Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Chelsea

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, April 26
11:00 a.m. EDT, 16:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Lee Betts and John Brooks
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • Reverse Fixture: Chelsea 2 - 0 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 0 Chelsea
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 71 Arsenal wins, 59 Chelsea wins, 53 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-W-W
  • Chelsea's League Form: W-D-W-W-W-W
Hey, so, this game seems big, no? Just a bit? Kinda important, though maybe not in the title race?

Chelsea now have a greater than 99% chance of winning the league. Arsenal's odds of taking the title are now 0.856%. Even if Arsenal wins all six of their remaining games, their odds of winning the league are still only about 16%. It's a bridge too far, since Chelsea keeps nicking 1-0 results.

So Arsenal are playing for a handful of things here. Pride, for sure. It would be tremendous going forward if they could get the Mourinho-shaped monkey off their back. Second place is the other goal, of course. Four wins from their final six should be enough to finish in the silver medal spot for the first time since 2005.

If Arsenal have finally turned that corner, it's time to make that statement.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Arteta (match fitness)
Doubts: Mertesacker (ankle,) Bellerin (ankle)

There are still doubts over the fitness of World's Fastest
Right Back Hector Bellerin.
Brobdingnagian center back Per Mertesacker has been called "50-50" for this match after he left last weekend's FA Cup Semi-Final with an ankle injury. He has not practiced this week. Elsewhere in the side, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains out with a groin problem (remember, his injury suffered at Old Trafford was originally a hamstring,) while Mikel Arteta is back in full training but still lacks match fitness and will not be included in the 18-man squad.

After Hector Bellerin failed to make the bench at Wembley, word trickled out that the young Spaniard has been playing through an ankle injury of his own. That means I suspect that right back will be the only other point of question in the starting XI. There was no update on Bellerin's status in Thursday's presser. Arsene Wenger said that everybody else from last Saturday (which means everyone in that match day squad but Mertesacker) should be available, but Bellerin was not in that group.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Debuchy, Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Alexis, Ramsey, Ozil, Giroud.

Chelsea Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Remy (calf,) Costa (hamstring,) Drogba (ankle)

Here's Mourinho looking glum.
While no Chelsea player is officially ruled out through injury for this match, as far as I can tell, all three of their strikers are listed as doubts. Diego Costa has only just returned to training after missing the last two matches with a hamstring injury, Didier Drogba left last week's match against Manchester United with an ankle problem, and Loic Remy has been sidelined with a calf problem.

My expectation is that one of them is going to have to be "fit enough" to start and my guess is that will be Remy. In the rest of the XI, I expect Jose Mourinho to play a similar lineup to the one that stifled United at the Bridge last weekend, with the main question being whether to continue with center back Kurt Zouma in the holding role or hand a start Ramires.

Predicted XI: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Matic, Fabregas, Oscar, Hazard, Remy.

Current Form

This little howler gave Arsenal their ninth straight win across
all competitions.
On New Year's Day, Arsenal lost 2-0 at Southampton and fell to sixth in the Premier League table, behind Chelsea, City, United, Southampton, and Spurs. In the late game on that day, Chelsea lost 5-3 to Tottenham, suffering only their second league defeat of the season. The Blues maintained their hold on the top spot in the table alphabetically; they were level on points, goals scored, and goals conceded with Manchester City.

Since then, City have fallen off the pace; they've won five, lost five, and drawn three since their New Year's Day win over Sunderland to blow up their hopes of defending last season's title. Chelsea, on the other hand, have not lost since their New Year's Day setback, winning nine and drawing three.

But, no team has been in quite the same form as Arsenal, who have won 11 and lost just once in the league since January 1. The result is that Arsenal have climbed from sixth to second in the table, but they've only closed the gap on Chelsea from 13 to 10 points. Chelsea's win over Manchester United last weekend means that Arsenal go into this weekend one point clear of United for second place, with one game in hand.

Match Facts

Look at how nil this draw was!
Chelsea won the reverse fixture 2-0 in early October. Arsenal had 53% of the possession and generated 10 shots to Chelsea's five, but managed none on target. A moment of brilliance from Eden Hazard produced a penalty when he was tripped by the outstretched leg of Laurent Koscielny; Hazard put the Blues up 1-0 from the spot on 27 minutes and the rest felt academic. Diego Costa put the game to rest on a break a dozen minutes from time.

This match last season was played just before the Christmas period. Chelsea's desire to play for a draw on the road, combined with Arsenal's desire to be cautious one match after their 6-3 loss to Manchester City, combined with a driving rain storm produced what I will call "History's Nillest Draw."

Since 2004, Arsenal and Chelsea have met 25 times across all competitions and Arsenal have won just four of them. It's also well established that Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho, drawing five and losing seven. Arsenal have not beaten Chelsea at home since the day after Boxing Day in 2010 and their last win over Chelsea overall came that time John Terry fell down, in October of 2011.

The Referee

Michael Oliver is having none of this.
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. You will, of course, likely remember Oliver's performance in Arsenal's sixth round FA Cup victory at Old Trafford, in which he did not let United get away with, for lack of a better term, all their little bullshit.

Arsenal have now seen Oliver five times this season, winning three and drawing the other two. Oliver took charge of the Community Shield at the start of the season, a 3-0 win over Manchester City, as well as the aforementioned win over United and an earlier FA Cup win over Brighton. He also took charge of the 1-1 draw with Spurs at the Emirates and the 2-2 draw at Anfield in December.

Chelsea have seen Oliver four times this season and have won all four, which makes sense, because they've won almost 72% of their league games. The four include a 3-1 at Burnley on the season's opening weekend, a 2-0 win over West Ham on Boxing Day, a 1-0 win over Liverpool in the League Cup (in which he failed to send off Diego Costa for two stamps, one for which he was banned retroactively,) and a 3-2 win at Hull in March.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Southampton v. Tottenham Hotspur; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Leicester City; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Hull City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Swansea City; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. West Ham United; Loftus Road, London
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Sunderland; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Liverpool; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Manchester City v. Aston Villa; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (early): Everton v. Manchester United; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Tuesday (night): Hull City v. Liverpool; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
    • Postponement from April 18 due to Liverpool's FA Cup Semi-Final appearance.
  • Wednesday (night): Chelsea v. Leicester City; Stamford Bridge, London
    • Postponement from February 28 due to Chelsea's League Cup Final appearance.
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and Ace of Spades. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, but be aware that he'll be tweeting a lot about hockey these days.