Can Arsenal pass huge test against bogey rivals Chelsea?
The Monday night clash between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates may not be the deciding factor in where the Premier League title is heading, but it will tell us a great deal about the quality and resolve of both London clubs as they prepare for the huge challenges ahead.
Coral go 13/10 Arsenal, 21/10 Chelsea and 23/10 the draw in what is always one of the biggest and most eagerly-awaited fixtures of the season.
A half-term report on The Gunners would be quite complimentary: “excellent work, will go far if can maintain self-belief”, while Chelsea’s might read: “has ability, but needs to focus. Could do better.”
But this is the exam they must both pass if we are continue to take them seriously as title challengers – Coral currently rate them 9/2 joint second favourites for the Premiership behind 11/10 Manchester City.
For Arsenal, it is imperative that they get at least a point out of this following a home draw with Everton, a defeat in Naples (which resulted in a daunting Champions League pairing with Bayern Munich) and a 6-3 thrashing at Man City.
We have seen Arsenal’s bubble burst and fade away too many times in recent seasons for us not to assume the worst when they hit a sticky patch.
And then there’s the Mourinho factor for them to worry about. Arsenal’s record against Chelsea in general is not great in recent years – four wins, five draws and nine defeats in the last 18 games – and Wenger’s head-to-head record against the Stamford Bridge boss makes even worse reading: not one victory in nine encounters.
But even allowing for all the baggage, Arsenal should go into this latest battle confident of a win that would take them back to the top of the table due to the belief that they are the better side.
They may be wobbling at the moment, but Chelsea have hardly impressed all season and are as short as 9/2 for the Premiership more because of the manager’s reputation than on the football they have been playing.
Everybody is looking at this fixture as a crucial test for Arsenal – and it is. But it is also a game which will tell us plenty about Chelsea and I think they may be found out.
Jack Wilshire is missing because of a ludicrously severe punishment for a minor indiscretion and he will be a loss, but Theo Walcott (2/1 to score, 7/1 first or last), is back to help Olivier Giroud up front and they, along with Arsenal’s dynamic and creative midfield, may prove too hot to handle for a Chelsea back-line far more insecure than when Mourinho was last in charge.
Maybe Arsenal won’t last the distance in the Premier League, but it’s far too early to be writing them off yet and I think we can expect a big performance from them on Monday night. Coral’s 3-1 (18/1) and 3-0 (25/1) make appeal.