The Big Match Tactical View: Arsenal v Chelsea

Antonio Conte's Chelsea side start as favourites away at the Emirates
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It's a Wednesday night London derby - Michael Cox looks at the tactics and Alan Thompson provides the betting lowdown...

"Chelsea have had an extra day of rest, and barely had to exert themselves in a 5-0 victory over Stoke City anyway."

Arsenal v Chelsea
Thursday 19:45, Sky Sports Main Event
Match Odds: Arsenal [3.0], Chelsea [2.6], The Draw [3.5].

Three-man defences continue to dominate

Arsenal and Chelsea's meetings over the past 18 months have been arguably the most fascinating in the Premier League - and this contest should be another intriguing contest.

In this fixture last season Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners, which prompted Antonio Conte to switch to the 3-4-3 system which eventually carried Chelsea to the Premier League title. Their 3-1 win over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge was a fine demonstration of that system's merits - so much so that Arsenal ended up replicating it, and outgunned Chelsea 2-1 in last season's FA Cup final. The goalless draw earlier in the season at Stamford Bridge, meanwhile, was much more action-packed than the scoreline would suggest, Arsenal again playing 3-4-3 and pressing high up, probably shading the game.

One of the main questions, therefore, is precisely what system Arsene Wenger will use this time around. Having previously turned away from the 3-4-3, that formation has returned for the last couple of matches, and is probably the best solution for coping with Chelsea's onrushing wing-backs.

The problem, though, is that Arsenal have something of a defensive injury crisis, and finding five defenders could prove tricky. Nacho Monreal and Laurent Koscielny are both considered doubtful, with Sead Kolasinac also out. Therefore, it's likely to be a patched-up back four.

Wenger forced into changes

Wenger will take heart from the fact Arsenal defeated Chelsea in the FA Cup final with a similarly second-string defence, however. The hero at Wembley that day, Per Mertesacker, should return to skipper the side with Callum Chambers to his right, and Shkodran Mustafi playing to the left. Mertesacker will need to cope against the speed of Alvaro Morata, which means Arsenal may play deeper than usual.

Out wide, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is likely to play at left-wing-back in the absence of Kolasinac, while Hector Bellerin has little competition for his place and will renew his rivalry with compatriot Marcos Alonso.

The central midfield duo is likely to be Granit Xhaka alongside Jack Wilshere, although Wenger might ne nervous about risking Wilshere with so many games in such a short space of time. Mohamed Elneny or Francis Coquelin could play alongside Xhaka to provide extra protection for the defence - not that Coquelin proved much use in stopping Eden Hazard at Stamford Bridge last season.

Mesut Ozil is a doubt with a knee injury, while Alex Iwobi looked out of sorts against West Brom, so Danny Welbeck - who played well in the reverse fixture - could complete the front three, partnering Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette. Arsenal have generally played well against Chelsea when pressing from the front, but Wenger might decide his forwards are simply too fired, and order them to sit deeper.

Antonio Conte has few selection dilemmas. David Luiz is his only significant injury absence, and the Brazilian hasn't been getting into the side much in recent months anyway. Andreas Christensen is fit again after injury, and will presumably come into the side for Antonio Rudiger, or possibly captain Gary Cahill. Cesar Azpilicueta should continue on the right of the back three, with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso wide.

Hazard likely to start centrally

Then comes Conte's formation decision - he's used both 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 regularly this season, but it's likely to be the latter here. That means Cesc Fabregas starting, although Conte may vary his position, using him either as a deep-lying playmaker or a more advanced midfielder, with N'Golo Kante varying his position accordingly. Tiemoue Bakayoko hasn't performed particularly impressively this season, but has often made dangerous runs in advance of Chelsea's front two in this system, which means Danny Drinkwater might be left out.

The main threat, though, is clearly Hazard. Arsenal have struggled against his acceleration in the past, and this free, central role means he's able to use his speed in behind the opposition defence, which might cause Mertesacker more problems than in the Cup Final.

It's also worth considering the fact Chelsea have had an extra day of rest, and barely had to exert themselves in a 5-0 victory over Stoke City anyway. Hazard and Fabregas didn't even need to come off the bench. That freshness, combined with fewer injury problems, less travelling and the fact Chelsea have kept four clean sheets on the bounce means they start as stronger favourites than [2.6] would suggest, so I'll happily back an away victory.


The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson

Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns on New Year’s eve despite taking the lead in that game, but a very debateable handball in the dying moments gave the home side a penalty to secure a draw.

Chelsea are going well at the minute, unbeaten in five, but they don’t have the best record at the Emirates, winning only one of their last four league visits. Clean sheets is the order of the day for the Blues, they have kept the opposition out in their last four league matches.

The Gunners may be unbeaten in their last six, but they have only won two of those and the lack of any good quality chances on New Year’s eve showed they are struggling to break down defences which could be a major problem in this game. They are though a better side at home, where they have won eight of their 10 fixtures.

Despite the better home record, I was still a bit surprised to see the Over 2.5 Goals market trading as short as [1.8], Chelsea’s obvious love of a clean sheet and Arsenal’s lack of chance creation suggests to me that this may not be a high scorer.

A quick look at the head to heads adds a bit more fuel to fire and shows that this fixture has only produced seven goals in the last six renewals and only two of those six games has had a scoreline over 2.5 goals. I will be backing Under 2.5 Goals @ [2.3].

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