Chelsea got a valuable draw at Anfield on Tuesday night, increasing their lead at the top of the table to nine points. At the same time, Arsenal fell to a shock home defeat to Watford, a result which all but ended their title hopes for another season. If they don’t win this match, then it’s all about a top four finish for them.
Antonio Conte is sure to lift a glass to Arsene Wenger after the match; if it hadn’t been for the Gunners tearing Chelsea apart in the first half of their meeting at the Emirates in September, he might not have reverted to the back three which has underpinned their phenomenal form this season.
After Arsenal flew into a 3 – 0 lead, Conte changed the formation, since when they have conceded just 10 goals in 20½ games. Arsene Wenger can only dream of such consistency from his defence.
The draw at Anfield was Chelsea’s first since September when Swansea held them at the Liberty Stadium. Antonio Conte has instilled a winning mentality into his players and the confidence is there for all to see. Liverpool’s equaliser didn’t faze the west London side at all.
Even Diego Costa has settled into a routine and despite the little hiccup following a dispute with a fitness coach, has yet to become as unsettled as he was last season. Even so, he may be relieved of penalty taking duties following his miss against Liverpool.
He has form with Arsenal. Per Mertesacker was sent off for a trip at the Emirates last season while at Stamford Bridge, Costa’s theatrics meant Gabriel received a red card - which was later rescinded and replaced with a suspension for the Spanish international. It’s not something Arsenal players forgot easily.
The transformation in their fortunes has been phenomenal, which the sale of Oscar underlines. A mercurial attacking midfielder, the Blues sold him to China off the back of the glowing performances of youngsters such as Rueben Loftus – Cheek. Their progress would have stalled had Oscar not moved on and Conte is keen to bring them through to the first team.
The Italian came away from Anfield with no injury worries so is likely to name an unchanged side for this fixture.
The Gunners slumped to defeat against Watford at the Emirates on Tuesday and it came at a higher cost than just dropped points.
With Granit Xhaka suspended following his red card against Burnley, Arsene Wenger needed his midfield players to stay fit. Aaron Ramsey lasted just 19 minutes before succumbing to a calf strain. The prognosis isn’t good and the Welshman is not expected to be fit for this match.
The news of his replacement Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, is more encouraging. He fell victim to nothing more than a ‘kick on the knee’ so is expected to recover. With Santi Cazorla still injured and likely to miss the rest of the season, Arsenal are desperately short of numbers in midfield. How Wenger must wish he could recall Jack Wilshere from his loan spell at Bournemouth.
It was Arsenal’s first defeat in eight games but of more concern to Wenger is the slow starts his side has become accustomed to making. Winning might be a habit they are used to but as he said after the Watford game, the Gunners lacked the spirit for a physical duel and were beaten by a stronger side.
The Hornets were two-up inside the first quarter of an hour and didn’t look back. Well-organised at the back, they frustrated the Gunners for more than an hour. Arsenal’s sloppiness in possession didn’t help their cause either.
That won’t have gone unnoticed at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are another strong side with their four-man midfield robust in the tackle and it’s going to be a key area for the outcome of the match; Arsenal may need a minor miracle over Ramsey’s fitness if they are to get a foothold in the game.
FORM (Last six games)
Chelsea - LWWWWD
Arsenal - DWWWWL
- 13 of Arsenal’s last 16 games have featured +2.5 goals.
- The away side has failed to score in 7 of the last 8 meetings between Chelsea and Arsenal (5 matches at Arsenal, 3 at Chelsea).
- Chelsea have won their last 10 home games, keeping 7 clean sheets.
- Arsenal have scored in 28 of their 31 games this season.
- Chelsea have won HT/FT in 8 of their last 10 home games.
HEAD TO HEAD
- 3 Arsenal players have been sent off in the last 3 meetings.
- Chelsea has won 6 of the last 7 matches between the two sides at Stamford Bridge.
Last six meetings
24/09/2016 PL Arsenal 3:0 Chelsea
24/01/2016 PL Arsenal 0:1 Chelsea
19/09/2015 PL Chelsea 2:0 Arsenal
02/08/2015 CS Arsenal 1:0 Chelsea
26/04/2015 PL Arsenal 0:0 Chelsea
05/10/2014 PL Chelsea 2:0 Arsenal
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CURRENT MATCH ODDS (BEST PRICED ODDS)
The two sides could not have enjoyed more contrasting fortunes in midweek. Chelsea didn’t look overly worried by Liverpool but in the first half, Arsenal were overwhelmed by Watford.
There are three key battles to be won in this match. In midfield where Chelsea have one the Premier League’s strongest quartets; Diego Costa v the Arsenal defence, and Alexis Sanchez v the Chelsea back three.
Alexis has the pace to worry Chelsea and is adept at pulling defenders out of position. The Chilean is enjoying his most productive season in front of goal and is likely to lead the Arsenal line.
Costa likewise is back in form following last year’s fallow period and this, combined with Chelsea’s midfield superiority is going to lead the Blues to victory.
My prediction for the match: Chelsea 3 – 1 Arsenal (16/1 with Bet365 – Bet Here!)
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Francois is one of Howtobet4free’s co-founders and has written many of Howtobet4free’s popular Betting Guides. Francois also helps run the @howtobet4free_ Twitter account