Arsenal’s match with Chelsea tomorrow at the Emirates is an important game. It’s probably the most important game of the Gunners’ 2017-18 campaign, and it could not have come at a worse time. The team is in mediocre form (at best); they’ve taken only 10 of the last 21 points on offer, with five of those matches coming against the current bottom eight. They will be playing on less rest, and they are missing (or may be missing) several key players due to injury.
Sead Kolašinac is the latest addition to the injury report. The Bosnian is expected to miss two weeks after picking up an ankle injury against West Brom. He joins Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, and Santi Cazorla on the “unavailable” list for tomorrow’s match. Laurent Koscielny has a 30% chance to play according to Arsene Wenger. Mesut Özil faces a late fitness test to determine his availability.
With both Kolašinac and Monreal unavailable, expect Arsene Wenger to stick with the 3-4-2-1. Should Koscielny not play, Per Mertesacker is likely to join Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers in the back three. Ainsley Maitland-Niles should return to LWB. Alex Iwobi will likely replace Mesut Özil should he fail his fitness test.
Arsenal’s form, injuries, and fatigue shouldn’t be a problem though, right? They’ve only got to face a Chelsea side that are 4-1-0 with four clean sheets in their last five Premier League matches. Most recently, the Blues put five past Stoke while resting a number of first-choice players. Easy pickings for the Gunners.
Chelsea will only be missing the services of David Luiz, which given his recent performances against Arsenal, may actually be a good thing for them. Eden Hazard and Andreas Christensen are expected to return for the Blues.
As has been the case for the last six weeks, Arsenal are in danger of losing touch with their top four competition. Tottenham are two points ahead and have played the same number of games. Liverpool are six ahead, but Arsenal has tomorrow’s game in hand. Chelsea are seven ahead and have played the same number of games.
Things look bleak for the Gunners. FiveThirtyEight.com has their top four chances at 34% right now. Manchester City are clearly out of reach. A Chelsea win over Arsenal tomorrow stretches their lead to 10 points and probably puts them out of reach as well. That would leave two attainable spots in the top four and three teams ahead of Arsenal by 9, 6, and 2 (plus a game in hand) points.
The stars look to be aligning against Arsenal. With their top four chances dwindling and in desperate need of three points, the injury-stricken Gunners come up against an in-form, rested Chelsea side. A team with its back against the ropes against a big, bad cross-town rival. Sounds like every sports movie ever written.
Let’s just hope that Arsenal are Daniel-san to Chelsea’s Johnny Lawrence, the Mighty Ducks to Chelsea’s Iceland (the second game, of course), the Rocky to Chelsea’s Apollo Creed (again, the second time), Clubber Lang, and Ivan Drago, Wild Thing Vaughn’s Cleveland Indians to Chelsea’s New York Yankees, and not the Miami Sharks to Chelsea’s San Francisco Knights.
WHAT: Arsenal vs. Chelsea
WHERE: Emirates Stadium, London
WHEN: Wednesday, January 3rd, 11:45 AM PT | 2:45 PM ET | 7:45 PM BST
US TV: NBCSN. Stream here.
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