This Premier League season is one of the most intriguing of them all. And this is despite Chelsea being clear favorites to win the league. Behind Chelsea, there is a mad rush to determine who's most equipped and capable to challenge the best team in this season. Amidst this chaos, even a draw in the last game ensured Chelsea increase their lead from 8 to 9 points. And to make it worse for us Gunners, Spurs rose to second and we moved down to third with Manchester City right behind us.
It would be a safe argument to say that none of the teams from 2nd to 4th are putting any sort of pressure to Chelsea. The lack of consistency in Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester City is helping Chelsea's cause. But to be fair, Chelsea are in a zone of their own. They are winning the relatively easy games. And they are ensuring the other top teams don't win against them. Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea is a case in point and loss to Spurs and Arsenal are their only blip this season. Also, the teams in the top quarter of the table have to play against each other too. All this plays into Chelsea's hands. It will only be a catastrophe if Chelsea were not to win the league this season.
One moment can, however, dampen Chelsea's progress. And it could happen on 4th Feb. Chelsea will be hosting Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. They are 9 points apart. A win for Chelsea will stretch the lead to 12 and it will be all over for Arsenal as far as winning the league is concerned (even for the most optimistic fan). A win, however, for Arsenal will close the gap to 6. This is what most of the other teams will be hoping for. A loss won't hurt Chelsea much but will be a huge boost for all other teams in the top 5. Chelsea can mathematically afford to lose thrice and still win the league.
From Arsenal's perspective, it seems to be a gigantic task. We have been terrible on occasions and sublime on other days. Typical Arsenal in a way! On days, we proved we can beat anybody convincingly (Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea) and on some days, we just couldn't score and win. Draws, when we should have won, have also contributed to our inconsistent performances. Non footballing reasons are also not helping. Ozil and Sanchez are yet to sign an extension. Wenger is keeping every one guessing on his own extension. Horrific performances against Everton, Manchester City and Watford (all 1-2 losses) mean we are now fighting for top 4 once again. Chelsea game will be a turning point for us this season - whatever happens. If we win, we are in it somehow. If we lose, it's back to retaining our top 4 position. A draw will also mean top 4 will be our plan B.
This season we boasted of depth in the midfield so much that Wilshere decided to go out for loan! Who would've thought that we will head into the crucial game against Chelsea with a non-regular midfielder in either Ox or a youth prospect. Santi Cazorla is injured for a long time now. Granit Xhaka is foolishly suspended. Md. Elneny is playing for his country in African Cup of nations and also injured too. Aaron Ramsey injured himself during the last game against Watford. Thankfully, Francis Coquelin is back which is a huge boost. I would love to have Ox team up with Coquelin. Ox had a game to remember against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League a couple of years ago. In the long term, I still feel either he or Wilshere will be the heir to Cazorla's position. You may not like both of my choices, but I have a gut-feel that our counter attack will be much smarter, quicker and stronger with them in the team and injury free! Of course, for this to happen, we need Coquelin to boss the defensive midfielder role.
At the back, despite being crappy, our defense picks themselves. Cech will play as #1 despite not being in the best of form. Bellerin should return to right back role. Koscielny, Mustafi and Monreal complete the back 4. Up front, we have a problem of riches. I would love to see Sanchez playing as a striker. Giroud is a great player but his presence completely changes our attacking strategy. Moreover, Ozil and Sanchez have that understanding to find each other when we are in the final third. Walcott will return as the left winger and I would like to see Perez start at left wing. Perez is in great form despite not being played regularly. A start for him against Chelsea will do a world of good for his confidence.
Chelsea's formation of 3-4-3 have been their strength so far. Having 3 centre-backs in the playing 11 gives them extra cover while defending. Kante has been the key piece of the puzzle. He, as defensive midfielder, has been the best so far and has given Chelsea the assurance of having only 3 in defense. Costa, Hazard, Pedro and Moses complete their team from an attacking perspective. It would be rather interesting to see how Wenger tackles this formation. Personally, I feel Giroud will be a liability here as he will have 3 defenders to cope with. To win against such formations, you need to be strong in your counter attacking moves. With Sanchez, Walcott and Perez up front, we are potent there. Welbeck and Giroud and will be great as subs late in the game. Ozil versus Kante will be another battle to watch our for.
Strategies can be made and discussed at length. But at the end, what matters is those 90 minutes. We need to, somehow, win this game. A draw will favor Chelsea. Nothing other than a win will do.
Win, somehow win!