Arsenal at risk of walking the same old path if they fail to beat Chelsea - despite their recent victories over the Blues

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The mood around the Chelsea training ground right now is, well, much the same as it was the last time they were preparing for a match against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.

The squad feel like they have their rhythm again after a slow start to the campaign, and are fully ready to take on Arsenal - just as they were in February when they were so determined to rectify that landmark September 3-0 defeat at the Emirates and did so with a crushing 3-1 win.

Now, they’re looking to respond to successive setbacks in the FA Cup final and Community Shield, and it was impossible not to sense some of the Chelsea players bristling on Tuesday when they were predictably asked whether those last two meetings mean Arsene Wenger’s side know how to play them and know what to do to beat Antonio Conte’s team.

That would be an inversion of so much of the last decade, since Chelsea - and especially the Chelsea sides managed by Jose Mourinho - had an essentially simple blueprint that they always followed to beat Arsenal. Wenger’s football was that predictable to them, that known to them, and seemingly conformed to a readable template.

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In fact, if one of the primary problems with Arsenal over that time has been that nothing ever changes and we always end up having the same discussions, this specific fixture seemed to distil that like no other.

It usually ended up with the same result for so much of that decade: a Chelsea victory. The nadir for Arsenal was probably early 2016. They were going for the title, Chelsea were going nowhere having just sacked Jose Mourinho and suffering a season of utter disarray. But Guus Hiddink still oversaw a win.

The Arsenal players’ memories of such miseries are also precisely why there is a more emboldened mood around their squad right now, too. Having claimed victory in three of their last four matches against Chelsea - even if one was a penalty shoot-out - they can simply approach this game without the same psychological hang-ups, without the same complex. It will also have helped that they cleansed the 4-0 evisceration at the feet of Liverpool by so assertively dismissing Bournemouth, but only to a point.

That thrashing at Anfield raises another trend now more relevant to this game than Arsenal’s long-term struggles against Chelsea. It is their long-term struggles away to their top-six rivals.

Wenger’s side haven’t won any of their last 13 such fixtures, and lost eight of those, with five of those defeats coming in the last five games. It is actually now two years and eight months since their last victory away to one of the top six, the 2-0 at Manchester City that was supposed to be so transformative, that was supposed to be a new departure.

They claimed it thanks to a newly counter-attacking approach, and Wenger claimed after the game that it he applied it because he bowed to player disgruntlement that they were being beaten too easily away to the top six.

“At some stage you cannot go against the feelings of the team because it’s detrimental,” he said at the time.

“The team sometimes needs to be reassured and reassurance comes first from feeling solid and strong, and then you can express your talent. Our confidence had been damaged. Of course I listened to the players. Your tactics have to be aligned with the feeling of the team.

“That’s why you hear so many times ‘Let’s get back to basics’. It’s not because a team doesn’t know the basics, it’s just to get the priorities right to reinforce the confidence of the team again.”

In such situations a proper analysis of why it has got to this point is usually warranted. With Arsenal, though, that seems futile. It feels impossible not to bring it back to the same discussions of the last decade and the same core reasons: how Wenger now manages this team.

There has been a softness to them, a lack of tactical sophistication in contrast to more modern coaches.

In that regard, after his reversion to four at the back against Koln and the improved second-half performance, it will be telling if Wenger goes for the three at the back that has worked so well against Chelsea in their last two encounters.

There have also been some murmurs that the Arsenal manager could go for the fluency of Danny Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette over Alexis Sanchez, though that remains to be seen.

Ultimately, it all falls down to whether Arsenal finally get that away win again. Otherwise, it all conforms to the usual template, the same old rhythm – as has been the case for much of the last 10 years.

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