Chelsea could take another huge step towards securing a top-four finish this season, as they travel to the Emirates to take on an Arsenal side suffering both on and off the pitch.
Unai Emery’s side have won just two of their last six Premier League games, whilst the fulcrum of Arsenal’s attacking set up, Mesut Ozil, is out of favour and Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey has signed a pre-contract agreement with Italian champions Juventus.
Maurizio Sarri, meanwhile, has been busy reshuffling the ranks, selling two-time Premier League champion and former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas to Monaco, whilst bringing in young American prospect Christian Pulisic form Borussia Dortmund for £57 million – although he will arrive at the club in the summer.
Most recently, Sarri has looked to reinvigorate his misfiring forward line, with the imminent arrival of Gonzalo Higuain on an initial six-month loan deal with an option to buy. The Argentinian forward has worked under the tutelage of Sarri before at Napoli, netting a record high 36 goals in the 2015-16 season, and his arrival should pave the way for Alvaro Morata to move back to Madrid, this time with Atletico following a miserable stint in West London.
A win for Chelsea would see them expand their lead over Arsenal to nine points, all but ruling the Gunners out of contention for the coveted top four positions.
Here’s the XI I think Sarri will pick for the game.
Hasn’t missed a Premier League game all season and doesn’t look likely to do so this weekend.
His attacking game has become somewhat of an issue over recent weeks but if he puts in the sort of mercurial display he gave against Manchester City last month then his spot in the side will be more than vindicated.
Probably the most consistent performer under Sarri this season, he has come on leaps and bounds to take his place as a key fixture and leader in the Chelsea team.
Despite occasional lapses in concentration regarding his positioning and anticipation, he still offers a tremendous amount of composure on the ball, exemplified by his defence-splitting pass into Pedro for the opening goal against Newcastle.
His form has really dipped following Sarri’s decision to move him back to a more traditional left-back, halting the marauding runs that previously made him so dangerous. Despite this, it is clear that Emerson is not trusted, especially in big games. Alonso’s impressive goal scoring record against The Gunners will hopefully pay dividends again, as it did in the reverse the fixture this season.
Sarri’s midfield has chopped and changed this season, with poor form and injury concerns limiting Kovacic, Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to sharing a starting berth. Kovacic’s ability to hold possession and distribute accurately will probably give him the edge over the more unpredictable power and directness of Barkley and Loftus-Cheek.
Struggling to keep up with the pace and rigour of the English game, he has consistently been run ragged by pacy forwards and high pressing tactical systems. His isolation last time out against Arsenal led Chelsea to squander a two goal lead with in a matter of minutes, as he was overrun by a rampant attacking quartet of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang.
Has adapted well to his new position considering the dramatic shift in intent, picking up good attacking positions. Whilst less effective, his energy in the midfield is still a vital component in helping the Blues win back possession.
Scored a cracking goal last weekend against Newcastle to take all three points but nonetheless, his game has become predictable and unproductive, averaging around two shots per game whilst still only amassing three goals and three assists in 21 appearances this season.
The arrival of Higuain will probably come to late for Hazard, who has spoken of his disdain at being played as a false nine in Sarri’s systems. His dropping deep to collect the ball will allow Arsenal’s shaky defence the freedom to push up and man mark runners off the ball.
A consistent goal scoring threat he, like Willian, still needs to make more of his time onthe ball, averaging just under one key pass a game as well as a woefully low 0.3 crosses per 90 minutes.
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