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Hello, hello. Hoping everyone had a good holiday break, for those it applies to. Did you find it hard to forget about Arsenal’s Boxing Day matchup with Chelsea? Honestly, I didn’t, but maybe that has to do with me looking for any reason possible to take a day away from this current Arsenal side’s gloomy predicament.
But, alas, here we are. Arsenal are preparing to face Chelsea almost a year to the day since they played one another with Arteta at the helm for the first time. As you may remember, Arsenal were up 1-0 until the final 10 minutes of the match when Chelsea put in two to steal all three points.
It was a heartbreaking match at the time, but one that left many fans with plenty of positives to takeaway. One year later and Arsenal fans are desperate for positive signs, desperate for results, desperate for goals, and desperate to shuffle away from the relegation ledge. I mean very desperate.
The story feels as though it has remained the same for the last month, just steadily ramping itself up in drama with each passing failure and loss. Now, Arsenal are at the point where they need to reassesses what a successful season looks like, and Arteta is probably fighting for his job. These two aspects won’t matter if there are players unmotivated to be difference makers. It’s on Arteta to identify those players and reduce their playing time.
Conversely, Chelsea sits in 5th place on 25 points, with a buzzing attack that is looking to end the calendar year in the top 4. A win against Arsenal and a result against Aston Villa would go a long way. Chelsea have lost just 3 matches this year in all competitions, but two of them have come in their last three matches. A 1-0 loss to Everton and a 2-1 loss to Wolves.
It’s a frightening match to project predictions on. Arsenal will obviously try to deploy a 3-4-3 shape that plays more like a 5-2-3/5-3-2 without the ball while they try to keep the game close and the margins tight. It’s a similar tactic that led Arsenal to a late season run and FA Cup over Chelsea in the finals.
Everyone is well aware of the final, but the Chelsea side looks very different from that day. Edouard Mendy in net, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz in the attack, a healthy Christian Pulisic who caused all sorts of problems for Arsenal in the final before going down with injury. All of them will be looking to keep their steam engine rolling and add to the +15 goal differential they are boasting.
On paper, it’s a grim looking matchup. It’s made a little bit more grim by the team news that suggest Arsenal MAY be missing booth Thomas Partey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the clash. Thankfully, after taking a hard knock in the 1-4 loss to Manchester City, Gabriel Martinelli posted on social media that he was feeling better and ready to go again. His name is on the team news, but I feel confident in him making another start.
It’s young, hungry, players like Martinelli that Arteta will have to balance his side with. He has made a clear attempt this year to put his faith in the veteran leadership and experience of players like Luiz, Willian, Lacazette, and Xhaka, but it he backfired completely. Willian hasn’t placed a shot on frame since the season opener and seems to get worse with each opponent, Luiz continues to be a toss up but has been losing his time to Rob Holding, Xhaka and Arsenal’s midfield are atrocious, and Lacazette hasn’t been cutting it as a central man, but isn’t skilled enough to play the 10 role he is right now.
Arteta needs to strike a balance of players like Martinelli, Saka, AMN, Willock, ESR, Tierney, and Gabriel while getting more from players like Aubameyang, Partey, and Pepe. He hasn’t come close to doing it so far this season and fans are waiting for him to come to terms with certain players not performing. Will today be the day?