In spite of dropping two points at Anfield on Tuesday, Chelsea still extend their lead on the Premier League table to nine points courtesy of Arsenal 2-1 loss to Watford, therefore condemning Arsene Wenger to carting away the maximum points in today’s London Derby at Stanford Bridge to keep the Gunners title dream alive
Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in September was their heaviest against them since April 1997. They were previously unbeaten in nine Premier League games against Arsenal. This is plenty of motivation for Diego Costa and company to get their own back! Since the Arsenal defeat, Chelsea have only lost one other game as that day at the Emirates heralded a formational change. Chelsea are a different side to the one that arrived at the Emirates and they’ll want to prove their mettle with a win.
Arsenal have not done the double over Chelsea in the same season since 2003/04, the season in which they last won the Premier League. Like Chelsea, Arsenal have plenty of incentive and motivation in order to claim this London Derby.
The defeat to the Hornerts typically explains why Arsenal may not win the title anytime soon. Around this time of year is where Arsenal start to crumble simply because Wenger fails to add extra quality to his fatigued squad. How will Wenger turn this around? HIs job is made doubly hard since he still has to serve two more games in the stands.
It does not take much of a downturn in Arsenal’s form to bring up the subject but Wenger’s future is under the spotlight again after the damaging defeat by Watford on Tuesday.
A victory against Chelsea today is essential now, not just in keeping alive the Gunners’ Premier League title hopes but also in quashing another uprising against Wenger which rises and falls as the team’s fortunes fluctuate.
There are no guarantees in this most unpredictable of divisions but a defeat at Stamford Bridge would leave Arsenal 12 points behind Antonio Conte’s table toppers and almost certainly resigned to lowering their sights on a top-four battle rather than a first league title success since 2004.
Falling out of contention for the title by the first week in February would be a disaster for a manager who has repeatedly stated he will base his self-assessment on his ongoing value to the club based on their ability to compete for the game’s biggest prizes.
Wenger’s contract expires at the end of the season and majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, is keen for the Frenchman to sign an extension. The decision rests solely in Wenger’s hands but fans will question whether that should be the case if Arsenal do, indeed, fall away.
Arsenal’s season is in the balance. A romantic but eminently winnable FA Cup tie against Sutton United provides a degree of optimism but Wenger will be judged and will judge himself on Arsenal’s performance in the League and Champions League.
This campaign is about Wenger, who watched on from the stands on Tuesday night as he served the second game of a four-match touchline ban, proving himself capable of breaking the cyclical failures of past years, that he is capable of creating new successes and not eternally defined by old ones. This campaign is about Wenger, who watched on from the stands last night as he served the second game of a four-match touchline ban, proving himself capable of breaking the cyclical failures of past years, that he is capable of creating new successes and not eternally defined by old ones.
In that context, the familiarity of their shortcomings on Tuesday is especially alarming. They started badly, perhaps showing a lack of respect for the challenge before them.
Watford had won just one league game in nine before kick-off, scoring six goals during that period, but were 2-0 up inside the opening 13 minutes, courtesy of Younes Kaboul’s deflected free-kick and Troy Deeney’s close-range finish.
The opposition were intelligent, disciplined and focused from the outset but Walter Mazzarri’s high-pressing tactics were nothing Arsenal have not faced plenty of times before.
Yet the Gunners made a series of individual mistakes and gifted their opponents the initiative with an anchorless first-half display similar to that against Bournemouth at the beginning of the month. This was arguably worse, and that is saying the least.
At Dean Court, Arsenal were able to salvage something but against THE Hornets, the damage proved irreparable. Alex Iwobi capped the Gunners’ best period of the game with a goal shortly before the hour mark but there was no late onslaught.
The lack of urgency did not reflect well on Wenger, given Liverpool were playing Chelsea at the same time and the chance to position themselves on the heels of the leaders was clear.
However, Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola said the 10-point gap between his fifth-placed team and Chelsea is too much to overcome.
Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte, watched from the stands and must have been impressed by City’s 4-0 demolition of West Ham, but the City boss is of the opinion that he should have nothing to fear.
“He doesn’t have to be too worried about what he saw. They are nine points in front. Only Chelsea can lose the Premier League,” Guardiola said.
“When you see how many games they lost in the last 16 games, normally you can expect they won’t lose many more. In sport you don’t know, but I don’t think we can catch them. “It’s a big mistake when you are 10 points behind to think of Chelsea. We have to qualify for the Champions League first.
We have been inconsistent. After we win we have drawn or lost one or two games.”