A rsenal won both of their Premier League matches against Chelsea last season, last winning three in a row against the Blues in the competition between January 2003 and February 2004. A shock statistic when one considers the current trajectory of both clubs and Arsenal's general record against the Blues in the past two decades.
Reports indicate that Martin Odegaard may feature against Chelsea having confirmed his £30m transfer to Arsenal. The Gunners rather like United can be notorious for delaying the registration of players but ultimately this is positive news for the down trodden Gooner faithful. Whilst the Norwegian 'Messi' did not exactly set the world alight last season, he showed a base level of competence and creativity in possession and an admirable work rate which is in short supply at the Emirates right now.
The only issue is that his best position is where one of their stand-out performers features... Emile Smith-Rowe. Which raises question marks about Arsenal's transfer strategy and whether they have adequately gauged the weaknesses with their current side and identified what appropriate solutions there are out on the market.
As for Chelsea, they welcome back the ever-polemic Romelu Lukaku. He seems to have a different air to him since he last set foot on English shores, having successfully established an international reputation with Belgium and earning his stripes for Inter Milan. Yet there still remain doubts as to whether he is as good as he now likes to think he is. One thing is for sure, Chelsea's set up is tailor made to get the best out of the beastly Belgian and he will have no excuses if this does not work out.
Selection wise, Arsenal are missing: Lacazette and Aubameyang through a 'mystery' illness, Thomas Partey (Ankle), Gabriel (Knee) and Chelsea are missing Ziyech (Shoulder) and Loftus-Cheek (Covid). They may also be missing N'Golo Kante who has an ankle injury.
Anyway without further ado, lets dive into the tactical analysis for this pivotal London derby!
Arsenal were caught out at times against Brentford when seeking to build up play. There were a number of factors which led to the breakdown of their build up. Firstly Callum Chambers is a major downgrade to Hector Bellerin in the possession stakes and the game rarely progresses once he touches the ball.
He averages 96.6 yards of progressive distance per game versus 121.1 yards for Bellerin, 3.47 progressive carries per game versus 5.72 for Bellerin. Putting the stats aside for a moment, just from the eye test we can see he is more cautious and shaky in possession. A failed centre back attempting to operate as a make shift right back - not acceptable in the modern game.
Chelsea will therefore be looking to press in a way where Ben White is prevented from switching the play from the deep right half space as he does so well and force him to pass out wide to Chambers which should trigger an almighty press, cutting off his passing options. What Chelsea do not want is for Tierney to see a lot of the ball, as he is capable of matching Bellerin in the progression stakes.
Another key issue that Arsenal have in their build up strategy is Leno. He just does not transmit an aura of invincible confidence in possession and when the going gets tough, the German tends to melt. His heart is in the right place, as he does try to play out but his execution and intelligence of when and where to pass it is suspect. This encourages opposing teams to deploy an aggressive press as you know at some stage Leno will fluff his lines.
Now for some positives. In Lokonga, Arsenal have signed a player who has a very natural understanding of how to find pockets of space in deeper lying areas and one who possesses the technical adroitness with which to turn away from danger and transition the ball out of the defensive third. Xhaka too can do this but has a greater tendency to fall asleep and make an unforced error - but in theory, Chelsea will have their work cut out to stop these two being influential especially if Kante is out. Mount and Kovacic will be vital.
Arsenal's failure to rejuvenate their attack this summer with some big attacking signings has been borderline criminal. The 'Aubamazette' project has run its course, with neither player really having the willpower to take Arsenal back to the promised land. What this transitional club and a young manager needed is someone to pull up their sleeves and carry this club on their back... some proven electrifying match winners. Arsenal just do not have that in their ranks at the moment.
Against a low block, it is difficult to see how Balogun will present a potent threat against Chelsea's rather physically adept back 3. He is a neat and tidy player, but does a lot of his best work in front of defenders and does not really stretch them. He is not really a deadly 1 v 1 threat when running at defenders and I would not be surprised if Lacazette returns to the starting lineup before long.
