April flowers bring May flowers, as the old saying goes. But after the endless torrential downpour that Arsenal FC endured last month that saw Arsenal manage a mere 6 points from a possible 15 and potentially hand the title to Manchester City, it remains to be seen if any flowers will emerge in north London by the final month of the Premier League’s end, or if the soil is just too muddy and eroded to bear any blossoms.
The Gunners, who have looked a shadow of themselves over the last four matches, will hope to set things right as they face one of the few teams that had a less productive April than they did, hosting Chelsea for Arsenal’s last London Derby of the season in hopes of doing the double on their rivals for the first time since the Invincibles season in 03/04.
If you had told Arsenal and Chelsea fans before the season that their teams would be in their respective positions at this point in the season, they would have laughed at you incredulously, albeit for far different reasons. The Gunners, despite feeling like it’s no longer possible, are still in a title race that could go down to the wire, while Chelsea are…well…dire isn’t quite the word to describe it, but I think this classic Simpson’s clip does the trick.
Regardless of each side’s form, Tuesday’s match will be viewed by both teams as a chance to break out of their respective slumps. The Gunners once stout defense has begun to leak goals in the absence of William Saliba, a prospect that Chelsea’s under-performing attack will be eager to test. Chelsea’s exceedingly expensive attack has been miles away from living up their billing, but one match can certainly shift the tides if Arsenal are not careful.
Arsenal’s first meeting with Chelsea was successful, albeit rather dull from an attacking standpoint. A goal from Big Gabriel off of a corner in the second half was the decider as the Gunners left Stamford Bridge with a win for the third straight season. The win away from the Emirates came during Arsenal’s 13 match unbeaten run between September and January where they firmly established themselves atop the league table, a position they hope to reclaim from Manchester City with a win on Tuesday.
One of the biggest questions ahead of the match is whether or not Mikel Arteta decides to make sweeping changes in the lineup after his decision to stick with a largely unchanged lineup through April was unsuccessful. By the time Manchester City had hammered the Gunners, they looked leggy, tired, and well off the mark through three previous matches. Arteta’s gamble came up well short, as the largely-unchanged roster just could not see any of their matches out for four straight weeks.
Changes seem necessary at this stage. It could be as simple as the likes of Leandro Trossard and Jorginho coming in for Gabriel Jesus and Thomas Partey, or as drastic as changing the entire formation in an effort to shake things up and revitalize the squad. Arteta’s past success implementing a 3-4-3 could once again come into the fold in order to provide a more stable defense and curtail the frustrating run of form. Whatever it takes, it needs to happen. Arsenal has handed the inside track to the title to City, and their only hope is one final winning streak.
Mathematically, Arsenal are not out of the title race yet. Emotionally and physically? The likelihood feels far less probable. Arsenal have spent the better part of the season riding emotional highs with a litany of heart-stopping, last gasp results. In April, the well dried up, and all of the lucky breaks eluded the Gunners, as Arsenal lacked that little bit of spark down the stretch that saw them look oh so dominant (and occasionally oh so lucky) during the first 3⁄4 of the season.
Five cup finals to go. That mantra feels a little less emphatic and hopeful now, but the goal remains the same. Arsenal have made it too far to give up, and all they can do is win out and let the chips fall where they may.
WHAT: Arsenal vs Chelsea
WHEN: Tuesday, May 2nd, 3:00pm EST/12:00pm PST/8:00pm BST
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium, London
HOW TO WATCH: Broadcast live on the USA Network. Streaming on NBCSports.com
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