Neither manager will go gung-ho in search of victory, so this could be a tactical encounter.
For the first time since Graham Potter left Brighton to take charge at Stamford Bridge in early September, Chelsea suffered a defeat last weekend… by the manager’s former employers. It was not any old defeat either: the Blues lost 4-1 at the Amex Stadium, leaving them sixth in the standings and a whole 10 points behind their upcoming opponents at the top of the table.
It was a humbling afternoon for Potter, who received a hostile reception from the same supporters who were hailing him just a few weeks ago. That is the nature of soccer, but Potter will not have been overly perturbed. Anyway, he has bigger things to think about after Chelsea’s winless streak in the Premier League was extended to three matches. The honeymoon period is now over.
Chelsea were second best in every department last time out. Potter said afterwards that the team may need to go through some “pain” in order to fulfill its long-term objectives, and this certainly does not look like a side that is ready to challenge for the major prizes any time soon.
Potter is still getting to grips with the squad at his disposal. It took a while for his coaching methods to bear fruit at Brighton, and although he has continued to promote fluid tactical systems in his new job, there are signs that the players do not understand everything they are being asked to do just yet.
That is only natural, especially as Potter did not have a pre-season to work with his Chelsea charges. He has been overseeing two games per week on average, with the club calendar congested to make space for the World Cup 2022.
But Potter must still get results in the short term even as he looks towards the future. Todd Boehly, the club’s ambitious chairman and co-owner, will want to see Chelsea qualify for the Champions League at the very least.
After a 2-0 defeat by PSV in the Europa League a few days prior, Arsenal bounced back in stunning fashion to thrash Nottingham Forest 5-0 last weekend. It was as comprehensive a victory as you are likely to see in the Premier League, with the relegation-threatened visitors to the Emirates Stadium struggling to get out of their half, never mind into Arsenal’s penalty area.
Not even the most optimistic Gunners fan could have anticipated Mikel Arteta’s men making such a magnificent start to the campaign after a fifth-place finish last time out. Arsenal have won 10 and drawn one of their 12 matches to date; even in their sole defeat, a 3-1 reverse at Manchester United, they were probably the better team.
Yet it could be argued that Arsenal have not had the most difficult start to the season. They are yet to play Chelsea, Manchester City or the high-flying Newcastle United. They have already faced all three promoted teams, plus struggling Leicester City, Southampton (with whom they drew 1-1) and Aston Villa.
In their only away game against a fellow big-six side, Arsenal lost to Manchester United. Their performance that day might have been good, but they ultimately left Old Trafford empty-handed, so it will be interesting to see how they handle this weekend’s trip to Stamford Bridge.
One thing is for sure: a win at Chelsea’s home ground would be a major statement of intent by the Premier League title hopefuls.
Chelsea’s two main shortcomings coalesced in the 4-1 loss to Brighton last weekend. First, the decision to employ Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic as wing-backs left the away team too open on the flanks.
Secondly, the Blues struggled to create clear-cut chances. Potter will be concerned that Chelsea rank a lowly 13th for expected goals this season - below the likes of Brentford, Leeds United and Aston Villa.
That second issue will take longer to fix than the first. Potter is therefore likely to opt for a more defensively solid system when Arsenal make the journey across London for Sunday’s early kick-off. The Chelsea boss will instruct his players to keep things tight in the early stages as they attempt to get a foothold in the game.
In the aforementioned loss to Manchester United, Arteta was punished for going too gung-ho too early. He opened the game up in a bid to get Arsenal back into it, but United had a field day by attacking the empty space that their opponents left behind.
He will not make the same mistake here. Arsenal kept their fifth clean sheet of the season last time out and Arteta will encourage his players to aim for another one here. They might not get it, but we reckon this match will feature under 2.5 goals - make that your selection for the crunch clash at Stamford Bridge.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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