Premier League 18/19: Chelsea vs Arsenal – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Two new managers battle for an early foothold in the Premier League as the Gunners travel South aiming to give Sarri the Blues.
17:30 BST, Saturday 18th August, Stamford Bridge (London, England) BT Sport
Maurizio Sarri made the perfect start to his Premier League career as his side eased the Terriers aside last week but he will face a sterner test of his new team on Saturday evening.
There were fewer reasons for positivity for Unai Emery after his side were ruthlessly dismantled by the reigning league champions last weekend, but both clubs are currently amidst a steep learning curve as they attempt to switch their respective styles of play.
Chelsea have the advantage of history having claimed five consecutive wins then a draw from their previous six league meetings. But with everything changing behind the scenes for both clubs, either team can set a new precedent as they look to the future and a potential three points from this London derby.
Last Time Out
Huddersfield Town 0-3 Chelsea (Premier League)
Chelsea washed away fears instilled by their Community Shield defeat with an opening day win which oozed with quality. While the likes of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante were quiet in the inaugural curtain-raiser, here they came to the fore with energetic and controlling performances.
Kepa Arrizabalaga made his competitive club debut but was left with little to do such was the minimal threat presented by the Terriers. He did see the ball strike his woodwork twice, however, and the physical challenge by Huddersfield during the first half did ask some serious questions of the Blues midfield.
Alvaro Morata was again quiet in attack but otherwise, the Chelsea players outclassed their opponents with fast, accurate passing. With Eden Hazard rising from the bench in the latter stages and producing a spell-binding display of wing-play at its best, this was exactly the shot of confidence that Sarri would have wanted for his new squad.
Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City (Premier League)
The Gunners were given a taste of reality against a slick City side who exposed Arsenal’s lack of identity.
Petr Cech made a surprise start in the team ahead of new £19 million signing Bernd Leno while Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Matteo Guendouzi both started and fellow new arrivals Lucas Torreira and Stephan Lichtsteiner both came off the bench to make their respective Premier League debuts.
While the home side looked to make a fast start in this match, they quickly ceded dominance to the Cityzens as Pep Guardiola’s side flexed their collective muscles at the Emirates.
The Gunners grew into the match much more during the second half and were unlucky not to equalise before Bernardo Silva effectively sealed the result in the 64th minute.
That goal killed off any lingering hope the Gunners held although Emery would have seen plenty of glimmers of hope for the coming season given the quality of their opponents.
Cesc Fàbregas (knee) is the injury concern for the Blues, however, Mateo Kovacic is highly unlikely to start this game after missing pre-season and failing to make the Chelsea bench last Saturday.
There could be a first start of the season for both Eden Hazard and Ruben Loftus-Cheek although no other changes are expected from last weekend’s starting XI which is something that Andreas Christensen will be keen to prove wrong.
Long-term injuries to defensive duo Laurent Koscielny (Achilles) and Sead Kolasinac (knee) rule them out of the action while Ainsley Maitland-Niles (leg) is also expected to miss around two months after he limped off the Etihad pitch just over half an hour into last weekend’s match.
Stephan Lichtsteiner is the player who could fill the vacant left-back role while Lucas Torreira could make his first Premier League start after impressing from the bench against Manchester City.
Key Battle: Alvaro Morata (Chelsea) vs Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal)
The Chelsea striker has yet to live up to expectations since he arrived in London, beyond a brief honeymoon period last year. With only a single goal from his previous 15 league appearances, the striker now needs to add the end-product to his game which is notably absent.
Sarri has backed his forward ahead of this game’s kick-off, however, he will need to find goals if he’s to remain in his manager’s long-term plans.
Looking to dull Morata’s attack further still is a defender who is also facing a decisive season in his career. Mustafi may be a World Cup winner but his form deserted him on far too many occasions last season.
With Sokratis adding an aerial presence alongside the German, Mustafi can concentrate on organisation and eradicating the individual errors which have begun plaguing his game.
Sarri’s pillar of strength
Stamford Bridge has long been made a source of strength for the Blues with both Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte building impressive statistics on home soil.
For Sarri and his brand of possession football, home advantage was also a pillar of strength for his Napoli side in recent seasons. Having lost only four of their 57 home games in Serie A during his reign, he will look to emulate this form which has almost become expected at the Bridge.
With reports of Sarri also being allotted a smoking area inside the club’s stadium, he may not look quite as tense at home as he will during away games. This doesn’t mean he won’t opt to eat cigarettes on the sidelines as he did at the John Smith’s Stadium last week though.
Patience is a virtue(al commodity)
The past few seasons have witnessed plenty of criticism aimed in the Gunners direction, most of it pointed at the feet of Arsene Wenger. This last week has not seen this tide of vitriol stemmed, despite a new manager and a new style of play being slowly integrated into the North London club.
From Tony Adams to Sam Allardyce, well-known personalities within the game have been quick to throw both feet into Unai Emery’s early attempts to reshape the Gunners.
It can easily be argued that if Allardyce is lambasting someone for their style of football, then they can’t be on entirely the wrong path, however, the opinions appear far too extreme for such an early stage in the French manager’s tenure.
One major sign of encouragement for the players could be heard during the second half of their loss to City last Sunday.
During the 20 minutes which followed the interval, the home crowd were urging their team forward whole-heartedly, something which was distinctly missing during much of their previous seasons. While the eerie silence which followed Silva’s goal was a sharp contrast in decibel levels, the lack of any noise from the away end was perhaps the most telling.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal
In what is a re-run of their recent ICC meeting during the summer, there is again likely to be little separating these two sides. While Arsenal managed to clinch a last-gasp equaliser in that match, Chelsea looked the better of the two teams. This match could again see the Blues take most of the initiative to come away with a narrow victory in front of their own fans. 2-1
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