It’s remarkable how perceptions can rapidly alter in the Premier League.
The narrative surrounding Arsenal, ridiculed again for much of the summer and lambasted after an opening day defeat to Liverpool, suggested they were set for a season of struggles. Chelsea, meanwhile, inspired by their enigmatic boss Antonio Conte, looked rejuvenated in the early stages of 2016-17.
Yet fortunes have been flipped over the past fortnight and, remarkably, as the Gunners get set to host their capital rivals on Saturday evening, they currently sit ahead of the Blues on goal difference in the table after five games.
Wenger’s men have yet to completely convince, although wins over Southampton and Hull City, sandwiching a fortunate point against Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League, have emboldened the squad. A win over one of the Premier League’s apex outfits would kickstart their campaign into life.
With five points dropped from their last two fixtures, Conte has seen the Premier League bare its teeth following three straight wins to start the season. A visit to the Emirates will be another significant test of his tactical acumen and the developments this maligned squad has made under his watch.
After uneven starts to the season, both of these outfits have been written off by many in their pursuit of the title. Three points here, coupled with the momentum that can be gathered with a victory over rivals, may see perceptions shifted again as this Premier League season starts to settle down.
Where to find Arsenal vs. Chelsea on US TV and streaming
Date: Saturday, September 24, 2016
Time: 12:30pm (ET), 9:30am (PT)
TV Info: NBCSN and Telemundo
Streaming Info: NBC Sports App and Sling Blue (free trial)
Arsenal looked a lot like Arsenal again as they swatted aside Hull City on Saturday. After toiling in some of their league games to far, the Gunners found their passing groove to great effect, making light work of a much-vaunted Tigers defensive structure.
At the back a strong partnership is slowly developing between Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny, Santi Cazorla is back pulling the strings again in midfield, while Alexis Sanchez—who has four goals in his last four appearances—is relishing the freedom of playing at the point of the attack.
On paper, the tools are there to cause Chelsea issues, although Arsenal need to bust from the psychological shackles that have long hindered them in this London rivalry; they haven’t beaten the Blues in the league since October 2011.
Indeed, even last season, when the former champions were at their moribund worst, Chelsea prevailed. For too long the Gunners have failed to cope with the physicality posed by the men from the King’s Road and have quickly grown frustrated when unable to unpick the assembled blue mass of defenders.
With Mustafi and Granit Xhaka, Arsenal are a lot more combative and as such, should be confident of standing up to the robustness of Chelsea. Sanchez in a free role could also be a nightmare for a back four that’s looked far from secure under Conte.
You sense it’s imperative Arsene Wenger’s side begins this game with impetus, though. Should Chelsea sit in and stifle, the Emirates Stadium will become a cacophony of angst. The home fans will back their team in this derby, although they’ve seen their rivals smuggle three points from north London far too many times not to be concerned should the contest become cagey.
For a manager as inventive and ambitious Conte, it was curious to see his side surrender the initiative to Liverpool in their meeting on Friday.
The Blues looked shoddy and slow for the majority of the opening period, as red shirts buzzed about the Stamford Bridge turf. It was a dose of Premier League reality for the former Juventus coach and a reminder there’s still a lot of work to be done with a squad that could only muster a tenth place finish last term.
Of course, there are parts of the squad functioning with a lot more fluidity. Diego Costa is a cluster of aggression and incision up top, while Eden Hazard is slowly rekindling his attacking fire after what essentially a year-long hiatus. But there are facets of the XI that were exposed ruthlessly by the rampant Reds.
Branislav Ivanovic, formerly one of the most formidable defenders in the division, is devoid of any confidence, while Gary Cahill continues to look unsteady. The midfield duo of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic, while strong defensively, don’t possess an inventiveness needed on the ball to set attacks in motion swiftly either.
That’ll be a concern for the manager, as he’ll be acutely aware that at the Emirates, retaining possession more effectively than they did against Liverpool will be vital. The Chelsea supporters making the short trip north will want to see a side that exerts itself with much more conviction than the XI did on Friday too.
Conte, who has fashioned a reputation as one of the most proactive coaches in Europe over the last five years, was caught on his heels by Jurgen Klopp in his first titanic Premier League tussle. He and his players must be much better prepared second time round.
Key Battle – Mesut Ozil vs. N’Golo Kante
With Costa and Sanchez to cope with, both the Arsenal and Chelsea defenses have huge threats to extinguish. But the battle between the finest defensive midfielder in the league from last term and the Premier League’s most creative footballer is vital to how this one will pan out.
Chelsea’s summer business was a little underwhelming in the eyes of some, although in Kante they’ve managed to acquire a massive asset. Already his tackling proficiency, work-rate and defensive understanding has added a lot of protection to the Blues defense.
Mesut Ozil is one of the most elusive footballers in world football, though, and pinning him down in the midfield maelstrom will be a massive challenge. The German playmaker may not have started this season with the same sparkle as the last one, although he’s still at the fulcrum of Arsenal’s most threatening forward forays.
If Kante can keep Ozil in his eyeline and limit the supply into his feet in pockets of space, Arsenal’s work in the final third will suffer and frustration will fester at the Emirates. It’s going to be a treat to see two of the division’s best operators in their respective roles operating in such close proximity on Saturday evening.
200+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
- Includes NBC, USA, FOX, ESPN, CBSSN & more
Live & On Demand TV Streaming
- Price: $35/mo. for Sling Blue
- Watch Premier League, World Cup & MLS
- Includes USA, NBC, FOX, FS1 + more
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
- Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
2,000+ soccer games per year
- Price: $4.99/mo
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & NWSL
- Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
- Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
- PSG defender Kehrer joins West Ham
- Dubai airport gears up to handle World Cup supporters
- Ronaldo blasts ‘lies’ over Man Utd future
- Where to find Sheffield United vs. Sunderland on US TV
- Where to find Boca Juniors vs. Rosario Central on US TV
- Where to find Dynamo Kyiv vs. Benfica on US TV
- Muscat shrugs off Iniesta threat as Asian Champions League returns
- USMNT World Cup kits real or fake? Combing through the clues
- Brighton sign Ecuador’s Estupinan from Villarreal
- PSV rescue Rangers draw as Obispo spares Benitez’s blushes in Champions League play-offs