The Big Match

Football: Gunners will be hit by the Blues

Champions, with Stamford Bridge edge and more rest, should prove too good for Arsenal

Arsenal's English defender Rob Holding (centre) goes up for a header during the English FA Community Shield football match between Arsenal and Chelsea, on Aug 6, 2017.
Arsenal's English defender Rob Holding (centre) goes up for a header during the English FA Community Shield football match between Arsenal and Chelsea, on Aug 6, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

It is rare that two clubs meet when each could deem the other as a bogey side. This might be that unusual occasion.

But for Arsenal, Antonio Conte would have won two more trophies. Chelsea suffered Wembley disappointment in both the FA Cup and the Community Shield, yet Arsenal invariably leave Stamford Bridge feeling frustrated.

They usually depart aggrieved. Tomorrow, they go to a graveyard of their ambitions.

And, despite their recent triumphs and Arsene Wenger's record of three successes in four games against Conte, it is hard to imagine a worse fixture for the Gunners.

Successive home wins may have heralded a revival following their capitulation to Liverpool. They may have only delayed inquests into their troubles.

Arsenal have beaten Chelsea either side of the summer break, but if last month was arguably a good time to face the champions, this appears a bad one.

They responded to their opening-day defeat by Burnley by beating three of the division's potential top-eight finishers, in Tottenham, Everton and Leicester.

They walloped Qarabag 6-0 and, while there are questions about how they will cope with the extra workload the Champions League provides, those will not be answered this week.

Alvaro Morata and David Luiz did not face the Azerbaijani side in midweek. Pedro Rodriguez, N'Golo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta were taken off early. Eden Hazard was eased back into action with a half-hour cameo.

It will be intriguing if Conte unleashes the Belgian from the off, just as it will be instructive if Alexis Sanchez, fresh from a glorious goal against Cologne in the Europa League, is chosen.

A common denominator has been the absence of their premier match-winners. They have one league start between them, made by the Chilean in the 4-0 defeat at Liverpool.

Yet if he comes into Arsenal's side, who drops out? Danny Welbeck may seem the logical candidate but he scored twice against Bournemouth. Alexandre Lacazette was surprisingly benched at Anfield. Mesut Ozil has been criticised for wretched showings in marquee away games but Wenger never seems to drop the German.

Arsenal have other issues. While Thursday's win over Cologne was secured by a weakened team, they have had 48 hours less to prepare.

Wenger seemed to be copying Conte when he introduced his 3-4-2-1 formation and Arsenal sprung an upset by playing it better in the FA Cup final.

Yet Arsenal were ragged at Anfield and required a half-time formation change to beat Cologne.

Now, if their Wembley hero Aaron Ramsey gets ahead of the ball again, Arsenal risk being overpowered by Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko.

Chelsea may dominate in the centre of the pitch. That could be dangerous.

Chelsea have won the last five meetings at Stamford Bridge by an aggregate score of 15-2. Despite their Wembley glory, the omens are worrying for Arsenal.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2017, with the headline 'Gunners will be hit by the Blues'. Subscribe