Chelsea take on Arsenal this Sunday (9:05 AM EST) with the hopes of ruining yet another one of Arsene Wenger’s milestones. In this fixture last year, Chelsea thumped the miss-firing gunners 6-0 on what was the Arsenal boss’s 1000th game in charge. Similarly, Chelsea spoiled the party in 2005, beating Arsenal on Wenger’s 500th match. This week marks Wenger’s 18th year in charge of Arsenal, and once again Chelsea has the chance to spoil the party.
Blues Manager, Jose Mourinho, has been predictable in his Premier League team selections so far this season. He seems to be of the idea that if you play well, you keep your spot, and so far Chelsea have played exceptionally, both as a team and individually. They sit comfortably atop the league table and have scored 19 goals in 6 games. Chelsea have the ability to exploit Arsenal’s deficiencies and tend to play more attacking football at home, two characteristics that will be reflected in the squad selection.
The 6 foot 6 inch Thibault Courtois is heading into his first London Derby on the heels of two consecutive clean sheets. A match of such proportions would intimidate most 22-year-olds, however, the Belgian is no stranger to intense rivalries from his time with Atletico Madrid. As the season proceeds, he looks less and less likely to give up the starting spot.
Chelsea’s backline has remained unchanged in the league since opening day. John Terry and Gary Cahill are the backbone of a Chelsea defense that was the Premier League’s best last season. Though Terry himself admits it’s unlikely his body can handle a full season, the upcoming international break will give him plenty of time to rest and he is certain to start on Sunday. Branislav Ivanovic, a centerback by trade, looks to have fully embraced life at right back and has transformed into a two-way player who now provides plenty of support in attack. On the left, Cesar Azpilicueta remains one of the world’s best defensive fullbacks and continues to keep new signing Filipe Luis out of the lineup. There is no reason to think the backline will change when they face Arsenal.
Nemanja Matic has thrived in the defensive midfield role since returning to Chelsea last January. His consistency in that role brings a balance to Chelsea’s squad that has been lacking in previous years and his defensive efficiency typically makes midfield mistakes inconsequential.
Cesc Fabregas has enjoyed life alongside the Serbian. Fabregas has excelled in the deep lying central midfield role this season, providing 6 assists in 6 games. The Chelsea support will look to overshadow the negative response that is likely to come from Arsenal supporters who felt Fabregas betrayed the club when he left for Barcelona in 2011.
Eden Hazard leads the trio the attacking midfielders, often playing on the left, though he spends plenty of time cutting in to the middle. The big-bottom-small is a threat with the ball at his feet and finishes equally as well as he picks out the decisive cross. His interchanging play with Oscar is a nightmare for opposing defenders. Oscar has solidified his place in the first team and will look to exploit the space left by the many injuries in Arsenal’s midfield.
The last right side of midfield is the only position where Mourinho has not made up his mind. Willian and Andre Schurrle have each been given opportunities, with neither impressing enough to make it their own. They are not there to create and they need to score more goals if they want to remain in the team.
With Schurrle missing a number of easy chances in midweek against Sporting Club De Lisbon, it is likely Willian gets the start against Arsenal. Though, if both continue to miss chances, Mohamed Salah will be waiting on the bench.
Diego Costa is not giving up his starting spot. Despite reports that he barely trains due to a hamstring injury, Costa has started all 6 of Chelsea’s League games as well as their game against Sporting last Wednesday. If there were any doubts that he could adapt to the English game, he has proven them wrong. Loic Remy will have to wait on the bench for his chance, which will likely come in the second half, with Didier Drogba out through injury.