It may not be the title decider, but the match between Arsenal and Chelsea still draws much attention. Even with Jose Mourinho now gone, the spirits past are here to haunt both sides. London rivals are entering the local derby match with 13 places separating them, nevertheless the stakes are high as ever.
Final game of the 23rd round of the Premier League is the marquee one and it will be a proper test to Arsenal’s title bid. Inconsistent Gunners are coming off from back-to-back league draws with Liverpool (3-3) and Stoke City last time out (0-0) respectively, but with that 4-0 loss to Southampton in December still lingering about Wenger’s charges will be under a lot of pressure to deliver. The Frenchman has other results to thank for his team still being the top of the league and the match against Chelsea will perhaps be the right time to tell his players to pick up their game and prove they are worthy of the trophy. Arsenal last won the league in 2003/04 season and their fans are beginning to feel impatient. This could be their year and possible win over the Blues would see Arsenal overcome a huge physical and mental hurdle on their way to the finish line. Recent history is against Wenger’s troops as Arsenal have won only 4 of their 23 Premier League matches against Chelsea since the start of the 2004/05 season. Wenger and Mourinho have since then developed a long-standing rivalry which often took all the limelight and this game will be no different even without the Portuguese around.
The hosts are buoyed by the return of Mesut Ozil who sat out the goalless draw at Stoke with a foot problem.
Long awaited return of Alexis Sanchez is also on the cards as the flamboyant striker could be available for selection after nearly two months out due to his hamstring injury.
With massive 19 points behind their Sunday rivals, Chelsea have long given up on their title hopes, but they will need no special motivation for their trip to Emirates. Sitting in 14th place in the Premier League standings, Chelsea have a long way to go in order to achieve the top 4 dream which might still be alive after the game against Arsenal. Guus Hiddink is careful and cautious as he still refuses to look past the relegation fight with his team closer to the gutter than the top half. On the positive note, a slight improvement is obvious as Chelsea are unbeaten since the Dutch manager took the reins. On the negative note, they only won 10 points in six league games which is the tally that will hardly help them close the gap on the top four dwellers. Just like their Sunday rivals, Chelsea are coming off from two consecutive league draws, two exciting home matches versus West Ham and Everton which ended in 2-2 and 3-3 respectively. The Blues perhaps have the mental edge coming into the duel as Diego Costa got under the Arsenal’s skin last time the two sides met and we should most certainly be in for a highly eventful encounter.
Guus Hiddink will be more than pleased to welcome Eden Hazard back to contention as the Belgian has missed his team’s last three matches, but has managed to shake off his injury and will be in line for a place in the fold.
Diego Costa picked up a knock against Everton last weekend and is a minor doubt, but should be fit to feature against Arsenal.
Key Factors to Consider
- Arsenal won just 4 of their 23 league matches against the Blues
- Guus Hiddink just won once in the Premier League since his arrival
- Chelsea are unbeaten in eight straight league games vs Arsenal
- Stamford Bridge outfit have gone 6 matches without defeat
- Gunners scored only 1 goal in their last five meetings with Chelsea
History is against Arsenal and it is fair to say that Chelsea have gotten under their skin in recent years. It will be hard to shake off the old spirits and record a much-needed win in the title race, more so under the huge pressure from the public. We should expect a close-knit contest between the two rivals as the current form plays no part in games like these.
Best Odds: 13/5