Premier League Tactical Preview: Chelsea v Arsenal



Sunday's lunch time kick off sees Arsenal travel to Chelsea, following a disappointing home defeat to Manchester City last weekend. Arsenal currently sit eight points behind Chelsea in the Premier League and six points off fourth-placed Spurs. Chelsea go into the game as clear favourites at 1.80 for the win, with Arsenal at 4.50 and the draw at 3.50. Chelsea's inability to hold onto a 2-0 lead against Southampton in midweek will certainly encourage the visitors, however.

Probable line-ups

Chelsea will likely go with a variation of the 4-4-1-1 that Benitez has been using of late. I can see Ramires playing wide right, meaning that Frank Lampard and David Luiz will probably be paired at the base of the midfield. Terry is also expected to come back into the side, which could see Ivanovic moved to right-back.

Theo Walcott will probably continue up front for Arsenal. Per Mertesacker will likely continue to partner Thomas Vermaelen at the heart of the defence. Mikel Arteta is injured, so Abou Diaby will continue alongside Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla in midfield.

Midfield battle

The absence of Arteta is of critical importance. The Spaniard is the league's top passer with an average of 85 per game, and is responsible for linking the play and plugging gaps, which allows other players to advance forward. Diaby offers a more physical option in that area, but doesn't have the technical prowess of Arteta. Wilshere looks to be getting close to top form, however: he produced a match-winning performance against Swansea.

Ramires and Lampard weren’t great against Southampton, so Luiz's move back into midfield could be key. He'll be tasked with dominating the space where Cazorla likes to operate. Lampard's lack of mobility could be a problem if speedsters like Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain come inside to join Cazorla.

Juan Mata, as ever, will be Chelsea's fulcrum. His heat map against Stoke demonstrates the sort of areas he drifts into:


The Spaniard floats across the middle third of the pitch, making him difficult to pick up. Much will depend on whether Diaby and Wilshere can marshall him effectively.

The battle out wide

Playing Ramires wide gives Chelsea cover at right-back, whilst providing more balance overall; Oscar, Hazard and Mata do not offer enough defensively when used together. Ramires will offer a solid and industrious performance from the right and will be more than capable of tracking Podolski and Gibbs, something that Oscar may struggle with. On the other flank, Hazard also has a key role to play, having stepped up his game massively in recent weeks. These areas are arguably were both teams are weakest in a defensive capacity, but also most threatening when going forward.

Two different striking options

Walcott and Demba Ba are two very different centre-forwards. Walcott will look to run into pockets of space and run in behind defences, as well as looking to drift into the channels. His movement might be a problem for Chelsea if they defend too high up the pitch, given that neither Terry or Cahill possess great pace to track him in behind.

Having scored his third goal in four games for Chelsea on Wednesday, Ba is almost certain to start ahead of the misfiring Torres. Ba is much better suited to a fixture such as this, with Mertesacker lacking mobility and Vermaelen looking more error prone than ever. A tussle between Ba and the two Arsenal centre-backs will be fascinating, with Ba also providing a good long ball outlet; he won five headers against Stoke, more than any other player apart from Kenwyne Jones.

Conclusion

Chelsea are certainly favourites for this tie. If they beat Arsenal they will open up an 11-point lead on the North London club - surely insurmountable even at this stage. Whilst a title challenge looks beyond Chelsea, comfortably securing third would mark an improvement on last season’s sixth-place finish. Putting breathing space between themselves and the chasing pack would also alleviate pressure on Benitez. If Arsenal overload the midfield we may see Chelsea try to strike on the break out wide, which could in turn leave them exposed as they were against Southampton. Whatever happens, this should be a great match.