More settled Blues are clear favourites at home

LONDON • Chelsea and Arsenal's new regimes under Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery got off to contrasting Premier League starts last weekend, but today's Stamford Bridge clash between the two clubs will provide a truer test of where the London rivals stand this season.

Failure to qualify for the Champions League sparked big changes at both clubs but, while Chelsea are used to the upheaval of coaches coming and going under owner Roman Abramovich, Arsenal are still adjusting to Emery after 22 years of Arsene Wenger at the helm.

While Sarri has also insisted it will take at least two months to implement the free-flowing attacking style that made him a coach in demand at Napoli, the Blues are already displaying clear hallmarks of his influence with Jorginho acting as the midfield linchpin.

Chelsea are likely to be even stronger at home, with Eden Hazard expected to be recalled to the starting line-up after shining in a 15-minute cameo at Huddersfield.

And Sarri was quick to shoot down any possibility of their star forward leaving, with European champions Real Madrid keen on his services and the Spanish transfer window closing only on Aug 31.

"He has never said to me anything about (leaving for Real). I am sure Eden will be with us for this season," the Italian insisted at his pre-match press conference.

While Hazard may be enjoying a purple patch of form, fellow Blues forward Alvaro Morata is suffering from a crisis of confidence and has yet to shake off last term's malaise, which ultimately led to his omission from Spain's World Cup squad.

TIDE YET TO TURN

Maybe he is low on confidence. He needs to score, as do all the strikers in the world.

MAURIZIO SARRI, Chelsea manager, on striker Alvaro Morata's poor spell which led to him missing out on World Cup selection with Spain.

NO BRAINER

The decision for me is easy. Petr Cech can continue to start the (Chelsea) match.

UNAI EMERY, Arsenal manager, on sticking with Petr Cech in goal.

And Sarri admitted that Morata, who is expected to start with Olivier Giroud not yet deemed match fit after winning the World Cup with France, badly needs a goal, having scored only once in the top flight since Boxing Day.

"Maybe he is low on confidence. He needs to score, as do all the strikers in the world," he said.

The 59-year-old also revealed that loan signing Mateo Kovacic was in line to make his Chelsea bow against the Gunners and ruled out Cesc Fabregas with a knee injury.

"He is not ready now for 90 minutes but, for the first or last 30 minutes, he can be used. I expect a lot from him, he is a very good player and can improve more," he added.

Former Blues manager Antonio Conte won just one of eight meetings with Arsenal, but a quick reversal of fortunes today would suggest Sarri is on the right path.

The early signs, however, suggest that it will take Emery time to stem years of decline towards the end of Wenger's reign.

Emery has opted to keep faith with Petr Cech despite the goalkeeper struggling to play out from the back in the season-opening defeat by Manchester City.

"The decision for me is easy. Petr Cech can continue to start the (next) match," the Spaniard, who also confirmed midfielder Lucas Torreira was pushing for his first start, said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2018, with the headline 'More settled Blues are clear favourites at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe