Arsenal face off against Chelsea this Saturday in the Premier League’s marquee weekend match-up. To get some info on our opponents, we talked with Jake Nazar, Chelsea fan and author of the LSU SBNation blog And The Valley Shook. Jake was gracious enough to spare a few minutes to talk with us about this year’s Chelsea squad, why things have been better so far for the Blues this season, and how he thinks tomorrow’s match will shake out.
TSF: Last season was certainly the worst season in the Abramovich era at Chelsea. So far this season, it appears Chelsea is right back to the level they've been the last decade or so with largely the same core group of players as last season. Do you attribute that quick turnaround to Jose Mourinho leaving, Antonio Conte arriving, or a little bit of both?
JN: I'm not sure if we'll ever know what went wrong last season. It probably was a mix of players being not in shape, low on confidence after a poor start, Mourinho kind of losing his mind and some luck. Conte arriving meant, according to the players at least, a grueling preseason and a new boost in confidence. His arrival has probably been the main key, because it meant you wouldn't be getting out of shape, low on confidence players again to start this year.
TSF: How are Chelsea fans enjoying Antonio Conte? Any concerns about him yet or is he still in the honeymoon phase?
JN: I think most people are pretty pleased with him so far, particularly for the passion he shows for everything that goes on in the game. However, there has been frustration over how late it is in the game before any substitutes are made and for some (though not all) over Nemanja Matic playing so much over Cesc Fabregas.
TSF: How would you grade Chelsea's summer transfer dealings and how well have they integrated into the squad so far?
JN: Probably a B+. They maybe could have tried to do some of their business with defenders earlier in the window, but I was happy to see David Luiz back and Marcos Alonso was a good player. But with Kurt Zouma still out and John Terry also picking up an injury, another CB still would have been nice. N'Golo Kante has been terrific and seamlessly fit into the team. And Michy Batshuayi has made a positive impact whenever he's played, which probably should be more.
TSF: Put on your Nostradamus hat. What is Chelsea's XI this weekend and the final scoreline?
JN: I'll go for Courtois; Ivanovic-Cahill-Luiz-Azpilicueta; Kante; Hazard-Matic-Oscar-Willian; Costa. I'm sure there's expectation Fabregas will play, especially after scoring 2 goals against Leicester, but I don't see it away to Arsenal. As for a score...give me 1-1 with a first and second half goal each.
TSF: BONUS QUESTION: Over/Under on red cards Saturday: 1
JN: I'll say right on 1, though I'm tempted to take the over in case of 90th minute shenanigans over something silly.
Thanks to Jake for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’re a fan of college football, the SEC, or LSU, be sure to check out Jake’s work over at And The Valley Shook.