Chelsea vs Arsenal is the highlight fixture of Matchday 2 of the Premier League’s new season and with both London giants in the midst of a revamp, Saturday’s encounter has an air of the unknown about it.
While the Blues are accustomed to the revolving door with regards to managers, Arsenal are not and for the first time in over two decades, Arsene Wenger will not be in the opposition dugout at Stamford Bridge.
Unai Emery has taken the reigns and while it’s still early days, it looks like the Spanish tactician has his task cut out in front of him.
All the talk of starting the job early doesn’t count for much if you don’t follow it up with results on the pitch and after their meek surrender to Manchester City on the opening day, the Gunners are definitely under more pressure.
So far, so good for Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea, but with trigger-happy owner Roman Abramovich keeping a watchful eye from distance, nothing less than a home win over their crosstown rivals will do.
While Chelsea were outclassed by Manchester City in the Community Shield, they can take solace from the fact that very few teams in Europe, let alone England, operate at that level.
They recovered to beat Huddersfield Town but their away win wasn’t without concerns, however, as the Terriers were mightily unlucky to not score at least once.
In David Luiz, the Blues have among the most unpredictable of centre-backs and what’s worse is that the Brazilian isn’t a spring chicken anymore and will find it almost impossible to recover against the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
And while Marcos Alonso has done an okay job at left-back so far, the Spaniard could be in for a torrid outing as he’s not suited for a fullback’s role in a four-man defence.
Kepa Arrizabalaga gave a good account of himself last week, but is the former Athletic Bilbao man really worth the £71 million his employers splashed out for him a question that will continue to be asked perhaps till even after the season has concluded.
Jorginho and N’Golo Kante have already begun to form an imperious partnership in the engine room, but with Sarri preferring a 4-3-3, who is the final piece of the puzzle?
Is it the talented but inconsistent Ross Barkley, the up and coming Ruben Loftus-Cheek or the languid maestro that is Cesc Fabregas?
Barkley got the nod last week, but Loftus-Cheek is banging on the door and Sarri might just be tempted to give the Chelsea Academy product a start, especially with Fabregas still being an injury doubt.
Up top, Olivier Giroud should be able to start, but leaving a £60 million striker on the bench so early in the season could prove to be disastrous for Alvaro Morata’s confidence and it looks like the pricey Spaniard will lead the line.
Willian and Eden Hazard are expected to start together for the first time since a summer of uncertainty and the onus will be on the latter, once again, to provide that creative spark in the final third.
If his cameo against Huddersfield is anything to go by, then the Arsenal defence should be quaking in their boots for the Belgian winger looks like he’s in the mood to hunt and the Gunners may well be the prey come Saturday.
Talking corner “I like the boy (Sarri) has brought in, Jorginho, I think he has been absolutely outstanding. I have watched him and how he covered holes, how he pressed and he dictates to his team-mates as he wants them to do certain things.” Chelsea icon Denis Wise to Goal
Probable starting XI: (4-3-3) Arrizabalaga, Alonso, Luiz, Rudiger, Azpilicueta, Barkley, Jorginho, Kante, Willian, Morata and Hazard.
Injury concerns: Cesc Fabregas (knee)
Suspension alert: None
The Gunners, like their London rivals, were schooled by Manchester City, but what are the chances that one plays against a team like that on a regular basis?
Emery’s made some improvements to a creaky Arsenal backline since taking over from Wenger, but a plethora of issues remain.
The chief one being his insistence on starting calamitous Granit Xhaka in the holding midfield role. The Swiss midfielder’s ability to deliver that crucial ball over the top is a bonus, but what about the countless times he’s been ponderous in possession, right on the edge of his own penalty area?
Petr Cech didn’t have the best of games against City, but the veteran still redeemed himself with some important stops, while Xhaka failed to do so and he’s simply a liability now.
Matteo Guendouzi’s debut against the Citizens was encouraging, but surely the bite that Lucas Torreira brings to the table cannot be ignored any longer?
At left-back, Arsenal have a bit of an injury crisis but with Nacho Monreal back in training, the Spaniard could be pushed to start.
Should he be unable to feature, then Stephan Lichsteriner will be expected to deputise, but against the likes of Willian and Hazard, the experienced Swiss could be caught out for his lack of pace.
In Aaron Ramsey, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil, Arsenal have among the finest attacking midfielders in the land, but too often, the aforementioned trio has gone missing when their side needed them the most.
For Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a fine centre forward, perhaps even the best in the league, but he can’t do it own and the pacey African will want his teammates to provide him with quality service if they are to come away with even a point.
A majority of Arsenal fans have joined the clamour for Alexandre Lacazette to start after his lively cameo against City, but Emery isn’t the most adventurous coach there is and it would be unlike him to start both forwards at the same time.
A swap for Aubameyang also seems unlikely, but Emery could borrow a leaf out of his predecessor’s book by shifting the Gabonese to the left, but it looks like there will be no changes, barring the forced one at left-back, for the short trip to the Bridge.
Either way, Arsenal are up against it and they would do extremely well to avoid their second straight loss come Sunday.
Talking corner “We didn’t lose (against Manchester City) because of our personality, our idea, our style. We didn’t lose for that. We lost on other things, we can improve on other things, tactics, improve for our learning on the next match. But also, we are building our style because we think it’s the best way, to have the control on each match, to find the best way to win.” Arsenal manager Unai Emery
Probable starting XI (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech, Lichsteiner, Sokratis, Mustafi, Bellerin, Torreira, Guendouzi, Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Ramsey and Aubameyang.
Injury concerns: Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Sead Kolasinac (knee), Carl Jenkinson (ankle), and Ainsley Maitland-Niles (calf).
Suspension alert: None