Pepe is probably Arsenal's biggest threat against the low block and if he isolates Alonso, he will certainly have moments where he beats his man. The only issue is, what can he do with it after he's beaten the man? It is unlikely a side as well drilled as Chelsea will allow him shots on goal when he cuts in, and Chambers' inability to get on the overlap will not pull away any defenders from him. And if he goes down the outside and puts a weak foot cross in, is Balogun going to win anything in the air?
On the opposite flank, if Saka and Tierney start then Chelsea have their work cut out. However if Azpi and Mount feature, there could be enough work rate and tactical discipline there to try and neuter that threat. There also remains the issue that both are not inverted players down that side and the most they can do is put crosses in. Against Brentford, 18 out of 23 crosses came from Arsenal's left flank and to no avail. One has to question the merits of that strategy?
In central areas, only Smith-Rowe will support the forward as Xhaka and Lokonga get a nosebleed if found in the final third. On paper Smith-Rowe could have the beating of Jorginho as physically he is incredibly dynamic and has started the season and pre season in fine fettle. Chelsea would be advised to keep an eye on him as he could be Arsenal's biggest threat.
If Arsenal go with a 3-4-3, like the one I suggest further down the piece, facing a low block will still be difficult as there are still no stand out box presences for this Arsenal side no matter what formation you use. Having said that, with a 3-4-3, the likes of Martinelli and Pepe are let off the leash from defensive duties and find pockets of space with greater ease. Expect tap ins at the far post being a theme if this lineup does click into gear.
Chelsea tend to take possession quite seriously and Tuchel's side often average more than 60% possession. One of the pivotal elements of that strategy is that the back 3 are heavily involved in recycling the ball from side to side inside the oppositions half. This does lend itself to a lot of space in behind for the opposition to exploit. Unfortunately, their wide centre backs tend to defend counter attacks very well.
Against Crystal Palace, Chalobah at times was left 1 v 1 against Zaha with the entire half for him to defend. He defended brilliantly, delaying the Ivorian and giving his colleagues the time to get back into a more impenetrable defensive structure. The key being the fact that his athleticism makes it less likely for the opposition to just run at him and eat up yards.
On the left, Rudiger is of a similar mould but has a tougher task due to Alonso or Chilwell's more aggressive positioning. At times he has to operate at left back, such is their willingness to get forward. If Pepe finds himself 1 v 1 against Rudiger it will be an intriguing battle. Pepe has the skillset to disarm any defender but at the same time if he's having an off day, any defender can disarm him. For Arsenal to do well, he will need to drive at Chelsea and cause havoc.
Smith-Rowe has the energy and speed to lose Jorginho in the transition. Because he can play down both sides and through the middle, that means Jorginho will find it difficult to shepherd him down a particular side if he gets forward on the counter. The presence of Kante to protect Jorginho would have been vital but Kovacic if he plays will need to put a shift in.
If Arsenal use a 3-4-3, I expect them to present a much superior threat in the transition. If the likes of Tierney and Saka or Maitland-Niles are deployed as wing backs, I believe they have the two way energy to pose a tactical problem for Chelsea especially if the ageing Azpi and Alonso are utilised. Then if you select Pepe and Martinelli against their side centre backs, it will prove to be an exciting duel... will be a difficult battle to call, but on paper there is no reason why Arsenal could not be a threat.
Chelsea's three CB's spread equidistantly across the 18 yard box and their wing backs, especially down the left push up high in order to receive the ball. They're a side that in general makes very few errors in the build up, regularly achieving less than 10 ball losses in their own third. Having said that, against a side like Man City they were susceptible to losing the ball often to an extreme high press.
Arsenal based on their recent display against Chelsea, sat off and did not press. They had a PPDA of 18, and their focus was more on frustrating Chelsea and hitting them on the break. It could be that after a harrowing loss to Brentford, Arteta's instinct will be to protect against a potentially devastating loss and seek to win it on the counter. It does make sense considering his defensive vulnerabilities and the fact his team is unlikely to unlock Chelsea in a low block situation.
