Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Chelsea

Emirates Stadium, London
Monday, December 23
3:00 p.m. EST, 20:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and John Brooks
    • 4th Official: Jonathan Moss
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 2 Chelsea
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 71 Arsenal wins, 57 Chelsea wins, 52 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-W-D-L
  • Chelsea's League Form: D-W-W-W-L-W
  • Weather: Rain and Wind, 11 C / 51 F
Presented without comment.
This is the biggest game of the season.

This is a potential turning point. A statement game. An Arsenal win moves them back into first place and once and for all answers the questions of whether they can beat anyone big this year (as wins against Napoli, Liverpool, and Dortmund have apparently not been enough.) A loss, however, drops the Gunners into fourth place and would be the fourth straight match across all competitions that Arsenal would have failed to win. So, this is the crux, the fork in the road, you can use any other cliche you like.

Arsenal have had eight days off since picking the ball out of their net six times in Manchester. The legs should be fresh again. They need to be fresh again; Arsenal will play five games in the next 13 days. The mentality of the next few days, weeks, and even months could be defined here.

It's time to make the most of it.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (gash,) Sanogo (back,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Suspended: Wilshere (first of two)

I suspect Poldi will start the match from the bench, likely
smiling like this the whole time.
The bad news first, as Laurent Koscielny is expected to miss out, having picked up a deep laceration on his leg during the loss to Manchester City. Of course, when he first went down, I feared it was a broken bone, then feared it was ligament damage, so all things considered it could have been worse. It's unfortunate luck that Arsenal's shut-down center back pairing of Koscielny and Per Mertesacker could not complete 90 minutes together against the likes of City, Manchester United, and now Chelsea this season. This is a big moment for Thomas Vermaelen's career and it's a good thing he has had so many days to prepare himself for it.

Much of City's attacking prowess last weekend came from exploiting wide play; I suspect Kieran Gibbs will be back at left back while Bacary Sagna should be fully recovered from the hamstring problem that likely hindered him a bit last time out. Speaking of the right side, Theo Walcott should retain his place on the wing; he's scored in more matches against Chelsea (five) than any other club. His brace in Manchester was one of the few bright spots.

Jack Wilshere will serve the first of a two match retroactive ban for flipping the bird at the City fans. Arsenal fans are aggrieved that Luis Suarez got only one match for this last year, but if this is the new call going forward, I'm fine with that; he should know better. Of course, if the next time this happens the player gets only one game, I'll be pretty furious. The absence of Wilshere means Arsene Wenger will have to chose four for the midfield from Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, and Mathieu Flamini. I've left out Lukas Podolski from that list, even though he should be named in the squad; I just can't see him starting yet.

And, let's all hope that some days to rest will help Olivier Giroud get his head back in the game; he and Arteta have looked the most jaded in the past few weeks.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla, Walcott, Giroud.

Chelsea Squad News

Out: Bertrand (knock,) van Ginkel (knee)
Suspended: Essien (one match, accumulation)

How does one team have so many attacking options?
... and they don't even have Lukaku right now!
Not much in the way of injury news for Chelsea: Marco van Ginkel is out for the season with a knee injury and Ryan Bertrand will likely miss out with a knock. Michael Essien is banned one match for accumulating five yellow cards in just six matches this year. None of this really effects their expected XI, however.

It is expected that Cesar Azpilicueta will start at left back, despite being subbed off after 70 minutes against Sunderland in the League Cup last midweek. Out of favor Ashley Cole (not just with Gooners,) will either be on the bench or may not make the squad at all, according to Jose Mourinho.

Both John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard played 120 minutes in that League Cup loss to the Black Cats; I'd suspect the former to start alongside Ramires in the holding roles. Aside from that, Mourinho has a ton of options in the attacking roles, so my guesswork is as good as yours. Juan Mata? Willian? Andre Schurrle? Demba Ba? Kevin de Bruyne? Samuel Eto'o? They have so many players...

Predicted XI: Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Azpilicueta, Mikel, Ramires, Oscar, Hazard, Mata, Torres.

