Already Diego Costa’s hamstrings are causing concern. The Spain striker had to be nursed through much of last season struggling with tightness and, after incurring a further problem in this week’s friendly against Barcelona, there are concerns he may not be fit for the Community Shield. That would immediately bring the spotlight on an area in which Chelsea seem lacking: the back-up striking options. Gary Cahill, meanwhile, has a broken nose but could play in a mask.
Arsenal’s only two injury absentees are Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky, both struggling with knee injuries, although Welbeck should be back in a couple of weeks. Alexis Sanchez will be missing having started pre-season late following his involvement in the Copa America. Petr Cech is likely to make his debut in goal, against his former club.
Jose Mourinho has faced Arsene Wenger on 12 occasions, winning seven and drawing five. Quite apart from Sunday’s game, it would be a huge psychological hurdle crossed for Arsenal if Wenger were to achieve his first victory over a manager he clearly doesn’t like. Last season, Chelsea were comfortable 2-0 winners at Stamford Bridge, before a 0-0 draw at the Emirates in April.
Arsenal have had a highly impressive pre-season, winning the Emirates Cup with a 6-0 win over Lyon and a 1-0 victory over Wolfsburg. Chelsea’s form was more suspect, a second-half collapse leading to a 4-2 defeat to New York Red Bulls, before penalty shoot-out wins following draws against Paris St-Germain and Barcelona in the International Champions Cup.
THE MIDFIELD BATTLE
Recently – most notably in Chelsea’s 6-0 win at Stamford Bridge the season before last – Chelsea have had the edge in midfield, but the emergence of Francis Coquelin as a holding player of genuine quality means that advantage may not be so defined as it has been: certainly in that game at the Emirates last April it was a far more even contest than it has been.
Coquelin will presumably be partnered at the back of midfield by Santi Cazorla, whose development into a scurrying scuffler has been one of the more remarkable transformations of the past year. The make-up of the rest of Arsenal’s midfield is rather harder to predict: although Mesut Ozil is probably more effective in the middle, it may be that in the absence of Sanchez he is pushed to the left with Jack Wilshere used centrally and Aaron Ramsey on the right.
Chelsea, presumably, will use the three they used for most of last season, with Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas deep Oscar in front of them and Willian and Eden Hazard wide, although it’s intriguing how prominent Victor Moses has been in pre-season, suggesting that, after seasons on loan at Liverpool and Stoke, he may feature.
CHELSEA RIGHT/ARSENAL LEFT
Given Branislav Ivanovic’s penchant for getting forward, the issue of who plays on the Arsenal left becomes pressing. Sanchez, with his pace and ability, essentially forces caution upon an opposing right-back, but in his absence, whoever operates on that side will have to fulfil his defensive responsibilities, which raises doubts about Ozil’s suitability for the task.
He, perhaps, could be played centrally, with Ramsey, Wilshere or even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain asked to operate on the left flank. There may even be a case for shifting Cazorla to that side and playing either Ramsey or Wilshere deep.
If Diego Costa is out, who comes in? Loic Remy, although he performed creditably at times last season, has never seemed an entirely comfortable fit with Chelsea’s tactical scheme, too lightweight and reliant on balls played in front of him for a side that prefers a target-man style figure who can hold the ball up.
Radamel Falcao, meanwhile, seems never to have rediscovered his acceleration after the knee injury he suffered last January, and he followed up a disappointing season with Manchester United with a poor Copa America for Colombia. There remain major doubts as to whether he can still compete at the top level.
Maybe this is the day when Wenger finally gets one over on Mourinho, but without Sanchez, he’s without his main attacking threat. Chelsea will not be brushed aside as easily as Lyon were and Mourinho is a master at getting teams to win specific games.
Chelsea at 2.45 looks too good to ignore, particularly if Ivanovic can get forward to there is a meaningful attacking threat both on the right and through Hazard in the left.
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