Chelsea have a lot of options in the final third, but it seems Lukaku seems set to start and make his second or third debut for Chelsea (I am losing track). This will help Chelsea in breaking down low blocks as Werner was terrible in those situations and only seems to come alive in transitional scenarios. Another key selection choice could be Kai Havertz. His aerial presence could be a game changer against this rather frail central pairing for Arsenal.
If Arsenal do deploy a 3-4-3, they will be difficult to break down in central areas. For all the criticism levelled at Arteta, he has proven on a number of occasions that he can turn the tables against stronger sides and get his Gunners side to put in resolute defensive performances.
For what it is worth, Chelsea do not really have anyone operating as a 10 and they do not take many shots from the centre of the pitch and thus the key will be the likes of Lokonga and Xhaka protecting the half spaces and being mindful of curled shots from these locations.
If Arsenal adopt a defensive strategy and play 3 at the back, they will be less vulnerable on the counter. If they do not, then Pablo Mari could be exposed against a Lukaku who will be keen to mark his return with a bang. The Belgian has an awful record against the Gunners, scoring 2 in 15 games but this is a different animal and against a rather powderpuff opponent, he would fancy himself to make mincemeat of him.
Tierney is so integral to Arsenal's attack that he simply has to be allowed to bomb on. Whilst he does have the discipline and engine to get back, there are bound to be opportunities for Chelsea to pull Mari out wide and run at him 1 v 1. Xhaka coming across to the left may mitigate this risk to a degree but ultimately he will be a weak link and deploying a back 3, may be the best chance Arsenal have of protecting him.
For me Arsenal are at their best when they play defensive football especially in these bigger games. A 3-4-3 is a must and it needs to be jam packed with pace and work rate in the front three. The Gunners best assets are players like Saka and Tierney in the wider positions as both players can handle defensive and attacking tasks with aplomb. With Chambers putting in a shocker against Brentford and no stand out right back candidates, Saka as a right wing back is the most viable stop gap solution.
In midfield, I would like to see some more legs in there in the absence of Partey. Arsenal need to rehabilitate Lucas Torreira - even if it is for a season - and bring him back into the fold. He is an all-round footballer and needs to be cajoled into operating at his best. He would give Arsenal the ability to break and join in with the transition, something Xhaka cannot do outside of initiating counters by passing from deeper areas.
Up front, I would play without a centre forward and use Smith Rowe as a false 9. This will seduce Chelsea's back three to push higher, and then against the wide centre backs I would deploy Martinelli and Pepe to take them on 1 v 1. Will they win every duel? of course not, but both of them have the skill and dynamism to create openings and will be a handful. At the moment Arsenal lack and out and out centre-forward outside of Lacazette and for me this is the best makeshift solution.
If Arteta has shown us anything in his brief career to date is that he can never be underestimated when a big game comes around the corner. His Arsenal side seems to come alive in the big games and show a tactical rigour and endeavour that is rarely present in their run of the mill weekly encounters. He also has a tendency to switch up his tactics and match up well to his 'superior' opponents.
Having said that, missing players like Partey, Aubameyang, Gabriel and the possible non selection of Bellerin means that Arsenal's ability to sit tight and counter is compromised. It is difficult to see how Balogun will benefit from that strategy. Will Odegaard sign in time? There are a lot of question marks but with Arsenal you can never write them off.
As for Chelsea, this will be a more tactically robust lineup than the one which faced Arsenal towards the end of last season. Tuchel will be itching to put one over Arteta, one of the few managers who seems to have had the tactical beating of him. His faith in Lukaku may be misplaced but if it proves to be justified, that could prove to be the turning point in this encounter.Prediction… If Arsenal are to win, they have to go with a radical 3-4-3 with bold team selections otherwise it looks like a risk-free win for Chelsea.