Arsenal v Chelsea: Tactical Preview, Probable XI, Score Prediction
Arsenal take on a Drogless Chelsea as both teams attempt to maintain their unbeaten start to the season. As the following tweet suggests, history very much favours the Gunners today.
30 September 1995: The last time Chelsea beat Arsenal without Drogba.—
Adi (@themetalgooner) September 29, 2012
While there’ll be plenty of attacking talent on display, equally this is a match between two of the Premier League’s meanest defenses at the moment. Both teams have scored nine and conceded just two goals from their five matches. Tactically too, it’s 4-2-3-1 v 4-2-3-1 so there’s a possibility the teams could cancel each other out.
Roberto Di Matteo is likely to select John Terry despite the FA’s four-match ban as it is still subject to an appeal, while the other usual suspects, Luiz, Ivanovic and Cole will line up alongside him in defense. In midfield, Chelsea’s Italian manager has preferred the Mikel-Lampard partnership in three of their five league games and I suspect Di Matteo will persist with that combination.
As pointed out by Michael Cox in the scouting report for Arsenal.com, Di Matteo is still trying to balance his attacking options. While Oscar, Hazard and Mata are an exciting proposition when they play together, the Italian will be wary of Arsenal’s threat going forward so Ramires could be deployed on the right flank to contain the Gunners’ left-sided attacks and provide drive on counter attacks. I expect Hazard to play centrally behind Torres with Mata on the left, although these two will interchange often and try to torment Carl Jenkinson.
Similarly, Arsene Wenger has a selection dilemma in attack as well. Santi Cazorla is a definite and although Podolski had a quite game against City, the German’s work rate and finishing ability make him an automatic choice on the left. There are five players vying for the remaining two slots, so fierce is the competition for places at present.
The manager has spoken about how the attributes of the player leading the line affect the side.
Up front affects the [whole] team. Whether you have a more mobile player or a more [physical] player affects the passing of the team.
Against City, Gervinho’s individualism and dribbling ability complemented Ramsey’s technical contribution and allowed for a very fluid front four. As much as Giroud would pose a threat with his presence and peeling runs and Walcott could cause havoc with his pace, Ramsey and Gervinho in the starting line-up provides a good balance of movement, interchangeability, control and mayhem in forward areas. It’s a hard one to call though and it’ll be interesting to see who Arsene starts and what impact that selection has on the game.
At the back, Thomas Vermaelen’s return to fitness means the manager has to make a choice. The more mobile partnership of Vermaelen and Koscielny could be preferred to deal with the pace and movement of Torres, Mata and Hazard. Having said that, Per Mertesacker’s reading of the game has been impressive so far and at City, the German intercepted seven times. Whoever’s left out will feel hard done by.
Tactically, the midfield battle is quite straight forward. As deep-lying midfielders, Mikel and Arteta will be charged with containing the threat of the two most creative players on the pitch, Cazorla and Hazard respectively while Lampard and Diaby will square off against each other in that slightly advanced midfield role.
Here, Arsenal seem to have the edge on Chelsea with Arteta in sublime form at present. The Spaniard makes an average of 96 passes per game with a 93% pass accuracy. Comparatively, although Mikel’s pass completion rate is over 90% as well, Chelsea’s deep-lying midfielder sees less of the ball, making just over 60 passes a game. In this game, Cazorla’s movement has the capacity to occupy Mikel’s attention far more than in Chelsea’s previous matches so I expect Arsenal’s midfield to dominate possession.
There are some fascinating match-ups elsewhere on the pitch. On Arsenal’s left, Podolski and Ivanovic are well matched physically while Gibbs and Ramires have the pace to keep up with the other. Chelsea will target Jenkinson on Arsenal’s right so Ramsey, or whoever starts ahead of the right-back, will have to track back quickly and close down the space for Chelsea’s attacking players to run into.
Once again, Santi Cazorla will provide the creative impetus to Arsenal. The Spaniard will try to draw out Chelsea’s defenders and create space for Podolski and Gervinho. If Mikel and Lampard are unable to offer adequate protection to the back four, Arsenal’s midfield dynamo could have a defining role in today’s result.
Also, Chelsea are likely to have noted how Aaron Ramsey played against Manchester City, cutting inside from the right and making unmarked runs into the attacking third. We can expect the visitors to mark him more closely today. Even so, the Welshman could pose a problem for Di Matteo’s men by pulling either Mata or Lampard with him, which in turn could open space for either Diaby or Jenkinson to move forward.
With Arsenal likely to keep the ball more, Chelsea’s attacking threat could come from quick counter attacks. But whereas in the past the physicality of Drogba allowed the Blues to trouble the opposition, the present Chelsea team is more technical and will rely on quick combinations and one-touch passing to punish teams on the break.
Last week, there was plenty of discussion about Arsenal’s zonal marking from corners and set-pieces. Chelsea’s defenders have good aerial ability in the box so it’ll be interesting to see how the Gunners approach such situations. Equally, while Vito Mannone’s shot-stopping has been impressive, the Italian will have to show better judgement when coming for the ball.
As Arsene Wenger points out, the Gunners need to win home matches against big teams in order to be serious title contenders. In that respect, Arsenal will be proactive in their approach while a point will be a good result for Chelsea. And although the attacking options on both sides suggest there are goals in this fixture, neither team is likely to open enough see a repeat of the 5-3 from last season.
It’s Chelsea’s first big test of the season so it’ll be interesting to see how Di Matteo balances attack and defense. Regardless, both sides should create enough chances to win the game. The result will depend upon who converts those opportunities.
My score prediction is 2-1 to the Gunners.
Enjoy the game. COYG!