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article imageTactical Preview: Arsenal — Chelsea

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jan 22, 2016 in Sports
Arsenal’s record against Chelsea has been unconvincing in recent years, but this could be the Gunners’ best chance to claim their first league win over their London rivals. since October 2011.
Arsene Wenger’s dismal record against Jose Mourinho continued during the Portuguese manager’s second stint at Chelsea, but the latter’s immediate dismissal last month could prove beneficial. However, Chelsea remains unbeaten under interim manager Guus Hiddink, and from a tactical perspective it’s unlikely the Dutch manager will stray away from their effective reactive approach.
While Arsenal have failed to build a gap at the top of the table, their home performances against top sides have been fairly impressive — their results against Bayern Munich and Manchester United serve as great examples. Nevertheless, though the pattern of the match is fairly predictable — Arsenal will dominate possession with Chelsea playing on the counter — the two London clubs are susceptible to the opposing approach.
Both sides are coming off fairly unconvincing draws last weekend, but will equally welcome star players to their XI. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Eden Hazard’s return to fitness should see both managers make alterations to their starting lineups. For Arsenal, however, Wenger doesn’t have many major decisions.
Olivier Giroud will start upfront, but Chelsea’s centre-backs will welcome his physicality. John Terry may be forced higher up the pitch when the Frenchman drops deep, but Kurt Zouma has performed admirably when expected to sweep up play for the Chelsea captain. The worry for Chelsea, however, may be the late runs into the box from Aaron Ramsey.
Most recently, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain haven’t enjoyed the best form, which should see Ozil operate as the no.10, Sanchez start from the left, and Campbell offering Hector Bellerin protection on the right. Wenger may prefer Walcott’s pace from the right, but Campbell’s incisive passing in the final third should earn the Costa Rican international a start.
Bellerin and Nacho Monreal may be required to sit deeper, though, considering the Arsenal midfield has been poor, but the former will be encouraged to move into advanced areas with Campbell aiming to charge into space behind the back four. Likewise, Ramsey is guilty of leaving Mathieu Flamini exposed in midfield, which suits a Chelsea side eager to exploit space on the counter.
Chelsea have a few more selection issues with their attacking players and Hiddink’s dilemma rests in midfield where the Dutchman has experimented with various partnerships, yet mainly persisting with dropping Nemanja Matic.
"It's not just a matter of the four defenders, nowadays if you don't defend well starting up front then you are caught," said Hiddink.
"It might be a little bit different than in the past but I'm convinced the team will give its utmost to get the result. When you start you want to have results immediately. We want full results, it's difficult to have continuously the winning mood. We have to perform now."
At Everton, the defensive-minded pairing of Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel deprived Chelsea of creativity in deeper zones, whereas Cesc Fabregas is often guilty of leaving the aforementioned midfielders with too much space to cover in transition. Still, Fabregas’ rediscovered form merits a start against his former employers, but whether Hiddink will maximize his passing range is unknown.
Hazard’s return should see Pedro pushed to the bench, though Hiddink’s pragmatism could see the Spaniard utilized despite his poor form. Hector Bellerin’s speed could expose Hazard’s reluctance to track his runners, and Pedro’s discipline would negate the adventurous full-backs’ threat.
Nevertheless, Wenger’s patience with Alexis and Ozil’s return could prove decisive. Ivanovic is suffering the worst form of his Chelsea career, and the tricky Chilean should pose several problems for the Serbian. Ozil, on the other hand, has been the league’s standout player and should receive ample space between the lines to create chances against Chelsea’s disorganized midfield.
Elsewhere, it’s difficult to see the various ways Chelsea will score apart from the counter-attack or Willian set-pieces. Hazard’s return should offer penetration from the left, but the revival of Diego Costa and Fabregas offers the power and creativity that was non-existent during the first half of the season. Costa may prefer to drift into the channels to isolate the diminutive Arsenal full-backs or exploit the sluggish Per Mertesacker, but his goal against the Gunners at Stamford Bridge last season and Everton last week — a simple punt over the high-line to set the striker free — is a plausible route to goal; it’s key to note that the Spanish midfielder may also seek Pedro’s runs beyond the defence.
It’s difficult to see the match concluding in another goalless draw considering the limited non-existent midfield organization, whereas Chelsea will encounter difficulties coping with Arsenal’s penetration from various positions. It’s evident Wenger won’t adjust his double-pivot, but Hiddink’s low-block reactive approach may negate the side’s creativity if Fabregas operates as no.10.
This is set-up to be another potential goal-fest between two top-sides, and the significance of remaining compact out of possession shouldn’t be overlooked.
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