For Arsenal, facing Chelsea is always an onerous task: Arsene Wenger is still to record a competitive victory over Jose Mourinho.
However, there is hope among the Gunners fans that this weekend he can finally lay that unwanted record to rest. If he is to do that, he must discover a way to deal with the threat of Eden Hazard.
Arsenal certainly have cause for confidence. Their win over Burnley was their eighth consecutive Premier League victory in succession. The Gunners have not been on such a successful run since 2004 -- the same year in which they achieved the remarkable feat of finishing a league season unbeaten.
However, this match will not be easy. Chelsea’s arrive as champions-in-waiting, fresh from a morale-boosting victory over Manchester United. Louis van Gaal’s team had been on an impressive run themselves, but Chelsea were able to strangle them and secure the three points.
They’re likely to employ a similar strategy at Arsenal, sitting deep and hoping to catch them on the break. Hazard’s ability to burst away from his markers will be key to that plan.
Mourinho will have watched Arsenal’s recent victory over Liverpool. As much as he’ll have been intimidated by the Gunners’ frenzied opening to the game, he’ll have been encouraged by the first-half dip in which Liverpool were able to pose a considerable threat on the counter-attack. Chelsea are ruthless in that sort of scenario, and few players are more efficient on the break than Hazard.
The likely PFA Player of the Year is set to line up on the left-hand side of Chelsea’s midfield. Wenger must choose which of Hector Bellerin or Mathieu Debuchy is best-suited to deal with the brilliant Belgian.
Debuchy got the nod for the FA Cup semi-final against Reading, with Bellerin left out of the matchday squad altogether. When the former Newcastle man was forced to play 120 minutes after the game went to extra-time, Wenger may have been regretting his choice.
However, there was a clear benefit to ensuring Debuchy got some minutes under his belt. Although he looked understandably rusty on his first start since January, Wenger’s decision to deploy him may have been made with the Chelsea game in mind. He remains the most experienced right-back in the squad, and the match practice could prove invaluable come Sunday.
However, Bellerin remains an intriguing option. He is quicker than Debuchy, so would have the speed to keep pace with Hazard’s dazzling dribbles. He also has a low centre of gravity that allows him to adapt to swift changes of direction. If there is an obvious flaw in his game, it’s a tendency to dive in when its not necessary. In the Liverpool match, for example, he conceded a penalty for an ill-timed lunge at Raheem Sterling.
That impetuous streak may mean Debuchy gets the nod. Inside the full-back, an injury to Per Mertesacker means Gabriel Paulista could be called in to the starting line-up. That may be no bad thing: Gabriel is significantly quicker than the giant German, and will tus be able to provide cover if Debuchy is caught out.
If Arsenal can shackle Hazard, they will have nullified Chelsea’s major threat and be one step-closer to that long-awaited triumph over Mourinho.