Wenger hunts first league win over Mourinho in Chelsea vs. Arsenal
Arsene Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho in the Premier League but may never get a better opportunity to do so than this weekend. Chelsea have started the league season in wretched form, while Arsenal will need to bounce back following their Champions League woe in Zagreb on Wednesday.
The Frenchman, meanwhile, finally chalked up his first-ever win over his Portuguese adversary in August when Arsenal beat Chelsea in the Community Shield.
Phil Lythell (Chelsea) and Tom Adams (Arsenal) preview the action at Stamford Bridge as Wenger goes in search of a first Premier League win against Mourinho.
This is the best time to play Chelsea, right?
Tom Adams: Yes, in a word. Arsenal haven't had an opportunity like this for some time. Mourinho had not lost back-to-back Premier League matches in nine years prior to the past two matches against Everton and Crystal Palace and there is no question that Arsenal find Chelsea at their lowest ebb for some time.
Chelsea's 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv took the edge off their cataclysmic season in much the same way a plaster takes the edge off a badly gashed knee. Chelsea are one place above the relegation zone -- read that back again -- and Mourinho has been defending his record in football this week with the air of a man under some pressure.
You could hardly wish for more favourable circumstances, especially with Pedro and Willian both expected to miss out with injury, although this being Arsenal, and this being Mourinho vs. Wenger, caution must be urged. The Community Shield was Wenger's first victory against this particular foe and the deeply one-sided history of his tussles with Mourinho suggests it will be another difficult 90 minutes, irrespective of Chelsea's dismal form.
Phil Lythell: It's hard to disagree with Tom. It is also hard to remember the last time Chelsea went into a big game under so much pressure at home with much of the smart money being placed on an away win. Poor form and injuries have seen the Blues begin this season a world away from their title-winning high and Arsenal fans could be forgiven for licking their lips in anticipation.
Nevertheless, the visit of Arsenal always seems to galvanise a Chelsea team, especially one led by Mourinho. Wenger might finally have defeated his Portuguese nemesis in the Community Shield though he is still yet to do so in a competitive match. While Chelsea might have been well below par, the thumping win over Maccabi Tel Aviv saw some rhythm finally injected into their play and it was possible to see the players visibly growing in confidence as the game progressed.
For their part, Arsenal have hardly been terrifying opponents this season and are fresh off the back of a 2-1 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in midweek. The journey back from Croatia, having played much of the contest with 10 men, will not have been an ideal preparation for what is always a feisty affair.
Where will this one be won and lost?
TA: The unpredictable nature of the Chelsea XI makes this hard to predict. Will Mourinho retain his faith in the two young players who impressed against Maccabi -- Baba Rahman and Ruben Loftus-Cheek -- or revert to type and restore his creaking old guard?
If he errs on the side of caution and restores Branislav Ivanovic at right-back then it is not hard to foresee a situation in which Alexis Sanchez will become the latest left-sided attacker to take him apart this season; a process which begun on the first day of the season when he melted in the presence of Swansea's Jefferson Montero.
Likewise, if Nemanja Matic comes back into the equation after being dropped against Maccabi and doesn't improve on his disappointing recent performances, then Arsenal's legion of clever little attackers will survey with some relish the dysfunctional deep midfield partnership of the Serb and Cesc Fabregas.
PL: Midfield is the key area. As it always is against possession-loving Arsenal, careful use of the ball will be important so the hosts will need to improve in this area.
Despite getting back nearer to his usual self against Maccabi, it would be a surprise to see Fabregas deployed in a deep midfield role given how easily he is bypassed as a defensive cog. Matic's season has not been great, although not as bad as Tom suggests. Matic was much better in the 3-1 defeat at Everton last time out and he has generally enjoyed playing against the Arsenal midfield so he is expected to rise to the challenge.
Tom's assertion that Sanchez will be delighted if Ivanovic is selected by Mourinho is bang on the money. The Serb is horribly out of form, so given Rahman's impressive debut in the Champions League, Mourinho will hopefully be tempted to stick to the full-back pairing he selected on Wednesday.
Combined Chelsea/Arsenal XI
PL: Cech; Bellerin, Terry, Koscielny, Azpilicueta; Matic, Cazorla; Sanchez, Oscar, Hazard; Costa
This team consists only of those available for selection otherwise Thibaut Courtois and Pedro would have excellent shouts of being included at the expense of Petr Cech and Oscar.
TA: Cech; Bellerin, Koscielny, Cahill, Azpilicueta; Coquelin, Cazorla; Sanchez, Ozil, Hazard; Costa.
This is based on players who are available for the weekend and their current form, otherwise the sidelined Courtois and underperforming Ivanovic, Matic and John Terry would easily find a place having excelled during the title-winning campaign in 2014-15.
How important is this one in the context of the season?
PL: This match would be huge for Chelsea even without the current travails that have enveloped the club. Arsenal are the club that Blues fans love to beat more than any other and are therefore the most painful to lose to. Mourinho feels exactly the same way, which not only endears him even further to the supporters but also means that his team are always up for the fight irrespective of current form.
A victory would get Chelsea's season back on track and provide a real shot in the arm for the players who have heavily underperformed to date and have been criticised immensely as a result.
With Chelsea's Premier League fixtures looking slightly easier over the next few weeks than they have been until now, three points could supply the springboard for a positive run that could drag them up the table into a more familiar position.
TA: A defeat to Chelsea on Saturday would be enough to send Arsenal off into another spiral of doubt and recrimination. In this sense it is a vital match in terms of Arsenal's confidence, momentum and self-worth.
Win at Stamford Bridge and Wenger's men won't just be celebrating a victory over the team placed 17th in the table, but also the symbolic lifting of a curse which has hung over them for so long.
Why will you win this one?
TA: Resting six players and losing to Dinamo was a pretty inexplicable move by Wenger and highlighted the weakness of some of Arsenal's supporting cast. But it also brought into focus how essential the likes of Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin have become to the team. At full strength again on Saturday, Arsenal can be reassured that the level of their performance will rise considerably.
There is also Theo Walcott to consider. He can be easy to negate at times, but with four goals in three games for club and country, he is undoubtedly running high on confidence.
PL: Breaking quickly and efficiently will be important so it will be interesting to see whether Eden Hazard can improve on his decent second-half showing against Maccabi and take the final step to becoming the player he was last season. If Hazard and Costa can continue their rehabilitation then the Blues can nick this one.
TA: Chelsea 0-1 Arsenal. Neither side at their most fluent, but Walcott to make the difference.
PL: Chelsea 1-1 Arsenal. Chelsea to sit deep in a game of few chances with both teams settling for a point.
Have your say on #FCdebate -- who will finish higher, Chelsea or Arsenal?