Preview by Numbers: Chelsea v. Arsenal

Stamford Bridge, London
Saturday, March 22
8:45 a.m. EDT, 12:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Marc Perry
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 0 - 0 Chelsea
  • This Match, Last Year: Chelsea 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 71 Arsenal wins, 57 Chelsea wins, 53 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-D-W-L-W
  • Chelsea's League Form: W-D-W-W-W-L
  • Weather: Light Rain Clearing, 9 C / 48 F
Apologies to all of my Eastern Hemisphere readers as I've decided to push these posts forward from midnight New York time to 8:00 a.m. in the hopes to gain more local readership. For all I know, that will be a miserable failure and I'll be back to "normal" for Swansea on Tuesday.

Speaking of miserable failures, let's all hope this match isn't one, as this is likely Arsenal's trickiest fixture remaining on the docket among all nine league games to play. Chelsea's stumble in Birmingham last week reopened the title race according to... everybody in the media everywhere meaning, as Brian Moore would say, it's up for grabs now.

Arsenal sit third on goal difference, a number they likely won't be able to make up on the likes of +41 Liverpool and +44 Manchester City (Arsenal are +25.) City sit in fourth as they have two games in hand. The moral of the story is: if Arsenal are truly back in with a shout in the title race, they have to win this game to stay there.

Plus, it's Arsene Wenger's 1,000th match in charge of Arsenal, as you've no doubt heard this week. Honestly, there's no better time for a big win at the Bridge.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ozil (hamstring,) Wilshere (foot,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Rosicky (ankle,) Bendtner (drinking in Denmark)

The beauty of waiting another eight hours is that I get to write actual team news based on Wenger's presser, instead of mere speculation. This morning, Wenger's update included the fact that Tomas Rosicky, so important against Spurs last week, is a doubt with an ankle problem and faces a late fitness test.

Everyone else who was available against Spurs is available tomorrow, including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who supposedly had a calf problem when he was removed on 85 minutes (since he was removed for Thomas Vermaelen in a defensive substitution, I'm not even sure if that was the actual reason or where that information originated.)

I expect Wenger to pick a more defensive line-up, especially if Rosicky does not pass fit. That would mean Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini in the holding roles, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, and the Ox in the attacking roles, and Olivier Giroud up top. All signs point to this likely being a pretty cagey affair.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Cazorla, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud.

Chelsea Squad News

Out: Cole (knee,) van Ginkel (match fitness)
Suspended: Willian (one match,) Ramires (first of three)

Chelsea will be short of some options in midfield after both Ramires and Willian were sent off last weekend. Ramires usually plays the holding role along with Nemanja Matic, who returned to the club in the January window. Ramires's absence means Frank Lampard will likely start. Willian is a bit easier to replace for the Blues, considering they will likely start with Andre Schurrle, Eden Hazard, and Oscar as their attacking midfield trio.

Chelsea's back four picks itself with Ashley Cole injured and Cesar Azpilicueta in fantastic form at left back. Meanwhile, up front, I suspect Samuel Eto'o will start, but could be quite wrong there; honestly, that's total guesswork from me. Jose Mourinho has been charged by the FA for his sending off last weekend, but he has until Monday to respond and I'm pretty sure he is eligible to patrol the technical area tomorrow.

Predicted XI: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Matic, Lampard, Schurrle, Hazard, Oscar, Eto'o

Current Form

Arsenal's victory at White Hart Lane last weekend was their first win away from home since January 13 at Aston Villa. They had only gone four winless on the road in those two months thanks to a fortuitous run of home games in the FA Cup, drawing in Munich and Southampton and losing at Liverpool and Stoke. Arsenal have not won consecutive league games since January, when they had won five straight; that streak was snapped by the Southampton draw. Since losing to Stoke, however, Arsenal have rebounded nicely overall, at least in quality of play, comprehensively beating Everton, earning a draw at the Allianz Arena, and protecting a 1-0 lead at Spurs for three eternities (or so it felt.)

Chelsea on the other hand had been unbeaten in 14 league games before imploding to Aston Villa at the weekend, a streak that dated back to a loss at Stoke in December. During the span of that league unbeaten streak, they did crash out of both domestic cups. They are, however, still kicking in the Champions League, having bounced Galatasaray after a 2-0 win at the Bridge on Tuesday.

Match Facts

Just before Christmas, Arsenal and Chelsea played a 0-0 draw in the pouring rain at Emirates Stadium. It was a cautious match as both sides appeared more afraid to lose than willing to win, and since Arsenal were coming off a 6-3 loss to Manchester City, that made some sense. After Arsenal had gone full throttle for a win there and failed miserably, Arsene Wenger knew the Gunners needed some kind of result; of course, had the tactics been switched, they could have had four points instead of one in a luckier universe. There's not much else to say about that 0-0 draw except for the fact that it was one of those weird games where Wenger made no substitutions. I hate those.

Chelsea got off to a rampant start in this fixture last year, jumping out to a 2-0 lead inside 16 minutes in the January snow at the Bridge. Arsenal calmed down in the second half, pinged a goal back through Theo Walcott in the 58th, then spent half an hour trying to find an equalizer that never came.

Prior to last week's match, Arsenal had not won a league game at White Hart Lane since 2007; you don't have to go back too far to find Arsenal's last win at the Bridge, though. It was in 2011 and it came by a ridiculous 5-3 scoreline. You might remember John Terry falling down. That was Arsenal's first win at the Bridge since 2008. So, it will likely surprise you, but Arsenal have more wins at the Bridge in the last six or so years than at the Lane.

Since 2004, Arsenal and Chelsea have met 23 times across all competitions and Arsenal have won four of them. It's also well established that Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho, drawing five and losing five. Throw into the mix Mourinho's home unbeaten record, now 76 matches without a loss at the Bridge and you've got a pretty daunting set of history that's just waiting to be broken at some point.

The Referee

The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner, the Select Group's leader in red cards with 11. Arsenal last saw Marriner quite recently, for their 4-1 win over Sunderland on February 22. That makes four wins from four for Arsenal with Marriner over this and last; Arsenal previously won this year 2-0 over Hull City with Marriner in the middle and last year won 5-1 over West Ham and 1-0 over Fulham (with a red card to both sides.)

Chelsea have seen Marriner three times this season, winning two and drawing one, but the draw (2-2 with West Brom) was a match they should have lost, as Marriner awarded a controversial penalty deep into injury time to preserve Jose Mourinho's unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge. Marriner booked 10 players in that match, including seven West Brom players. Chelsea have also won 2-0 over Fulham in the league and 2-0 over Derby County in the FA Cup with Marriner this season.

Marriner has taken charge of two previous Arsenal-Chelsea encounters, with Chelsea winning 3-0 at the Emirates in November of 2009 and Arsenal winning 5-3 at the Bridge in October of 2011.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Cardiff City v. Liverpool; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
  • Saturday: Everton v. Swansea City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Hull City v. West Bromwich Albion; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Fulham; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Crystal Palace; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Sunderland; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday (late): West Ham United v. Manchester United; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Sunday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Southampton; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Aston Villa v. Stoke City; Villa Park, Birmingham