The last time Mikel Arteta stepped onto the Emirates Stadium pitch representing the Arsenal, he had his young boys next to him and said an emotional goodbye to the home crowd on a sunny afternoon back in May 2016. He now makes his return to lead the Gunners out as head-coach and what a homecoming it will be.
Bitter rivals: Arsenal host Chelsea as the Premier League’s two youngest coaches go up against each others in this London derby.
Despite the contrasting positions of these sides, this is an important match to both. The Gunners are looking to move out of the bottom half of the league table whereas the Blues are hoping to maintain their top-four place.
The home side come into the game having fought back from a goal down at Bournemouth for a share of the spoils. However, it felt like a missed opportunity as we created more than enough chances that we just couldn’t capitalized on.
Although we only managed to draw, there were still plenty of encouraging signs as the Gunners displayed the type of philosophy Arteta wants them to play. The defense that has been a cause for concern all season have conceded just one goal in our last two outings, and with the midfield trio of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Mesut Özil all having laudable performances at the Vitality the feeling will be that we are pulling in the right direction.
Now if we stay on this path, keep our focus better and the attackers become just a bit sharper, there’s no reason we shouldn’t see an upturn in results sooner rather than later.
Chelsea come into this game on the back of a 2-0 defeat at home to Southampton. The result would’ve left Frank Lampard a bit red-faced as the fixture pile-up continue to be his side’s undoing after such an impressive start to the campaign, having now lost five of their last seven league matches.
That drop in form has dragged the Blues into a dog-fight with a group of teams for that coveted fourth-spot and Lampard will be well aware that if they don’t see an upswing soon, his side risk dropping down with the points gap so narrow between the fourth and eight-placed teams.
Arteta will view Chelsea’s visit today and Manutd’s on Tuesday as a great opportunity to edge closer to clubs fighting it out for the European competitions qualifying places, ergo his demand of awareness and intensity from the players will be that much higher.
The last time these teams met was the Europa League final in Baku, with Chelsea running out convincing 4-1 winners; a defeat that cost us a Champions League place. Interestingly, of the last seven games against the Blues at home (all competitions), we only lost one (W3, D3). The last four of those encounters we have outscored them 9-3.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos picked up a head injury at the Vitality and will miss out today’s match and the next following concussion protocols. He joins Kieran Tierney, Sead Kolasinac and Rob Holding.
Dani Ceballos, Hector Bellerìn and Gabriel Martinelli could all be back in contention pending late fitness tests. Coming off the bench on Boxing Day, Nicolas Pepe could be handed a start. Xhaka is rumoured to have missed training with talks of a possible exit, if he does go he will be a massive miss at least for the rest of this season.
Given the attacking potential of both sides and their recent history at the Emirates, one could be forgiven for expecting an entertaining game, but with both sides not exactly at the top of their game compounded by the busy schedule… this could get quite scrappy.
Not for lack of trying though as both will be desperate for the win. So this could be one of those enthralling encounters that gets win or lost in midfield.
This being Arteta’s home debut as coach, I keep my fingers crossed the Emirates faithful will makes themselves heard every pass, each tackle, shot at goal and blow of the referee’s whistle.
Get in there Gunners. COYG!