Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Chelsea

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, September 24
12:30 p.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Gary Beswick and Stuart Burt
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 1 Chelsea
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 72 Arsenal wins, 61 Chelsea wins, 54 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W // L-D-W-W-W
  • Chelsea's League Form: D // W-W-W-D-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 71 °F / 22 °C
If the post-match talking points revolved around this man,
that's probably bad news for Arsenal.
I've said this plenty of times before, but the cliché remains true: if you want to win the Premier League, you have got to take care of business at home. Arsenal's 2002 title win marks the last time a title winner did not also have the best home record in the league (they were one point behind Liverpool in the home table.) That's 14 consecutive league champions who racked up more points at home than any other team in the top flight. I honestly don't think there's a better statistical indicator out there.

That said, as we approached injury time two weeks ago, Arsenal looked like they were about to drop two more points at home against Southampton. The late penalty spared Arsenal's blushes, meaning their home record is now an even 50/50. There are 57 points up for grabs in home games this season, Arsenal have already dropped three of them. Title winners usually hover around the high 40's in home point totals, meaning that's only about three losses on average. Leicester drew six times at home last year, but lost only once, to Arsenal.

As we approach a traditionally tricky fixture, it's imperative for Arsenal to remember the big picture here. If this match becomes the Diego Costa show, that can only benefit the visitors. Psychologically speaking, these three points count the same as all the others, but dropping them can have a knock-on effect through the rest of the fixture list.

Six of Arsenal's next seven fixtures, across all competitions, are at home. You gotta win your home games.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee,) Jenkinson (knee)
Doubts: Giroud (toe,) Ramsey (hamstring)

Alexis against Leicester City.
Alexis against Hull City.
There's not much to say in the injury news department. Gabriel returned on Tuesday from his ankle injury to play 90 minutes in Nottingham, but should only make the bench here. The long-term injured (Per Mertesacker, Danny Welbeck, and Carl Jenkinson) remain as such. The short-term absentees (Aaron Ramsey with his now-six-week hamstring injury and Olivier Giroud's mysterious toe problem) are in the doubts column.

It's entirely possible Arsène Wenger will name an unchanged XI to the side that beat Hull last week, which opens us up once again to the debate around Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international came off the bench against Hull and started on Tuesday. In both matches, he scored ridiculous long-range goals. There are significant rumblings among the fanbase as to why Xhaka's not starting. It's pretty clear to me, at this point, that Wenger will retain the Francis Coquelin-Santi Cazorla axis (or, "Coqzorla," as it were.)

If this were a video game, you'd put your best players out at each individual position, but in real life, there's the issue of chemistry in midfield. Coqzorla has that and until something changes, I would not hold your breath to see Wenger mess around with that.

The other question will revolve around whether or not Alexis Sánchez will have the same impact as a central forward against a team that's better defensively than Hull. Pictured are heatmaps of Alexis's touches against Hull City and against Leicester City. Alexis started both games as a central forward, but was forced out wide against the likes of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan. Extrapolating further, he had only 27 touches at all against Liverpool on opening day.

Perhaps it's not a fair comparison, he did end up playing more centrally against PSG, but I think it's fair to call it a concern for a match like this. The alternative is either Lucas Pérez or perhaps Giroud passes fit.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Iwobi, Walcott, Özil, Alexis.

Chelsea Squad News

Out: Van Ginkel (knee,) Zouma (knee)
Doubts: Terry (ankle)

The man who invented sideline emotion.
Kurt Zouma, who suffered a knee ligament injury in February, remains out; he could return some time in October. Marco Van Ginkel, whose young career has been marred by knee injuries, is also out. There are doubts over John Terry as well; he strained ankle ligaments in Chelsea's 2-2 draw with Swansea two weeks ago. With so many question marks at center back, it's no wonder the Blues brought David Luiz back into the fold, but when everyone's fit, they're going to have a few frustrated faces on the bench.

Cesc Fàbregas, who scored both extra time goals for Chelsea in the League Cup on Tuesday, would probably like to return to starting in the midfield, but with N'Golo Kanté making a big money move from the champions this summer, I don't see it happening.

The alternative would be to have Nemanja Matić drop for the sake of attacking prowess, which doesn't seem like the kind of choice managers make for road games. The gist I've gotten from Chelsea fans is that they'd prefer Cesc here because many feel like their midfield has lacked a little creativity up to this point in the season, but they don't seem to expect any changes, until they solve a number defensive lapses that have occurred lately.

The rest of the starting XI seems pretty obvious to me, here.

Predicted XI: Courtois, Ivanović, Cahill, David Luiz, Azpilicueta, Matić, Kanté, Willian, Hazard, Oscar, Costa.

