NERVE will be providing live coverage of the Premier League’s early kick-off between Chelsea and Arsenal on Saturday, a contest that has grown to become a hostile affair, writes Michael Cox.
Though never considering each other primary rivals, since the turn of the century, key battles between Arsenal and Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea have spawned a contemporary bitterness between the two clubs.
Arsenal’s FA Cup final triumph over the Blues in 2002 laid the base for preliminary acidity, and Chelsea quickly gained revenge in the 2003/04 season, knocking Arsene Wenger’s side out of the Champions League quarter-final stages with a 2-1 second-leg win at Highbury, with the first finishing a 1-1 draw.
From the begrudged transfers of Ashley Cole and Cesc Fabregas, to Jose Mourinho handing Arsene Wenger – antagonising an already strained relationship – his largest margin of defeat whilst in charge of the Gunners (6-0, 2014), this fresh black blood lives within the evolving DNA of Arsenal and Chelsea supporters, and Saturday’s clash has all the attributes to form another classic.
Despite Antonio Conte’s new look Chelsea seemingly as tough as any team to crack in English football, Wenger may quietly be glad Mourinho is not around in the Blues dugout anymore, as the Frenchman has won just one of the pair’s last 16 meetings.
Ironically, it could be argued Arsenal’s best performance in the Premier League this season came in October when Chelsea visited the Emirates, sweeping aside Conte’s men within 30 first half minutes. It was a defeat that birthed the four-time Premier League champions’ 3-4-3 formation switch, a tactic change that has seen Chelsea equal the record for most consecutive top-flight victories (13), previously held by a certain North London club.
A blip against Tottenham at the Lane offers a glimmer of hope for Arsenal entering this fixture, but Chelsea have since – without Diego Costa – dispatched Premier League champions Leicester on the road, whilst rallying to a 2-0 victory over improving Hull.
And as talisman and coach complete their final relationship reparations, there seems to be no stopping this resurgence, and many are figuratively carving Chelsea’s name on the trophy.
Arsenal enter this game on the back of a 2-1 home defeat to Watford, but it’s their recent incompetence in starting games sluggishly that could punish the Gunners when they visit the Bridge this weekend.
January hasn’t been a friend to North London fans in need of monitoring their blood pressure; 2-0 down against Watford after 15 minutes, a last minute leveler against Bournemouth after trailing three down for over an hour and late goals to claim victory over Preston and Burnley have led to questions marks about whether Arsenal are preparing for competitive fixtures adequately. All six of the goals in the four mentioned matches were conceded before the half time break.
It’s the opposite of how they currently break from the traps that secured the Emirates victory earlier in the season, and if Arsenal fail to change their spots, Chelsea will take another giant step to becoming crowned Premier League champions this term.