When Chelsea face Arsenal this Saturday, there is far more than usual at stake for such an early season game. For Chelsea, José Mourinho finds himself with very little other option available to him than win. Home advantage will be an important factor for Chelsea, as well as the fact they have not had to endure an away fixture during the week to fulfil their European duties.
Chelsea vs. Arsenal: Already a Season-Defining Game?
The same cannot be said of Arsenal; not only did Arsène Wenger’s men play away in Croatia on Wednesday night, they lost, miserably. Olivier Giroud’s sending off in the first half only sought to further reduce his popularity amongst Arsenal fans as of late. Chances were made, including by Giroud himself before his dismissal, but, overall, it was a game Arsenal were expected to win comfortably and they lost it excruciatingly. Wenger adjudged Arsenal “a bit unlucky”, in spite of how much truth there may be in this, it’s unlikely to be enough to appease Arsenal fans. A win against Chelsea might just be enough to, though.
The Mourinho vs. Wenger Rivalry: An Exaggerated Element of Importance?
Wenger and Mourinho’s rivalry adds an extra element to this game. In the Community Shield match prior to the start of the season, Wenger managed a win over Mourinho, something he is not at all used to. It was a minor confidence boost moving towards the new campaign, but a victory in the league for Arsenal is a whole new challenge.
Last season perhaps saw some of the mental strain take hold of Wenger, as he clashed with Mourinho on the touchline – something Wenger refused to apologise for. More recently, Mourinho opted to shake hands with every Arsenal player after losing to Arsenal in the Community Shield game; the ideal time for the pair to reconcile their differences? It seemed not; they failed to shake hands, with Wenger choosing to ignore Mourinho. In a later interview with Sky Sports, Mourinho claimed “I don’t want to make a story of it”. Despite this, it seems these off-field differences will only add extra incentive for each manager to win.
One-upmanship is certainly appealing. It’s vital also to remember the actual importance of the rivalry between the managers strongly diminishes during the game itself. The responsibly will ultimately fall down to the players. For Chelsea, Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and John Terry (should he start), all have to drastically improve their individual games domestically. Arsenal have managed fairly good results since the opening day defeat to West Ham, but their overall performances have still been questionable and, as a team, improvement will very much be necessary. The two managers will of course be significant come Saturday, but the quality that individual players produce is, and always will be, the most significant factor.
Fabregas and Cech Reunite with Old Alliances
Meanwhile, the sub-plot of Petr Cech playing against his old club adds even further interest and intrigue to the game. He was cheered by both sets of fans when the teams met prior to the start of the season, so, hostility towards him now would be extremely surprising considering all he has done for Chelsea.
The same could be said of Cesc Fabregas for Arsenal, yet it seems some Arsenal fans have an obligation to boo and sneer at Fabregas in a Chelsea shirt (which I consider a great shame). Regardless, it would be the ideal fixture for Fabregas to regain the form which endeared him so much to Chelsea fans when he first arrived at the club. His link-up play with Diego Costa still has the potential to be a deadly threat against Arsenal, which will be an area the Spaniard and indeed all Chelsea fans will be desperate for him to revive. Both Cech and Fabregas possess the power to swing it the way of their team when at their best and both are still eager to show off this attribute for their new clubs. It will be extremely interesting for fans to see which of the pair has the bigger impact on Saturday, as both transfers have been scrutinised heavily, and both players were certainly seen as a significant blow when leaving their respective clubs.
Arsenal’s Failure to be Clinical Could be Their Undoing
Arsenal fans seemed far from relaxed after they saw their team turn over Stoke City 2-0. In fairness, there was absolute justification in this tentativeness to get too carried away by a solitary victory. One startling statistic is that Arsenal have the worse conversion rate of any team in the Premier League this season, (via Mitch Waddon, Squawka). Creating the chances is one thing; putting them away is entirely another.
No doubt there will be those fans angrily retorting that “Wenger should have signed a striker”, and, in truth, this is difficult to argue with. When you look at the situation rationally, genuine world-class strikers were always something of an unrealistic expectation for Arsenal. Despite this, with just Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck classed as ‘natural’ strikers, and the latter being injured, it is fair to say Arsenal should have worked hard to at least show some intent in improving upon this area. It’s also worth noting that this would still leave other positions in the squad open to improvement, too, and, again, it’s disappointing to see that they haven’t been.
The transfer window is, regrettably, now well and truly over. Arsenal now have to make do with their current resources until at least January and, although further additions to Petr Cech would have been more than welcome, there is still a lot of quality in the current squad. Theo Walcott is certainly a player with the spotlight on him, although the somewhat surprising emergence of the fact he has scored 11 goals in his last 11 league starts shows just how effective he still can be. His wasted chances against Stoke were noticeable, but he did manage a goal in that game as well as an impressively taken consolation goal as a substitute mid-week. Clearly, he is doing something right and will certainly be within a chance of a starting spot. Ultimately, Arsenal’s chances in the game boil down to one thing: a major improvement in their ability to be clinical.
Why Neither Team can Truly Afford a Slip-Up
After just six games, it’s rare to see games being adjudged with such a weight of importance. Of course, whenever Arsenal and Chelsea meet, there is an air of anticipation surrounding the fixture. But, on this occasion, there is a clear sense of desperation for both teams to get a result, too. The prospect of Chelsea losing is unthinkable for Mourinho. There is no doubt, despite his success last season, that the speculation surrounding his future would begin to have a genuine weight to it should he lose. For Arsenal, the game offers a chance for redemption straight away after their mid-week failings.
As well as this, the game also offers a chance to prove yet again they can compete with the ‘big teams’ (to not label Chelsea one would still be ludicrous), as well as the already referenced chance for Wenger to alleviate his failures against Mourinho. Both teams have had very little rest after their European clashes, but there will simply be no excuses sufficient enough to justify a negative result on Saturday.