Current Form

I'm starting to warm up to the yellow kit, even though I'm
not a fan of that slate grey.
Arsenal are now unbeaten in six since losing on opening day, winning four of their last five across all competitions in the process. Tuesday's 4-0 League Cup win over Nottingham Forest was only the second time, however, that the Gunners have kept a clean sheet (the other coming in a scoreless draw with Leicester last month.) It was also the fourth time in seven matches this season that Arsenal scored at least three goals (the others coming against Liverpool, Watford, and Hull.)

What that tells you is that things have all been a bit crazy this season, but the results are there. Five points dropped through two games to start the season has become five points dropped through five league games plus progression in the League Cup and a decent, if lucky, result in Europe. So far, so good.

Chelsea started the season with a four game winning streak across all competitions, but suffered a bit of a blip coming out of the international break. Remember, the Blues are not in Europe this year, forcing them to enter the League Cup in the second round, when they beat Bristol Rovers. That, coupled with wins over West Ham, Watford, and Burnley gave the Blues a 100% record going into the international break. They came out of that with a 2-2 draw against struggling Swansea, then lost at home to Liverpool (something we're familiar with.) That means Chelsea and Arsenal have the same points total in the league at this point, with 10; Arsenal are ahead on goal difference.

Tuesday night, Chelsea faced Leicester City at King Power Stadium in the League Cup and came back from 2-0 down to win 4-2 in extra time. The mitigating circumstances were, of course, that Leicester had defender Marcin Wasilewski sent off just before the end of regular time, for shoving a forearm into the face of Diego Costa. We all applaud you, Marcin.

Match Facts

What's German for "oh fuck, I hate Costa"?
Chelsea won both matches last year. There were only two other teams whom Chelsea defeated twice last season: 19th place Norwich City and 20th place Aston Villa. For Arsenal, Chelsea were the only team they did not take at least one point from. So, as you can see, the psychological issues run deep here.

In September at Stamford Bridge, Mike Dean and Diego Costa happened, as Chelsea won 2-0. Arsenal finished the match on nine men after Gabriel was sent off in the first for a kick-out at Diego Costa and Santi Cazorla picked up a second yellow 11 minutes from time. Kurt Zouma scored from a set piece on 53 minutes and a Calum Chambers own goal twisted the knife in injury time. Of course, Diego Costa should have been the one to be sent off for head-butting Laurent Koscielny in the first place, which would have changed the tenor of the entire match. The FA rescinded Gabriel's red card and slapped Costa with a three-match ban after the fact, but that doesn't rescue the three points, now does it?

In January at the Emirates, the referee was involved again, though a bit more correctly this time, as Mark Clattenburg sent off Per Mertesacker on 18 minutes for breaking up a Diego Costa breakway. Costa had the game's only goal just five minutes later.

Arsenal did, however, win the Community Shield against Chelsea last season. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored the only goal of the season's curtain-raising match at Wembley, as Arsene Wenger finally snared a victory over Jose Mourinho. Plus, Arsenal got to win a really shiny giant plate in the process, which is always nice, regardless of what you may think of the competitiveness of the Community Shield.

Arsenal have not scored a goal in league play against Chelsea since Theo Walcott pulled a goal back in the 53rd minute of a 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge on January 20, 2013. Chelsea have kept the door shut for nine hours and 32 minutes of play. Arsenal are also winless in their last nine league games against the Blues, their longest drought ever against Chelsea; I'd like to point out that pre-Abramovich, Arsenal went 19 straight without losing to Chelsea.

The Referee

Michael Oliver has seen some things, man.
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal have already seen Oliver once this season and it was their only loss, the opening day match to Liverpool. To be fair, it's not Oliver's fault that Arsenal couldn't defend for their lives that day and he did give Arsenal a penalty that Theo Walcott decided to miss, so who knows.

Arsenal have not won with Oliver since the FA Cup sixth round tie at Old Trafford in March of 2015; before the loss to Liverpool, Arsenal had drawn all three matches with Oliver in between, including this corresponding fixture in April of 2015.

This is Oliver's first Chelsea match of the season. Their record with Oliver last season was, to be honest, quite terrible and extensive. Oliver took charge of their opening match of the season, a 2-2 draw with Swansea in which Thibault Courtois was sent off. He then worked Chelsea's 0-0 draw at Tottenham, a 1-1 draw with Manchester United, their 2-0 FA Cup exit to Everton (in which Diego Costa was sent off,) and a 1-1 draw at Liverpool.

So, Chelsea have not won with Oliver since a 3-2 win at Hull in March of 2015, 13 days after Arsenal's last win with him.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Manchester United v. Leicester City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Everton; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Hull City; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Tottenham Hotspur; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. West Bromwich Albion; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Crystal Palace; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Manchester City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Sunday (late): West Ham United v. Southampton; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Monday (night): Burnley v. Watford; Turf Moor, Burnley
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a professor of fictional linguistics. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for gęsźçtišrįn.