After the frenzy of this week’s European games, the Premier League returns tomorrow and what better way to kick off proceedings than a London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal. There are sub-plots aplenty in the game, all leading up to the main plot which is the outcome, but the odds against Arsenal are almost similar to Chelsea, who have so far had a disaster start to the new campaign.
The Blues are at home, and while they slumped to their third defeat of the season last time out at Everton, the Gunners had it easy last weekend against Stoke City at the Emirates as they ran out comfortable 2-0 winners. There are plenty reasons for Arsenal fans to be optimistic about, and the fact Arsene Wenger has never beaten Mourinho at Stamford Bridge pales into insignificance going by the respective teams’ form book.
Form books are exactly the things that go out of the window in these games, but Arsenal have more than a good chance to heap further misery on the champions. Here we look at why Chelsea should be afraid of Arsenal’s attack, despite both teams coming off the back of contrasting fortunes in Europe. Chelsea saw off minnows Maccabi Tel-Aviv 4-0, while Arsenal were humbled 2-1 in Zagreb by Dinamo Zagreb.
Arsenal’s attacking third shape
Wenger has a knack of leaving Olivier Giroud out of the big games, and the Frenchman will once again likely miss out on a starting eleven spot. Theo Walcott will play as the centre-forward, a situation which opens up a couple of intriguing tactical prospects for Arsenal. Walcott isn’t you archetypal centre-forward, and most of Arsenal’s playing patterns are direct when the Englishman plays.
Direct in a sense there is very less interplay around the opposition box when Walcott plays up front, as his game is basically centred around playing off the shoulders of the defenders and running into channels making use of his pace. This means Arsenal’s attacking trident of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Walcott will be along the same horizontal line in attacking phases, which in turn will leave Chelsea’s back of midfield and centre of defence plenty to ponder upon and also potentially hindering the Blues’ wide plays.
Ozil and Sanchez normally orient more towards the left half-space, with Ozil making outward movements without going too wide and Sanchez drifting inside into the centre-forward position on occasions. This fluid movement, interplay and combinations of Ozil and Sanchez on the left can make for another long afternoon for Chelsea right-back Branislav Ivanovic, who has endured some forgettable days this season.
Arsenal’s midfield presence
Arsenal’s midfield orientations compensate for the movements of their forward players, and Santi Cazorla’s composure and vision in passing could be a huge advantage for the Gunners, should they dominate possession (a given). The downside for Chelsea here is the fact they will not see much of the ball, given how Mourinho sets his sides up for games against big opposition, which could play into Arsenal’s hands.
Cazorla, the central midfielder, indents towards the centre in on-the-ball phases as Arsenal move the ball forward, and while he is a vital cog in helping in ball circulation, the Spaniard’s directness is a particularly vital asset. With Aaron Ramsey slightly deeper than his team-mate on the opposite flank, Sanchez, his close proximity to Cazorla means he is used as a dump while Cazorla orchestrates play, seeking out runs from deep or passing onto the full-backs on the sides to help ball circulation.
One caveat is Ramsey’s positioning which tends to be more central with progression of play, which could lead to acres of space for Chelsea left winger Eden Hazard, but given how the Belgian has looked off-colour this season, it could be a risk worth taking as wide movements without penetration where the end product is a cross isn’t what Arsenal play for as their centre-forward, Walcott, isn’t known for his aerial prowess.
Chelsea are going through a rough patch of form, and their defensive shambles are there for all to see. 12 goals conceded in five games points to some basic mistakes being made in defensive phases and defensive transitional phases, and given the movement and combination play Arsenal are capable of, with the in-form Cazorla pulling the strings, it could be another struggle for Mourinho’s men.
History is on the Portuguese’s side, and he tends to always do well against Arsenal, but judging by what happened in the FA Community Shield last month, there is a sense the times they are a-changin’ for Mourinho and co.