After a hugely successful October, Arsenal have a handful of matches before the World Cup break at the end of the month. With major wins against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool and wins in all but two of the nine matches across the month, Mikel Arteta and the Gunners are hoping to ride that wave of success that kept them atop the Premier League through a less congested (but no less important) November.
The Gunners have little time to rest on their laurels, as they take a short bus ride to Stamford Bridge on Sunday to take on rivals Chelsea.
What a difference a year can make. At this point last season, Arsenal were 5th and finally making up ground following their awful start to the season, while Chelsea, led by Thomas Tuchel, were atop the table, three points clear of eventual champions Manchester City. Having just won the Champions League the previous season, things were good in the blue side of London.
Fast forward to now, and it’s the Gunners, improbably, on top. On top of the league, on top of their Europa League group, and on top of the world, while Chelsea, having sacked Tuchel and hired Brighton’s Graham Potter in early September, are 10 points behind the league leaders, sitting in 6th and winless in their last three. But the unraveling had been taking part well before the season began.
While the wildly successful Roman Abramovich era ended in ignominy, Chelsea eventually found a new owner in American Todd Boehly. Like the new guy saddling up to the Big Boy table in the casino, Boehly proceeded to splash his money around during a wild summer transfer window, breaking the bank and spending over €280m on transfers, including the likes of Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, and some old guy from Barcelona named Pierre Emerick Aubameyang.
Much to Chelsea’s chagrin (and everyone else’s enjoyment), those transfers have not lead to the kinds of results they’d hoped for. Despite the new players, the new owner, and the new manager, Chelsea have looked, well, a little like Arsenal did a few years ago - disjointed and lacking identity - but with a larger bankroll. Through 12 matches, they have only managed to win half of their matches while splitting the other six with three draws and three losses.
To their credit, it hasn’t been entirely due to a lack of ability. Compounding their bad run of luck has been injury issues, with the Blues facing as many as five injuries ahead of Sunday’s London derby. Reece James, Ben Chillwell, and Wesley Fofana look like they will miss the World Cup with injuries, and Matteo Kovacik and Kepa could be game-time decisions.
Arsenal, however, are nearing full health for the squad for the first time in a while. Mohammed Elneny’s long awaited return to action on Thursday was a welcome sight, and, if not for an unexpected injury sub to Takehiro Tomiyasu, Alexander Zinchenko was set to make a late cameo after missing most of October. Emile Smith Rowe remains the only long-term injury, but there has yet to be word on Tomiyasu’s the issue that forced the defender off the pitch. His previous injury issues are a concern, but with Kieran Tierney’s stellar showing against Zurich, the Gunners should have solid options at left back.
The Gunners’ last trip to Stamford Bridge ended up being a massive win that propelled them to a late season push for the top four, and they have a strong chance to repeat that success on Sunday. Arsenal have shown that they can win away from home all season, and an opportunity to put further distance between them and the Blues on Sunday will be a huge motivator.
But derbies are always tricky, and nothing can be discounted. Despite their injuries, Chelsea have plenty of talent and will look at this match as the perfect opportunity to steady the ship and begin their own winning run. If the Gunners are for real, then they will come into this match fully aware of what is at stake and will rise to the challenge. Champions find ways to win, no matter the circumstance.
And for all of you in the states, enjoy the extra hour of sleep before the early kick-off. Don’t forget to set your clocks back!
WHAT: Arsenal at Chelsea
WHEN: Sunday, November 6th 7:00am EST/4:00am PST/12:00pm BST
WHERE: Stamford Bridge, London
HOW TO WATCH: Live on the USA Network. Streaming live on NBCSports.com
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