There’s a new challenge coming for Unai Emery and Arsenal after the defeat by the champions last weekend. The team is facing Chelsea only two weeks after their International Champions Cup meeting where Arsenal won after a penalty shootout.
There is a “tiny” difference this time – all of Chelsea’s players will be available for this game and it is actually the first competitive London derby for Maurizio Sarri and he will be highly motivated to take the three points out of it.
On the other side, Unai Emery has quite a few problems to solve after the only settled positions in the team are the centre-backs. There are lots of injuries in the squad and for some positions, the manager has no choice but to use a certain player.
Cech or Leno?
There is another joint problem – who should start on the goalkeeping spot? Peter Cech was one of the reasons Arsenal conceded only two goals last weekend but his well-known bad performance with his feet was about to cost them even more. If we pay attention to his saves, he was brilliant, but having in mind that the new £20 million signing Bernd Leno has a great contribution to the team play and is doing a lot better with his feet, a dilemma pops up. My expectations go for Cech in the starting XI just because Emery is going to try making a slower transition from one to another.
No choice – no problem
With these circumstances having no choice for the centre-back duo seems a little comforting as the Spaniard has one less thing to worry about. In the absence of the injured Laurent Koscielny and the on-loan Calum Chambers, the only option is Shkodran Mustafi – Sokratis.
The same old story
Injuries seem to be the Arsenal’s problem as long as I could remember. While on the right things seem quite good with the likes of Hector Bellerin and Stephan Lichtsteiner, the opposite flank is a total mess. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was the only option for Emery against Manchester City with Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal injured.
The youngster was experiencing a hard time to compete against the undeniably talented City players, but surely he was giving his best. And typical of Arsenal things can always go even more wrong. Niles got injured during the season-opening game and it was confirmed that he has fractured his left fibula and will miss six to eight weeks of action.
That forced the only defensive option left on the bench – Lichtsteiner, to change flanks and help the team from the left. Which I should admit he did pretty well. Now we could be more optimistic knowing that Nacho Monreal returned to training and he may get into the starting line-up. Which may be also concerning if he is not completely healed.
Emery has more options for the central midfield. The best one of them and the most certain one is Aaron Ramsey. His performance against The Citizens was one to pay attention to and it seems like he is going to be the heart of the whole team. He will cover up the centre-forward and behind him this time we might see starting the Uruguayan Lucas Torreira who came in as a substitution in the last game.
The only dilemma in the centre is going to be Guendouzi or Xhaka. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect out of that – If the coach is going to put faith in the youngster once again or he is going to play the more experienced Switzerland international. We shall not forget that Mohamed Elneny is waiting for his chance under Emery too. So there is a bit less to worry about in the midfield.
Faster pace -> counter-attacks -> opportunities
It gets better looking up front. My expectations are that the forward line won’t change and Unai is going to count on Özil, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang once again, leaving Alexandre Lacazette as a fantastic backup option if he needs fresh and strong performance later in the game. All that will happen if Emery plays 4-2-3-1 (4-3-3) of course, which is the most common formation for him. The faster pace offensively might cause few problems for Chelsea’s defence as The Gunners are quite dangerous when they counter-attack as we could see against City. Actually, that’s the only way they were able to strike back and create an opportunity.
Chelsea comes back stronger
After the full-time 1:1 in the pre-season fixture and the loss on the penalty shootout afterwards, Chelsea surely had some talking points on their performance. With the new style that Maurizio Sarri tries to implement, I expect Chelsea to take advantage of the possession this time as his one-touch, high press style of play is going to leave less space for the Arsenal’s players.
With the likes of Jorginho in the middle of the pitch, no matter Xhaka or Guendouzi, both are going to have problems getting back the possession. The French is still nervous and does plenty of mistakes under pressure, whilst Xhaka is not known for his abilities 1 vs. 1 and commits fouls often. Torreira may be the only salvation if the team wants to stop the creativity of the Italian international. The weak point that Arsenal can use is that The Blues often go offside. That’s playing on their nerves. If the back-four manages to position themselves properly, this may be crucial.
Unfortunately, I don’t see Arsenal as a favourite in this game, having in mind that Eden Hazard should also be completely ready to play and start on Saturday. He made a huge difference coming off the bench against Huddersfield and there is no doubt he is going to so against their city rivals too. Plus, you have Olivier Giroud against his old club. There is no place to blame the Arsenal players as we should be patient and wait whilst they find their style of play and Emery gets to know the players, the opponents and the English football better.