The Big Match

Blues staring down barrel of gunners?

Chelsea are leaking goals, giving Wenger chance to finally win a league tie against Jose

It may be a welcome change for Arsene Wenger.

Normally when Arsenal meet Chelsea, the unflattering statistics concern the Frenchman.

And, indeed, he has never tasted victory in a league game against Jose Mourinho.

Nor has he seen his side score against the Portuguese's teams in this competition since 2007.

Yet, the still more worrying figures relate to Chelsea.

They have conceded at least two goals in each league match this season, making their worst start to a season in 27 years.

Defeat could leave them 14 points behind Manchester City, in the relegation zone and the biggest crisis of Mourinho's managerial career.

A swift, startling decline began at the hands of an old rival but Wenger needs to prove his Community Shield win was not a one-off.

Because while the Gunners kick off in fourth, they can scarcely afford a loss.

The trip to Stamford Bridge is sandwiched by a 1-2 setback to Dinamo Zagreb and a North London derby (against Tottenham in the League Cup), giving the potential for a slump that is spread across three competitions.

Wenger's men still have to convince doubters that they have the mettle to win such season-defining away games.

Managers will be under the microscope. Each, for different reasons, made six changes for midweek Champions League games.

Mourinho is without the injured Willian and Pedro Rodriguez and a manager who favours the tried and trusted faces decisions whether to promote newcomers.

Will the pragmatist gamble? Because radical steps could be required, title-winning talismen turned underachievers dropped.

The imposing 19-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek excelled in Wednesday's 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv. And, given Chelsea's inability to shield their fragile back four this season, he could be selected alongside Nemanja Matic as a second defensive midfielder.

The energetic Ghanaian Baba Rahman made a bright debut at left-back. There are reasons to omit the struggling Branislav Ivanovic in a reshuffle.

Mourinho has refuted Steven Gerrard's claims that there was friction between him and John Terry but it will be instructive if he recalls the captain.

Arsenal are waiting on an ageing centre-back of their own, in Per Mertesacker, but the broader questions are of attitude, not personnel.

They were cavalier and callow at Stamford Bridge 18 months ago when Wenger's 1,000th game in charge ended in a 6-0 humiliation.

They have reasons to be cautious, yet will not likely get a better chance to exploit Chelsea's unusual frailties if they attack.

They have often shared stalemates, albeit at the Emirates Stadium. There is a strong possibility that Mourinho will go back to basics, prioritising a clean sheet and then hoping an out-of-sorts creator like Cesc Fabregas or Eden Hazard can conjure a chance.

Wenger may name more attack-minded players but Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Oezil are all still to score this season.

This would be an opportune occasion to remedy that.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2015, with the headline 'Blues staring down barrel of gunners?'. Print Edition | Subscribe