Where will this weekend’s big clash between Chelsea and Arsenal be won and lost? Amit Singh from @Think_Football takes a look
Saturday's early afternoon kick-off is a huge top of the table clash between Chelsea and Arsenal. Chelsea were held at The Emirates earlier this season but boast a very impressive home record and will hope that a victory over Arsenal can see them bounce back from last week's shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Aston Villa. The Gunners closed the gap on Chelsea to just four points (Arsenal have a game in hand), so will want to heap further pressure on Chelsea and bolster their own title credentials with a historic win over Jose Mourinho's side at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea will have to re-think their tactics for this game as a result of suspensions for Brazilian duo Ramires and Willian. Andre Schurrle will come in for Willian and Frank Lampard will partner Nemanja Matic at the base of Chelsea's midfield.
Arsenal are without Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil for this tie whilst Theo Walcott remains a long term absentee. So Arsene Wenger will go with the same side that was victorious away at White Hart Lane last weekend having had a week to recover.
How badly will Chelsea miss Willian and Ramires?
Two of the most important counter-attacking players Chelsea have at their disposal are Ramires and Willian. The red cards for both players at Villa are a bitter blow for Chelsea going into this tie and will affect the way they set up.
Only Eden Hazard has completed more dribbles this season than Ramires (29) and Willian (28), demonstrating how crucial they are at driving their side forward. The loss of these two players will thus have major implications at both ends of the pitch. Willian is also Chelsea's second most creative player this season, creating 43 chances for his teammates (again only Hazard has created more). Not only have they lost this pace on the break, which is important to instigate swift, cutting counter attacks, but they've also lost defensive stability.
Ramires wins an average of 2.9 tackles per game, and no Chelsea player has won more this season. The Brazilian is the Blues’ midfield enforcer and has been excellent at winning the ball and then driving forward. This midfield steel has been a key factor in Chelsea's solid form and will be a big loss against Arsenal, especially when the midfield battle is always so crucial.
Willian is an attacking midfielder but his contribution is also very good defensively with him having won 35 tackles in just 14 starts. As we can see from Willian's heatmap from the 1-1 draw with West Brom (the last fixture he played 90 minutes in for Chelsea) he works very hard covering a lot of ground up and down the pitch:
Whilst Matic can come in and fill the void in terms of tackling in the centre of midfield (he has won 3.6 tackles per game since rejoining Chelsea) he is not quite as dynamic charging forward as Ramires. In for Willian will be Schurrle, who has been impressive in front of goal with six Premier League finishes in just nine starts. Schurrle though is not as disciplined at tracking back as Willian and thus it will be a weakened Chelsea side who may have to alter their tactics somewhat in what is a must win game for the West London club.
Could Santi Cazorla hold the key for Arsenal?
With the loss of Ramires in mind it may be down to Santi Cazorla to unlock Chelsea's midfield and defence.
The Spaniard has been very good in recent weeks, especially with Mesut Ozil having struggled for form and fitness. In fact only Ozil has created more chances than Cazorla this season for Arsenal. Cazorla has four goals and his 57 shots on goal this season make him Arsenal's second most frequent striker of the ball.
He will be operating in behind Olivier Giroud and will be a player Arsenal look to get on the ball regularly. Against Tottenham last weekend only Mikel Arteta had more touches of the ball than his Spanish compatriot. If he can find pockets of space he can impact the play for Arsenal. In Ozil’s absence Cazorla will be the chief creator and will have to work hard in between Chelsea's back four and midfield to squeeze balls into the forward players and have efforts on goal
Chelsea's tactical approach has been rocked by the absence of Ramires and Willian which means that they will change their tactics to a slightly less counter-attacking formation.
The lack of Ramires may present an opportunity for Santi Cazorla to have his way with Chelsea, as the in-form attacking midfielder will be getting into the areas that Ramires typically tries to marshal.
Neither side will want to lose this game with Manchester City looking strong, so both sides will want the three points, meaning that we could be in for a very exciting encounter at Stamford Bridge.
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