Arsenal has lost their form and their hold on 4th place, and at the worst possible time. Now having slipped into 6th the Gunners have a difficult pair of matches to get their season back on track. Up first is a trip to Stamford Bridge which is then followed by a must-win home fixture against Manchester United. With Tierney, Partey, Lacazette, and Tomiyasu out and a lack of goals recently it’s a huge hill to climb.
So instead let’s turn out attention for the moment over to Wednesday’s opponent and check in with David Pasztor from SB Nation’s Chelsea site We Ain’t Got No History. It’s been a chaotic recent few weeks for the Blues. First, they topped Middlesbrough 2-0 in the FA Cup to then return from the international break to lose 4-1 to Brentford. A tough 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League, before smashing Southampton 6-0. A dramatic comeback against Madrid to just fall short and then most recently seeing off Crystal Palace 2-0 to advance to the FA Cup Final.
Want even more Q&A with WAGNH? Aaron recently chatted with them ahead of the Women’s FA Cup clash between Arsenal and Chelsea.
TSF: Can you give us the latest on the shortlist of bidders to take over Chelsea, and from what you’ve gleaned so far, is there anyone that stands out in your opinion?
WAGNH: The latest is that the final bids are in and three consortiums remain in the running. A fourth, and one of the most persistent up to that point, surprisingly dropped out at the final minute. The consensus favorites appear to be the group fronted by Todd Boehly, part-owner of the LA Dodgers, though all three final bidding groups are saying the right things and have brought cash or equity-only offers to the table without loading debt onto the club. A “preferred” winning bid could be named this week, which would then begin the final phase of the process, including league and governmental approvals as well as all the actual financial considerations in what is expected to be a transaction worth close to £3 billion.
TSF: Between the sanctions and players' contracts up at the end of the season, how many from the first team do you expect to exit this summer?
WAGNH: Andreas Christensen’s already agreed with Barcelona and César Azpilicueta may decide to leave and join him as well. But it looks like Antonio Rüdiger will yet stay, as soon as we’re actually allowed to offer him a new contract. Incidentally, the current restrictions would prevent Chelsea from doing any sort of transfer business, including anything outgoing that would return a transfer fee. Presumably those restrictions will be lifted after the season (and once the new owners are in place), which could then see the likes of Timo Werner, Jorginho, Christian Pulisic, or maybe even Romelu Lukaku consider their futures.
TSF: Then on the flip side, whenever the sale goes through which areas of the squad do you believe Chelsea will look to reinforce?
WAGNH: Wing-back and midfield are the two most immediate areas of need, where we’re not quite as deep (or young) as in attack or defense. The likes of Jorginho, N’Golo Kanté, and Marcos Alonso are all over 30 and entering the last year of their deals, and César Azpilicueta will either also be on that list or already gone.
TSF: As has been club policy for a number of years, Chelsea has a surplus of players out on loan this season. Given the uncertainty at the club heading into the summer, do you see Chelsea using those players to reinforce the squad next year and, if so, which players?
WAGNH: There’s been a lot of talk of Conor Gallagher coming back from Crystal Palace and walking straight into the first-team, which is certainly possible. Center back Levi Colwill, currently pushing for promotion with Huddersfield Town is another option, as is striker Armando Broja, who’s been often impressive at Southampton. From the older players, left back Emerson might yet return and provide an option behind Ben Chilwell, who will be coming off of a torn ACL. It’s unlikely that the new owners will continue to pour money into the club to the extent that Abramovich had been, which does sharpen the focus on utilizing the Loan Army and our Academy more properly going forward.
TSF: There was a lot of talk about renovations to Stamford Bridge, or an entirely new stadium. While that is obviously up in the air until a new owner comes in, looking ahead 4-5 years do you expect Chelsea to play in a renovated stadium or a new home?
WAGNH: All three prospective owners were required to earmark at least £1 billion of their final bid for the stadium, with most appearing to target a stand-by-stand renovation. From what we’ve learned over the past decade and a half however, that may not be possible. But even if we require a complete rebuild, it would most likely be on the same site — as it was for the plans that were approved a few years ago but never actually started. I would certainly love to see the new owners resurrect those “Cathedral of Football” designs.
TSF: While this answer may change in the months/years to come, how do you reflect on Roman Abramovich’s full time at the club - shift in fortunes and trophies from his investment each season?
WAGNH: It’s hard to overstate his impact. He transformed not only the fortunes of the club, but changed the entire landscape of European football. And while trophies, sackings, and frivolous spending are the most visible parts of his Chelsea legacy, he also leaves behind a world class Academy and training ground, the best women’s team in England, and two decades of supporting the local community and funding various efforts against anti-Semitism, racism, and all forms of discrimination.
TSF: A 2-0 result in the FA Cup Semi-final, Chelsea will face off against Liverpool in May for the trophy. How important is getting that win in light of events on and off the pitch so far this season?
WAGNH: We want to win every trophy, always, regardless of any other events, but losing a final to Liverpool once already this season will certainly add some extra spice to this. Ending the season by winning silverware is exactly how we would want it to be every year.
TSF: After a thrilling two-leg tie against Real Madrid and looking likely to finish 3rd in the Premier League this season, how would you grade this season and compare it to your pre-season expectations?
WAGNH: It’s been a good season, but not a great one even if we did win both the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup (and have a chance at the FA Cup). We expected a longer title challenge than one that was over before Christmas, though injuries and other mitigating factors cannot be ignored and do explain why we were ultimately unable to keep up with Manchester City and Liverpool. The season has however solidified Thomas Tuchel’s position and we should be doing everything we can to support him and keep him as the head coach as long as we can. The level of disappointment in losing to Real Madrid speaks to the sort of expectations we have built under him already, and that’s a foundation that I hope to see carry weight for a long time.
TSF: What formation should Arsenal expect Chelsea to use in this match and who is in your predicted starting XI?
WAGNH: Predicting Tuchel’s starting XI is usually an exercise in futility and foolishness, especially given the short turnaround time from Sunday and generally busy and intense fixture list. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did rotate a fair amount however and utilized some of the names who have not been as involved over the past three games and ten days. It’ll probably be a back-three with maybe a Lukaku-sized curveball thrown in.
Mendy | Rüdiger, Silva, Chalobah | Alonso, Kanté, Loftus-Cheek, James | Pulisic, Lukaku, Ziyech
TSF: And finally, give us your prediction for how the match will go.
WAGNH: Our last two home games saw us lose 1-4 to Brentford and 1-3 to Real Madrid, so hopefully we got that sort of nonsense out of our system and can resume a bit of normal service at the Bridge. I don’t like to make predictions, but let’s go with 2-0, good guys. Lukaku brace.
Thanks to David and We Ain’t Got No History.