New coaches. New players. Both Arsenal and Chelsea went through a massive shake-up this summer having tinkered with their squads and management teams.
Unai Emery probably dreamt of a different Premier League debut as his Arsenal side were fairly easily beaten at home by the reigning champions Manchester City.
Despite the loss, it wasn’t an all doom-and-gloom performance from the Gunners as they showed that they have some quality in the squad, though there is definite room for improvement.
Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri, on the contrary, would have been delighted with a comfortable 3-0 win over Huddersfield Town in which some of his signings, including Kepa and Jorginho, didn’t crack under pressure and delivered on their Premier League debuts.
On Saturday, both clubs won’t only face each other in a derby match, but the ramifications of defeat could be huge.
Coming out victorious in this clash will show which team has weathered the winds of change better, giving a significant confidence boost – crucial in the rudimental stage of the season.
Here is a combined XI of the best players from two refreshed London sides.
GK – Kepa Arrizabalaga (Chelsea)
Some Premier League fans giggled that before his blockbuster move to Chelsea worth £72 million nobody knew who Kepa was - let alone how to pronounce his name.
Against Huddersfield, the 23-year-old goalkeeper showed that there is more to his name that the record-breaking fee Chelsea paid for him only. Confident in the air, precise with the ball at his feet, one could see that the Blues’ back four trusted the man behind them straightaway.
Having not seen Bernd Leno in action yet, and with Petr Cech’s form fluctuating as always, the Basque goalkeeper seems to be the only reasonable choice for the position.
RB – Hector Bellerin (Arsenal)
Bellerin seemed rejuvenated under Unai Emery who tries to introduce high-tempo football at the Emirates focusing on posing a threat from counter-attack.
Although having his defensive flaws, Bellerin's performance on his own half was solid against Manchester City. The Spaniard looked fresher than most of the Arsenal players and did a good job running forward – something that Bellerin’s been lacked since his breakthrough 2014/15 season.
Only Ben Davies made more key passes from open play (33) amongst defenders than Bellerin (32) last season which shows that his pace and passing skills might be valuable assets for Arsenal going forward despite his defensive deficiencies.
CB – David Luiz (Chelsea)
David Luiz seems to be a defender perfectly suited for Maurizio Sarri’s type of football. The 31-year-old Brazilian, although error-prone at times, is an experienced centre back possessing brilliant technique and passing ability. That is crucial for the possession-based style Sarri is introducing at Chelsea.
The Blues are a defensively strong team and with the dismissal of Antonio Conte, who didn’t rate David Luiz prompting rumours of his exit last season, the Brazil international should be back in charge of Chelsea’s back four this year.
CB – Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)
It’s difficult to work out whether both defenders of the Chelsea centre back pair appearing in this combined XI is down to their performances on the pitch or the fact that Arsenal remains defensively inept.
Sarri’s indicated that Antonio Rudiger, not Andreas Christensen, will partner David Luiz in his starting XI. The German international has been improving since his transfer to Chelsea in 2017 and established himself as a trustworthy defender who can also pose danger from set pieces.
Above all, he’s certainly more reliable than any of Arsenal’s centre backs at the moment.
LB – Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)
Marcos Alonso was one of Antonio Conte's main men, especially in the title-winning 2016/17 campaign.
Not only has his defensive contribution been superb. Alonso was the Premier League’s best scoring defender last season (seven goals) and posed a threat from countless runs on the left flank as well as free kicks.
His form over the last two seasons has grabbed attention of the likes of Real Madrid which only confirms the class of the defender.
DM – N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
The frenetic defensive midfielder’s been a phenomenon since his arrival in the Premier League four years ago and he only seems to grow as a player with every season passing.
N’Golo Kante has won more than 100 tackles in every one of the Premier League campaigns he played in. It’s fair to say he’s made defensive contribution look like an art and changed the definition of a defensive midfielder, a perennially underrated position in a football team, for good.
