Chelsea face Arsenal in a crucial Premier League match on Sunday at Stamford Bridge. The London derby is the last match for both clubs before the month-and-a-half long break for the World Cup in Qatar.
Arsenal are atop the league table with 31 points from 12 matches, while Chelsea have 21 from the same number of matches. The Blues might take time to recover from their 1-4 hammering at the hands of Brighton last week, but cannot afford any slip-ups against the Gunners.
Here are three things to watch out for in the match:
Chelsea defense must withstand tremendous pressure from Arsenal
Arsenal quite possibly have the strongest attack in the Premier League, along with Manchester City, and it is not going to be easy for the Chelsea defense to withstand their pressure.
Trevor Chalobah and Kalidou Koulibaly are likely to start as the two centre-backs in Chelsea’s back-four and Marc Cucurella should replace an injured Ben Chilwell.
It might turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Blues as Chilwell has the tendency to get out of position with overlapping runs frequently and Bukayo Saka would relish the opportunity to take advantage.
For its part, Arsenal have a problem of plenty in their attack. Reiss Nelson showed his class in Arsenal’s 5-0 win over Nottingham Forest last week. Hence, Mikel Arteta will have to pick any of Nelson, Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah to play as the centre-forward.
Irrespective of whoever is picked, Arsenal will have a great edge on the flanks, with Gabriel Martinelli and Saka capable of dismantling any defense with their passing and speedy runs. Both Koulibaly and Chalobah will have to be on their toes and cannot afford to play with a high line on Sunday.
Odegaard’s role is crucial in uneven midfield battle
Martin Odegaard will be a key player for Arsenal in terms of ball retention in midfield. Chelsea are likely to start with a 4-3-3 against Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 and the Blues might enjoy supremacy in retaining the ball because of the presence of the likes of Jorginho, Matteo Kovacic and Denis Zakaria – all tough and hard tacklers.
However, Odegaard’s habit of falling back and creating moves from the middle third might help the Gunners in this regard. The Norwegian playmaker’s mobility should definitely be tested on Sunday.
However, since Jorginho will have to give cover to the centre-backs often, both Kovacic and Zakaria should be able to alter the pace of the game with their intelligent distribution.
They should also be ready to play long forward balls to their forwards while Chelsea try to break through rapid counter-attacks.
Chelsea will rely on counter-attacks
As mentioned earlier, the Blues will mostly rely on counter-attacks to break through the Arsenal defense. Former Arsenal player Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be ready to prove a point to his former employers.
Moreover, Raheem Sterling‘s slippery runs from the left flank and Kai Havertz’s ball-skills along with his ability to score goals might mean that William Saliba and Gabriel cannot afford to be relaxed in Arsenal’s defense.
Should Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kieran Tierney both start on Sunday, the Gunners will also rely on their abilities to overlap and play crosses into the box.
Still, it would also mean that there will be enough space inside the Arsenal half for the Chelsea forwards to exploit. It remains to be seen how well Graham Potter’s men are able to do it.