|Arsene Wenger shoved Jose Mourinho in the chest during Arsenal’s visit of Chelsea last October|
Chelsea, who are now just two wins away from lifting the 2014/15 Barclays Premier League trophy, travel to the Emirates on Sunday, to take on London derby rivals Arsenal in gameweek 34 of the ongoing Premier League season.
The West Londoners’ league form has been consistent all season, and Jose Mourinho’s side deserves to be leading the chasing pack by 10 points with 5 more games, after this one, still to ensue.
Arsenal, on the other hand, will be delighted with their own position (2nd) on the league table, which has been achieved on the back of scintillating form since the beginning of this calendar year. The North Londoners have lost just 2 of their 13 league games in 2015, including their current 8-game winning run in the Premier League.
This fixture, over the last decade and more, has continually grabbed the headlines for Mourinho’s rivalry with Arsene Wenger, who has never managed to beat his Portuguese adversary in 12 previous meetings between this duo.
Although you expect Mourinho-Wenger rivalry to continue making the headlines prior to kickoff, it will be the player battles on the pitch that will decide which of these two sides comes out victorious when the final whistle is blown.
Read on… to get an understanding of how the sides could lineup tomorrow, and which players hold the key to their respective teams.
Arsenal (4-1-4-1): David Ospina (GK); Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker (C), Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs; Francis Coquelin; Santiago Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez; Olivier Giroud.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Thibaut Courtois (GK); Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta; Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas; Ramires, Oscar, Eden Hazard; Didier Drogba.
Hazard vs Bellerin
Hazard has by far been the best player in the Premier League this season, and few could argue with that assertion. He has scored goals, made assists and delivered in some of the big games during the campaign, making him a strong candidate to win the PFA player of the year this season.
Against Arsenal tomorrow, the fleet-footed Belgian is expected to start as the left-winger which will see him face off against Bellerin, the 20-year old Arsenal right-back.
In terms of pace, there is not much to choose between these two diminutive players. In terms of experience and quality, however, Hazard is head and shoulders above the Spaniard, who has broken into the Gunners’ senior squad only this season.
Hazard, with his incisive running and ability to beat his man in 1v1 situations, will fancy his chances against the inexperienced Bellerin.
It will be intriguing to see how Bellerin handles Hazard, as he will need to stand up and not lunge into tackles, which will only play it into the 24-year old Belgian’s hands.
Also, with his propensity to bomb forward to support Arsenal’s attacks, Hazard could run into plenty of space left behind by Bellerin and pull someone like Mertesacker out wide, making space for the likes of Oscar through the middle.
Ozil vs Matic
In the middle of midfield, Ozil’s tussle with Matic will be crucial in the way that this game takes shape.
Matic, with each passing game, is getting better and better, and playing that No.4 role to perfection. He takes up good positions ahead of the Chelsea backline, and does most of his work when opposition have the ball.
Against Arsenal, he should, in all probability, go up against Ozil, who is expected to operate in that advanced midfield role, not exactly the No.10, for the home side.
The German playmaker has been in good form of late, scoring 1 goal and creating 20 goal scoring chances over his last 5 league outings. His performance against Liverpool was particularly impressive, with which he proved that he is no slouch when it comes to these big games.
However, having said that, he is yet to come good against Chelsea, in particular, and Sunday’s clash presents him with the ideal opportunity to do just that.
Matic, though, will not make things easier for Ozil, as he is more powerful than the former Real Madrid man and is a good reader of the game. The Serbian may not be in the best moment as Ozil, but he will hope to get his act together once referee blows his whistle to get things underway.
Ivanovic vs Sanchez
Similar to Hazard’s duel with Bellerin on the Gunners’ right-hand-side, Sanchez’s tussle with Ivanovic on Chelsea’s right will be an interesting one to watch.
The Chilean has made a seamless transition from the La Liga to the Premier League, scoring 14 goals and registering 8 assists in his first season in the English top flight.
When Arsenal were struggling for results during the early stages of this campaign, it was Sanchez’s form that kept them in the hunt for a top 4 finish.
The Chilean’s form has dwindled since the beginning of this calendar year, when he has scored just 4 goals and created 14 chances in 11 league appearances. However, on Sunday, expect Sanchez to be on top his game.
The former Barcelona winger, though, will know that he will not have an easy ride against Ivanovic, who is up there amongst the best right-backs in the Premier League.
Unlike Hazard, Sanchez might not have a lot of space to operate in because of the defensive discipline Ivanovic exudes, but that is the task concerning the 26-year old.
Sanchez is quick across the turf and is forward-thinking more often than not, but Ivanovic, for his part, is good on the tackle and doesn’t get dragged out of position easily. Sanchez will be crucial to Arsenal’s chances of winning this game, and that is why his tussle with Ivanovic could be a game-deciding player battle.
Coquelin vs Oscar
Much of Arsenal’s success during the second half of the season has to be attributed to the defensive solidity rendered by Coquelin, the North Londoners’ midfield enforcer.
The Frenchman is in the same mould as Matic, and he brings plenty of energy to his side’s engine room. In 17 league appearances this season, Coquelin has won an impressive 58% of his duels, winning the ball in critical positions of the pitch and man-marking opposition players in his zone effectively.
Against Chelsea, Coquelin will have the task of nullifying Oscar’s threat. The Brazilian is Mourinho’s main creative man, and this Coquelin-Oscar tussle will be an interesting player battle to witness, as well.
Oscar does like to play from a deeper position and covers good ground during his time in the middle. Coquelin, therefore, needs to be very meticulous about Oscar’s movement and not let him get out of his sight.
Though there will be other player battles – Giroud vs Terry and Drogba vs Mertesacker, for instance – that could also hold the key to this London derby, the aforementioned quartet of player battles will carry more significance.
Hazard, given his form and talent, will be the man to watch out for as far as Arsenal are concerned, and the Belgian’s performance could have a huge bearing on how this mouthwatering Premier League encounter pans out.