Heading into match-day one Arsenal had four players sidelined due to COVID-19 and will face Chelsea without six or seven options as fan quickly begin the season looking at the weekly injury reports. Lacazette, Partey, Gabriel, Nketiah, Willian, and Runarsson have all been ruled out for Sunday, but captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is still a possibility. Coming off an opening night defeat away to Brentford and facing an in-form, and reinforced, Chelsea is a massive test for Mikel Arteta’s side.
However, there is hope. Arsenal has signed Martin Odegaard (not yet cleared in time to feature Sunday) and Aaron Ramsdale, which now makes five pieces to strengthen the squad and all under the age of 24. The Gunners return to the Emirates in front of what should be their biggest home crowd since 17 months ago. And despite the differing positions in last season’s table, Arsenal have beaten Chelsea the last three times the two sides have met, including a combined 4-1 scoreline from their Premier League bouts in 2020-21. Can they pull off an unexpected result this weekend?
- Aaron Ramsdale
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
- Hector Bellerin
- Mohamed Elneny
- Pablo Mari
- Nuno Tavares
- Reiss Nelson
- Folarin Balogun
- Calum Chambers
- Left Out: Sead Kolašinac, Cedric, Lucas Torreira & Arthur Okonkwo
- Out: Martin Odegaard (Awaiting visa clearance), Thomas Partey (ankle), Eddie Nketiah (ankle), Gabriel (knee), Alex Lacazette (COVID), Alex Runarsson (COVID), & Willian (COVID).
- Last season Arsenal had some notable success against the top clubs using a back three and wing-backs. Considering Chelsea’s expected lineup, the addition of Lukaku, and Arsenal’s absences, focusing on the defense is Arsenal’s best bet for a favorable result on Sunday. With Xhaka starting in midfield he can drop into the backline at times when Saka joins the attack and utilizing this formation allows Tierney, Saka, and Smith Rowe all to start while also allowing for the defensive structure.
- Arteta still has a number of issues to deal with when putting together a starting XI and trying to create a bench that can provide options (which will be limited for this match). Partey, Gabriel, & Nketiah are injured (with the first two likely starters, if fit), Lacazette, Willian, and Runarsson remain out with positive COVID cases (Lacazette would be ideal up against Chelsea from Arsenal’s current options), and the new creative signing, Odegaard, won’t be fully cleared play in time.
- I’ve moved Holding into the starting lineup in place of Mari, because in a back three I think Tierney works best on the left, White is the best option for the center (could be him or Gabriel in the future), and Holding works best as the RCB in that situation. Rob also had a solid season last year against some of the top Premier League sides - started in the away wins over Manchester United & Chelsea, along with the home draw against United and home victory over the Blues (aggregate scoreline of 5-1 over those four matches).
- Considering this formation, the addition of Elneny over Sambi would be too defensive in my opinion and the young midfield looked solid in his first match for the Gunners. Sunday will be a much different test, but I’d rather invest minutes in him over Elneny who I see purely as depth this season.
- You could go with four different options at right-wing-back. I think Cedric is a functional full-back, but a bit less dynamic than what is needed from a wing-back on the attacking side. Reports indicate that Hector Bellerin is still pushing to take a pay cut in order to leave before the transfer window closes. While Calum Chambers is functional, and after starting week one, may very well be the favorite here. But I believe Maitland-Niles’ best position is at wing-back, and the role that got him into the England squad. Of the four he offers the most flexibility to help out in defense while also linking up with Sambi and Pepe on the right-side flank.
- Up top Pepe and Smith Rowe are locks to start. Balogun wasn’t able to make an impact in his first start and Martinelli’s movement will trouble Chelsea’s backline more than what Folarin can offer at the moment. He and Nelson are better off as options from the bench on Sunday. Which then leaves us with club captain Aubameyang. After missing the last match due to COVID, he has tested negative and is back in training. However, not knowing his fitness at the moment it’s hard to put him in against Chelsea from the start. Instead, utilize him for the last half hour for Martinelli.
How to watch
Sunday (8/22) at 11:30 am ET / 8:30 am PT on NBCSN.
Arsenal - 1
Chelsea - 2
Arsenal are back this weekend in front of a packed Emirates for the first time in a year and a half. Regardless the result on Sunday or who is absent. Hopefully, the place is loud and back the team throughout the match. The Gunners have made five signings (GK, AM, RB, CM & CB) this summer, all under the age of 24, as the club takes the next step toward rebuilding the squad and re-establishing itself as a Premier League top-four contender.