Now Kante’s been offered a chance to redeem himself offensively too. He’s scored one goal in each of his Premier League seasons and already equalled that tally in week one against Huddersfield.
Alongside Jorginho, with whom he seems to have clicked straightaway, Kante is freer to run forward and might add an extra dimension to his game under Maurizio Sarri.
It still remains to be seen how Lucas Torreira, Arsenal’s answer to N’Golo Kante, will fare in the Premier League. However, for now, the Frenchman is one of a kind and would easily feature in any of the English teams’ starting XI.
CM – Jorginho (Chelsea)
The Italian international was the heart and the brain of Sarri’s Napoli, a team which last season came the closest in years to put an end to Juventus’ Serie A domination. Now he is on his way to becoming a similar stalwart figure for Chelsea.
Jorginho shined against Huddersfield and looks to have created a lethal partnership with N’Golo Kante in the middle of the park.
He was errorless in moving the ball from the defensive line forward and orchestrating Chelsea’s attacks. He provided the support that Arsenal specifically lacked from their holding midfielders against City.
Jorginho finished his Premier League debut with a coolly taken penalty and proved how of valuable he is to Sarri, who arrived at Stamford Bridge on the same day as him last month.
AM – Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
Mesut Ozil would probably like to erase the last Premier League season from his memory, but that’s the case for the majority of Arsenal players.
Although invisible against City again, he was played out of position, on the right wing, what significantly diminished the impact he had on how Arsenal fared.
Even despite all the struggles, he managed to become the fastest ever player to chalk up 50 Premier League assists last season, beating Eric Cantona’s record from the 90s.
He is still Arsenal’s most gifted players and a creative spark in midfield. His talent is comparable only with Eden Hazard from the Chelsea squad.
With the prospects of a full season behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, the German’s glory days might be back soon.
LF – Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
It’s difficult to say where the ceiling is for Eden Hazard. After years of dazzling Premier League fans, he was Belgium’s main man during the World Cup in Russia and, with three goals and two assists under his belt, he proved himself to be one of the best of players in the world.
It didn’t take him long on Saturday to lay down the marker for the season as he assisted Pedro just four minutes after coming on against Huddersfield.
He was the star under Conte, he will be one under Sarri. He has the ability to harass opponents with his dribbling and technique but now he will be afforded more opportunities to show off his passing skills in the possession-based “Sarri Show”.
That will only enhance his repuation at the Bridge.
CF – Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal)
The case of Alexandre Lacazette under Wenger was a curious one. He had admired the Lyon striker for a long time before signing him last summer, only to doubt Lacazette in the middle of the season and often leave him sitting on the bench.
Lacazette is still one of Europe’s most clinical strikers. Despite his first season struggles, he finished the last campaign as Arsenal’s top scorer (16 goals in all competitions) and showed potential to net many more in the future.
In the pre-season, he created an effective rapport with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as both scored six goals each. The Gabonese striker has also recently said there is a ‘spark’ between him and the Frenchman and that he would be happy to play out wide to make space for the Frenchman in the starting XI.
This partnership might be Arsenal's biggest weapon in Unai Emery's premiere season in England. The duo features in this combined XI as a package oozing attacking potential and quality - and therefore take the place of Chelsea’s wingers Willian and Pedro.
RF – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
Only Mo Salah could catch up with the scoring pace Aubameyang set following his arrival at the Emirates in January. With little time to accustom to a new team and league, he finished the season with ten goals, just behind Lacazette on Arsenal’s top scoring list and one less than Alvaro Morata in the Premier League.
Aubameyang has already caught the eye of Unai Emery and the expectation is that he will be the main man going forward at the Emirates. The Spanish coach has already called on the Gabonese to fight for the Golden Boot award and according to the bookies he is ahead of Sergio Aguero or Romelu Lukaku.
Aubameyang’s quick acclimatisation in the Premier League implies he is perfectly fitted to English football and, with the aforementioned partnership with Lacazette blossoming, he might be one of its stars this year.
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