of their loss to Man United has to raise questions.
Arsenal v Chelsea Head to Head
These two sides are probably sick of each other at this point, before they play three times in the next month. They are fresh from four competitive clashes in 2017, plus a summer friendly meeting which the Blues won 3-0. The pair drew 1-1 at Wembley in the Community Shield this term and they had a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge, which their frequent meetings could be partly responsible for.
Having clashed so often, it could just be that these two have little new to pull out of the hat to edge a game this big. Of course, the two league meetings were decisive last term, with Arsenal’s 3-0 win at home becoming the springboard for the Blues’ title success. Their turnaround was clear in their 3-1 win in the return fixture.
- Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal, Sep 2017
- Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea, Aug 2017
- Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea, May 2017
- Chelsea 3-1 Chelsea, Feb 2017
- Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea, Sep 2016
- Under 2.5 Goals – 13/10 with Betfair
- 1-1 Draw – 13/2 with Betfred
The bookmakers are struggling to pick a favourite between these two, with Arsenal slightly ahead at 29/20 with BetVictor. Chelsea can be backed at 7/4 with Coral, while the draw here is at 5/2 with Ladbrokes. This is clearly going to be a close affair, but just how will this one play out? It’s hard to see Chelsea getting involved in the kind of end to end affair that the Gunners have enjoyed of late. Will they end up opening up here, or will this clash be more like their meeting at Stamford Bridge earlier this season?
With six goals across their last five in the league, the Blues aren’t exactly clinical at the moment. They’ve seemingly slowed down going forward, and that form could be a worrying sign if it lasts much longer. One big factor is the importance of Eden Hazard. Half of those six came in a win at Huddersfield, the only match in which he was allowed to play well. Elsewhere teams have been marking the Belgian out of the game for the most part, and as a result we’re backing under 2.5 goals here based on the job Arsenal did in their trip to the Bridge this term.
Given the number of meetings between them, and the back to back draws in their meetings this season, we can see this one finishing level. The Gunners should be a little more conservative in this match than they were against Liverpool, so we’re expecting a close run game. While the draw is well priced at 5/2 with Ladbrokes, we’re going for a 1-1 correct score here at 13/2 with Betfred.