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Pre-Match Briefing: Chelsea vs Arsenal

The final London derby of the season is upon us. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton look in depth at Wednesday’s local encounter…

And then there were three… league games remaining, that is, beginning with the 203rd meeting between Chelsea and Arsenal, London’s two most successful clubs.

Last weekend’s results, including a win at fellow Champions League finalists Manchester City, lifted the Blues above FA Cup rivals Leicester up to third place (until last night), and all remaining targets are still in our own hands.

It is not often the capital’s longest-running top-flight derby is overshadowed, especially with the west Londoners currently excelling in these matches, but with two major cup finals to play over the next three weekends that is always a concern.

Chelsea would do well to remain laser-focused on a maximum haul tonight, though. For all the praise rightly heaped on the Blues recently, the Gunners have earned only three points fewer than their hosts over the past dozen league games.

A maximum of six points from our three remaining Premier League matches will secure a top-four finish for Chelsea.

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Chelsea team news

This month Thomas Tuchel has to balance the immediate target of securing a top-four finish with the desire to keep everyone fit for two huge cup finals. The first of those one-offs is just three days away and the team selected this evening may give an indication of his plans for the starting 11 at Wembley.

Ruled out, but hoping to resume training before the final, are Andreas Christensen and Mateo Kovacic. Billy Gilmour could continue to fill the Kova-sized hole in central midfield, and Thiago Silva or Kurt Zouma may resume at the heart of defence. Under the Bavarian the Blues have managed shut-outs in seven of the past eight league games at Stamford Bridge.

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Arsenal found Villarreal hard to break down last week and the Blues’ defence is very well-organised and pro-active. A standout from the Europa League semi-final losses to the Yellow Submarine club was how well-organised pressing forced errors from Arteta’s men.

We have seen recently know how quickly Chelsea can turn possession gained into chances created, and the Gunners’ full-backs plant themselves very high upfield.

The goals tally under Tuchel would be much greater were it not for mistakes in execution or switching off at vital moments. The Blues had the ball in the net five times at the Etihad on Saturday, but three were put away from an offside position.

Timo Werner was responsible for two of those but is still playing his part: his lay-off for Marcos Alonso took him to 14 assists in all competitions, ahead of Kai Havertz with nine, Mason Mount, eight, Ben Chilwell, seven and Tammy Abraham six.

At 91 minutes and 54 seconds, Alonso’s winner was the latest winning goal by a visiting team at the Etihad since Paul Scholes for Manchester Utd in 2010. It was also our third stoppage-time strike this season to snatch points, after Tammy Abraham at West Brom (3-3) and Olivier Giroud at Rennes (2-1).

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The 21-year-old Havertz scored twice on home soil last time out meaning our summer signings from Germany have had a hand in 43 goals across all competitions. Like Mount he was rested from the City win and both seem likely return to action against the Gunners.

A penalty award for the west Londoners tonight would be historic: our 150th in the Premier League. Out first ever against Arsenal came 25 years ago and was dispatched by Frank Leboeuf for the opener in a 3-3 draw at Highbury in March 1996.

Gunners still a threat

Despite criticism of their disappointing season, Arsenal are no pushovers and they would love to claim a first league ‘double’ against Chelsea since their last title success in 2003/04.

After watching his team beat a lack-lustre Blues 3-1 at Emirates, Mikel Arteta admitted, ‘It doesn’t get any better than that.’ Prior to that derby success he had endured seven games without a win. They currently sit ninth, with no prospect of European football next season.

The Spanish coach has one or two selection worries and 24 hours fewer to rest and prepare for this neighbourly dispute. Former Blue David Luiz has already been ruled out and Emile Smith Rowe limped off on Sunday.

In any case fit-again Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard might have taken the Academy graduate’s number 10 role in Arsenal’s regular 4-2-3-1. Attacking left-back Kieran Tierney and striker Alexandre Lacazette also returned from the sidelines.

At the close of a draining campaign the Gunners remain very potent in front of goal. Superstitious Chelsea fans will have been relieved to see Willian, a serial winner with the Blues, net his first goal for the north of London on Sunday.

Willian breaking his Arsenal duck with a set-piece striker

While Gabriel Martinelli is likely to make way for Lacazette or Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (who remained benched at the weekend), Bukayo Saka, something of a shining light amid the general Emirates gloom, has excelled in Tierney’s absence. The match-up on that flank with Reece James or Callum Hudson-Odoi could be interesting to watch.

Midfield has often been the area where this derby was won or lost. Arteta may revert tonight to the strength of Thomas Partey. Granit Xhaka, if available, or Mohamed Elneny may play alongside him.

Bernd Leno, who has kept one clean sheet in the league since January, is likely to keep hold of the gloves ahead of Matthew Ryan.

Capital gains

Thomas Tuchel has monopolised local bragging rights so far this season and he is the first Premier League coach to win his first four London derbies.

This is Chelsea’s final capital clash of the campaign (Arsenal have one more to fulfil, against Palace). Victory would mean 25 points gained from these fixtures in 2020/21, equalling the most ever in a single Premier League campaign.

That record was set by Jose Mourinho’s back-to-back title-winners in 2005/06, matched by Arsenal in 2013/14, and achieved again by the Blues in 2014/15. Chelsea are also on course to finish as London’s highest-placed club for the 14th time in 16 seasons.

Premier League London derbies 2020/21
PWDLGDPoints per Game
4West Ham10343-21.3
5Crystal Palace9144-100.78

Return of the crowd

The Chelsea ticketing website’s Virtual Waiting Room was greeted like a favourite aunt by some supporters this week. Suddenly a limited number of tickets are available and live crowds will be cheering the boys on at Wembley and at the Bridge next Tuesday, when Leicester visit.

During lockdown many football fans have appreciated what a refuge the like-minded huddle in the stands can be, and the healing that can be gained from being from being a shoulder-to-shoulder as social distancing permits.

Fans were briefly back for two home games in December

No better demonstration of the football panacea has ever been recorded than an incident involving a Chelsea supporter, a shell-shocked World War One veteran, present for Arsenal’s visit to the Bridge a century ago. Unable to speak since suffering PTSD in battle 18 months earlier, the unfettered joy of a vital goal for the Pensioners had him jumping out of his seat and shouting his approval.

Up for the cup

FA Cup final opponents Leicester won at Manchester United yesterday, and will have 24 hours’ more rest than the eight-time winners of the trophy. Brendan Rodgers made few changes to his usual starting 11 ahead of the Wembley showdown.

The chase for European places

Which clubs are in pole position to clinch one of the Champions League places could become much clearer over the next two days. A win for the Blues tonight and Liverpool failing to win at Old Trafford tomorrow would leave Tuchel’s men requiring one point more to secure top four.

State of play
3 Leicester66 points+20 GD2 matches left69 maximum
4 Chelsea6423373
5 West Ham5810367
6 Liverpool5718469

Matchday programme

As ever, a physical copy of the penultimate programme of the 2020/21 season can be bought online for £3.50 plus postage.

Premier League results and fixtures

Man Utd 1-2 Leicester
Southampton 3-1 Crystal Palace

Chelsea v Arsenal 8.15pm (Sky Sports)

Aston Villa v Everton 6pm (Sky Sports)
Man Utd v Liverpool 8.15pm (Sky Sports)