Arsenal welcome Chelsea to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday as the Gunners look to close the gap on their London rivals.
The Blues are fourth in the Premier League and sit six points clear of the Gunners (5th) and a resurgent Manchester United (6th).
Who will come out on top in the London derby? Our Editor gives his verdict.
Arsenal’s top four hopes were hit with a 1-0 defeat away to West Ham last Saturday – their fifth away game without a win – and coach Unai Emery accepts that it’s going to be tough to steer the Gunners back into the Champions League, the club having missed out on the tournament in each of the past two seasons.
“Now it’s more difficult, it’s clear,” Emery told reporters after Arsenal’s third defeat in six league games following a 14-match unbeaten league run (22 in all competitions) earlier in the season. “I think the most important thing for us is to recover our confidence and be more competitive. We need consistency over 38 matches.
“Now it isn’t enough at the moment. It’s a bad result. If we can win we are playing against Chelsea [on Saturday] with a three-point maximum distance.
“The big opportunity for us is that we can take in our hands the possibility to be closer to them. This result makes that more difficult.”
Last weekend’s defeat against West Ham means that Emery’s side have now failed to win away from home in the league since November, losing to Southampton and being thrashed 5-1 by Liverpool and drawing with Manchester United and Brighton.
Their recent slump on the road needs addressing, but for now, the Gunners will be delighted to return to the Emirates Stadium where they haven’t lost at home since the opening game of the season against Manchester City (0-2).
Since losing to the Premier League champions, Arsenal have won eight out of 10 home matches and Emery will be aiming to make it five in a row for the first time this season.
The Gunners always fancy themselves at the Emirates and boasting the deadly duo of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette – who have scored 21 goals between them – you can understand why.
Chelsea will look to consolidate their place in the top four with a win over Arsenal on Saturday. Maurizio Sarri got the better of Emery when the two managers met in August, with the Blues winning 3-2 at Stamford Bridge. However, it certainly wasn’t a convincing win as Sarri’s side were shaky in defence and Arsenal paid the price for not taking their chances.
Fast forward to the present day and it is Arsenal who have looked shaky defensively, while only Liverpool’s Alisson (13) has kept more clean sheets than Kepa Arrizabalaga (10). But what is a concern for Sarri is the obvious need for a striker as Alvaro Morata’s future at the club looks to be approaching its end, with Gonzalo Higuain heavily linked with a move to Chelsea.
Until Chelsea bring in Higuain or anyone for that matter, it seems that Sarri will continue with a front three of Pedro, Willian and Eden Hazard, with the Belgian spearheading the attack. Both Pedro and Willian were on the scoresheet in last Saturday’s 2-1 win over Newcastle United so that would have pleased Sarri, while he knows he can always count on Hazard, the Blues’ top scorer this season, to produce the goods.
Sarri’s side are unbeaten in four Premier League matches with three straight away wins over Brighton, Watford and Crystal Palace. Prior to that, they lost back-to-back games on the road against Tottenham and Wolves.
Leno; Bellerin, Sokratis, Koscielny, Kolasinac; Guendouzi, Xhaka,Torreira; Iwobi, Aubameyang, Lacazette.
Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic; Willian, Hazard, Pedro.
Prediction: Arsenal Win/Draw Double Chance & Over 2.5 Goals (18/10)
Chelsea came out victorious in a five-goal thriller at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, while the Blues drew 2-2 at the Emirates in the Premier League last season. An attacking game of football is on the cards and I think we’ll be in for another goal-fest. That said, Arsenal know they can’t afford to lose this game and go nine points behind their London rivals. The Emirates is not an easy ground to go to, especially with the Gunners winning their last four in a row there. I don’t enjoy going against my team, but I foresee Arsenal edging out a tight encounter. Back Arsenal on the Double Chance & Over 2.5 Goals at 18/10 or Aubameyang to Score First & Arsenal to win at 15/2 for more value.
You might like to check out our Soccer / Football App