Current Form

Well, it's starting to look like it's more than just a little hiccup for Arsenal; they've lost two straight across all competitions for the first time since March and have gone three straight without a win for the first time since January. Arsenal have not lost three straight matches across all competitions since April of 2010. Ultimately, you have to win your home games, and largely Arsenal have done that this year, aside from the aberration against Aston Villa, late goals from Everton and Dortmund, and a League Cup tie.

Chelsea have had a bit of Jekyll and Hyde about them this season. They've won some games convincingly (4-1 over Cardiff, 3-0 over West Ham, 3-1 over Southampton despite trailing in 14 seconds) and they've won some unconvincingly (4-3 at Sunderland, 2-1 over City thanks to Joe Hart, and they left it a bit late to win at Norwich as well.) They've also dropped some road games, away to Everton, Newcastle, and Stoke. If Arsenal are going to make a statement against Chelsea this season, it has to come here, at the Emirates.

Match Facts

Arsene Wenger is still looking for his first win against the
man on the right, and also his tie is really short for some
reason in this picture. And his coat doesn't look puffy
After the Alex Manninger League Cup tie in November of 1998, Arsenal went on a run of 16 consecutive matches against Chelsea without a loss, winning 11 and drawing five. The sides then met in the 2003/04 Champions League quarter-final, with a first leg that ended 1-1 at Stamford Bridge. At Highbury in the second leg, Arsenal led at halftime through Jose Antonio Reyes, but Frank Lampard equalized in the 51st and Wayne Bridge won it for Chelsea in the 87th.

Since that quarter-final, Arsenal and Chelsea have played 22 times; Arsenal have won only four of them: 1-0 in December 2007, 2-1 in November 2008, 3-1 in December 2010, and 5-3 in October 2011. Chelsea have won 13 of the 22 games; five have ended drawn. It is also well established that Arsene Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho, drawing four and losing five of the nine meetings between the two.

Chelsea have already visited the Emirates once this year, but it was a League Cup encounter in October, so that doesn't tell us much; as you likely know, Chelsea won 2-0. The Blues won both matches with Arsenal last season, both by 2-1 scorelines. At the Emirates last September, Chelsea scored twice from set pieces as Laurent Koscielny, out of form at the time, had a nightmare at the back; Gervinho had Arsenal's goal, which had made it 1-1 at the interval. At Stamford Bridge in January, Chelsea scored twice early in the snow to take a commanding lead in the match, but Arsenal showed resolve and finally showed up in the second half. Theo Walcott scored in the 56th minute to make the match interesting, but Arsenal never found an equalizer.

The Referee

The second yellow to Torres was harsh, but he should've
seen red earlier.
The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. I'll let you panic about that in a couple of seconds, of course, but before you do that, let me remind you that Arsenal currently have a two game winning streak with Dean as the referee. Those wins were last year's 4-1 win over Wigan and this year's 3-1 win over Stoke City. Then again, before those two games, Arsenal had a record of two wins from 21 games, including both horrendous cup losses (to Bradford City and Blackburn Rovers) last season. The less said about that span of games for Arsenal with Mike Dean, the better.

Chelsea have seen Dean once this year, for the 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane. You may recall that Fernando Torres was shown a ridiculous second yellow for equally colliding with Jan Vertonghen on a 50/50 ball. Earlier in the match, however, Torres was not sent off despite slapping Vertonghen across the face. Chelsea won four and drew one with Dean last season; they have not lost with Dean in the middle since March 21, 2012 at Manchester City.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Liverpool 3 - 1 Cardiff City
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace 0 - 3 Newcastle United
  • Saturday: Fulham 2 - 4 Manchester City
  • Saturday: Manchester United 3 - 1 West Ham United
  • Saturday: Stoke City 2 - 1 Aston Villa
  • Saturday: Sunderland 0 - 0 Norwich City
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion 1 - 1 Hull City
  • Sunday: Southampton 2 - 3 Tottenham Hotspur
  • Sunday: Swansea City 1 - 2 Everton