Arsenal host Chelsea on Super Sunday with Arsene Wenger looking to end his miserable record against Jose Mourinho’s side and keep the Blues waiting for the Premier League title in the process.
To do that he must decide which Arsenal player will be given the near-impossible task of stopping Eden Hazard weave his magic for Mourinho’s men
At the other end, can Olivier Giroud get past John Terry? Nick Wright picks out the key battles to look out for…
Arsene Wenger v Jose Mourinho
A simmering rivalry boiled over at Stamford Bridge when Wenger and Mourinho nearly came to blows on the touchline in Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Arsenal earlier this season.
The verbal (and physical) sparring has cooled since then, but Sunday’s meeting promises further intrigue. Wenger is yet to beat Mourinho in 12 attempts, and Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher thinks that record will be playing on his mind.
“Obviously Arsene Wenger is going to say it isn’t that big a thing, but I’m sure it’s in the back of his mind. You don’t want a record like that against anyone,” the former Liverpool defender said.
“Arsene Wenger will know, if they want to compete and win trophies, Chelsea and Mourinho are going to be in the way so they have to start taking points off them.”
In Sunday’s 1-0 win over Manchester United, Mourinho, ever the pragmatist, provided another example of how he can set Chelsea up to frustrate top opposition.
“Wait for a mistake and score a goal,” the Chelsea boss said afterwards. “We were able to make their important players disappear. Nobody saw them. They were in our pockets."
Chelsea are the masters of grinding out a result, and as well as finding a way through their defence, Wenger will need his side to be watchful of the brilliant Hazard, who scored the winner against United.
“They mustn’t make mistakes,” Carragher said of Arsenal. “Chelsea are the most ruthless team in the league – they capitalise on other teams’ mistakes. That will be very important from Arsenal’s point of view.”
A draw would suit Chelsea, who are already 10 points clear at the top of the table, so the pressure is on Wenger to finally engineer a victory against his old foe.
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Eden Hazard against Arsenal’s right
Arsenal right-back Mathieu Debuchy made his first appearance since January when he completed the full 120 minutes in their FA Cup semi-final win over Reading on Sunday.
The experienced French international came in for teenager Hector Bellerin, who had an ankle injury, and will now fancy his chances of starting against the Blues – and a meeting with Hazard, a former Lille team-mate.
It’s a daunting prospect. While some of his team-mates’ form has dipped in the second half of the season, the Belgian has consistently shone, scoring 13 Premier League goals and laying on eight assists.
Hazard has made a habit of producing moments of magic when it counts, and it was his slaloming run in the reverse fixture that drew a foul from Laurent Koscielny for Chelsea’s penalty, which he duly dispatched.
Hazard’s performances have delighted Mourinho, who sung his praises after his winner against United. “He’s a kid, but he is also a family man and he knows he is one of the three best players in the world,” he said. “Responsibility comes with that and he is coping with that responsibility.”
Whether it’s Debuchy or Bellerin, the big responsibility for Arsenal will be keeping a lid on Chelsea’s dangerman.
Olivier Giroud v John Terry
The superb form of Giroud has been one of the key factors in Arsenal’s recent turnaround. The Frenchman has netted 12 goals in as many games for the Gunners and he is expected to return to their starting line-up having dropped to the bench for Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final win over Reading.
Giroud has been on the receiving end of fierce criticism at times during his Arsenal career, but he has dramatically improved this season, scoring 14 Premier League goals in 21 appearances compared to 16 in 36 last year and converting 29.9% of his shots compared to 18.18% in 2013/14.
Giroud’s big game record has been scrutinised, too, but he has scored against Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool this season and will be eager to add Chelsea to that list having missed the reverse fixture through injury. Standing in his way, however, will be Chelsea captain Terry, who has excelled under Mourinho this season.
The 34-year-old hasn’t missed a minute of Chelsea’s league campaign but he will need to be alert to stop Giroud. As well as offering a threat in the box both in the air and on the floor, a big part of the striker’s role is dropping off and flicking the ball on to the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey with his back to goal.
If the 1-0 win over Manchester United was anything to go by, Chelsea will sit deep and adopt a defensive approach against Arsenal. With Terry marshalling such a well-drilled backline, Giroud could face one of his toughest tests yet.
Francis Coquelin v Cesc Fabregas
All eyes will be on Cesc Fabregas as he returns to the Emirates Stadium for the first time since his departure to Barcelona in 2011. Arsene Wenger opted not to re-sign him last summer, and the Spanish pass master will be eager to impress against his old side.
Fabregas has added a new dimension to Chelsea’s midfield since his arrival in the summer, and his total of 16 assists is by far the highest in the Premier League.
The 27-year-old has not quite hit the heights of his early season performances since the turn of the year, but Wenger is all too aware of the threat he still poses.
Francis Coquelin could be the key to how Fabregas fares. The duo were team-mates during Fabregas’s final three years in north London, but Coquelin has had to bide his time for his chance.
The 24-year-old has been a revelation at the base of Arsenal’s midfield in recent months, averaging more tackles (3.5) and more interceptions (3.8) per game than any Arsenal player in the Premier League.
Wenger will hope for another commanding performance from Coquelin. If he delivers, Fabregas could find it difficult to make his mark on the game.
Watch Arsenal v Chelsea live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 3.30pm this Sunday. Or watch with a day pass from NOW TV