With Matchday two of the 2021/22 Premier League underway, the big game of the weekend will come our way on Sunday evening when Arsenal play hosts to London rivals Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal find themselves under intense pressure just one game into the season as they fell to a shock defeat to newly-promoted Brentford last time out. Following a shoddy pre-season and the opening weekend result, the knives are already out against manager Mikel Arteta, with questions being raised over his suitability after the Gunners have splashed the most cash in the market this summer. A positive result, thus, is imperative on Sunday.
As for Chelsea, things could not be more opposite to that of Arsenal. Thomas Tuchel has settled in really well and led the Blues to their second trophy under his tutelage earlier this month, winning the UEFA Super Cup after having won the Champions League last season. That was followed by a 3-0 derby demolition of Crystal Palace in the opening matchweek. And, the German tactician will be hoping that his team is able to carry the momentum forward.
The corresponding fixture last season saw Arsenal beat Chelsea 3-1 at the Emirates with goals coming from Alexandre Lacazette, Granit Xhaka and Bukayo Saka. While Arteta will hope for a similar outcome, Tuchel will have a different idea as he looks for his first league win against Arsenal. Ahead of this exciting match-up, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
Team News & Tactics
Arsenal continue to be hampered by fitness issues as Gabriel Magalhaes, Thomas Partey and Eddie Nketiah are all ruled out with injuries, while star forwards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are also doubts after missing the previous game due to coronavirus, although the former is back in training. Furthermore, new signing Martin Odegaard will also be unavailable due to visa issues.
Arsenal started the last game in a 4-2-3-1 setup but could switch things up on Sunday and line up with a three-man defensive unit in order to deal with the physical threat of Romelu Lukaku, should he start. Summer signing Ben White ought to start alongside Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney in the defensive line in front of goalkeeper Bernd Leno, who should get the nod ahead of Aaron Ramsdale.
Albert Sambi Lokonga and Granit Xhaka will further screen the defence and look to disrupt Chelsea’s rhythm in the middle of the park. Bukayo Saka ought to be one of the creative outlets starting as the right wing-back while new signing Nuno Tavares gets the nod out on the left. Although, Mikel Arteta could decide to switch it up and go in with Cedric on the right and Saka on the left.
It is slim pickings for Arsenal at the top, though, so we could see Folarin Balogun get another start as the centre-forward. The onus will be on Emile Smith Rowe to carve out openings starting from the left and drifting infield to try and get the better of Cesar Azpilicueta. Nicolas Pepe will occupy the right flank.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Leno; White, Holding, Tierney; Saka, Lokonga, Xhaka, Tavares; Pepe, Balogun, Smith Rowe
Unlike Arsenal, Chelsea have received some positive news on the injury front as Hakim Ziyech and N’Golo Kante are both likely to be fit in time for Sunday’s contest, although they might not be starting. Club-record signing Romelu Lukaku has trained with the first-team and is in contention to feature as well. However, Christian Pulisic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek miss out after testing positive for coronavirus.
There are unlikely to be a host of changes made to the side that got past Crystal Palace last weekend. Edouard Mendy is the undisputed starter in goal despite Kepa Arrizabalaga’s UEFA Super Cup heroics. Trevoh Chalobah, who has become a huge hit in a short space of time, should hold onto his place on the right side of the three-man backline alongside Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger.
With Reece James still being eased back into action after his involvement at the Euros, we can expect Cesar Azpilicueta to get another run-out as the right-sided wing-back while Marcos Alonso ought to continue on the left flank, where he will have to deal with the dangerous Saka.
With Kante close to full fitness, Thomas Tuchel could rush him back into the side for a game of this magnitude. He will have Jorginho as his partner with Mateo Kovacic dropping out. Christian Pulisic’s absence opens up a spot in attack, which is likely to be taken up by Kai Havertz. The German will play alongside Mason Mount as the two attacking midfielders for the visitors.
Lukaku, in all likelihood, should make his second debut for Chelsea on Sunday. The Belgian has had time to train with the team and had been in top form at the Euros, so it makes sense for Tuchel to throw him right into the thick of things against Arsenal.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Chalobah, Christensen, Rudiger; Azpilicueta, Kante, Jorginho, Alonso; Havertz, Mount; Lukaku
- Arsenal can win four successive matches against Chelsea in all competitions for the first time since 2004.
- Chelsea have only won three of their past 14 games against Arsenal in all competitions (D5, L6), losing the last three.
- Arsenal have lost their opening home league fixture in five of the past 10 seasons.
- Chelsea have lost their opening Premier League away fixture in only three of the past 20 seasons.
- Chelsea have kept 12 Premier League clean sheets under head coach Thomas Tuchel – three more than any other club since he joined the Blues.
Player to Watch
All eyes on Sunday will be on Chelsea’s club-record signing Romelu Lukaku. Signed for a mammoth £97.5 million fee, the Belgian international returns to Chelsea seven years after bringing an end to his sorry stint with the Blues. Since leaving, though, the 28-year-old has grown into one of the best centre-forwards in the game and has been in fine fettle over the past year with Inter Milan and Belgium.
A robust and imposing presence at the top, Lukaku could make life difficult for the Arsenal defence, who were at bay against Ivan Toney last time out against Brentford. Speed, power, precision in his finishing, the former Manchester United striker has it all, and if he hits the ground running, the Gunners could be in for a long evening.