Arsenal vs Chelsea: Gunners have opportunity to teach London rivals a lesson as gap widens
Arsenal have gone from being leaders to chasers in the title race, but tonight they can return to the summit of the Premier League.
Victory over Chelsea will mean they leapfrog Manchester City, who on Sunday went top for the first time since February when they beat Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage.
City are a point ahead, with a game in hand, but Mikel Arteta insists Arsenal will fight until the end as they bid to get back on track after four games without a win and last week’s 4-1 humbling at the Etihad.
All eyes are on how the Gunners respond before City return to action at home to West Ham tomorrow.
Whatever happens, it has been a remarkable season for Arsenal, who have spent an incredible 247 days at the top of the League.
That is in stark contrast to Chelsea, who have had one of the worst seasons in their history and are preparing to embark on a major rebuild this summer. The Blues have lost five successive matches since Frank Lampard returned as caretaker manager.
Mauricio Pochettino is expected to take charge in the summer, and Chelsea’s owners would be wise to learn from tonight’s opponents.
Arsenal’s resurgence under Arteta is admired by the Todd Boehly-Clearlake ownership group. Privately, when Graham Potter was hired, there was a belief he could be their Arteta. That phase of the Chelsea project failed and Pochettino, or whoever comes in, must be given time.
Patience was vital to Arteta’s success, and the problems he faced at the start of his rebuild are similar to the ones facing Chelsea.
Arsenal’s squad was so bloated when he took over in 2019 that Mesut Ozil could not be registered for the Premier League or Europa League. Chelsea had that issue in Europe and were unable to play Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Benoit Badiashile in the Champions League knockout stage.
As Arteta found out, and Chelsea are discovering, it is impossible to keep that many players happy and squads easily become fractured. Arsenal’s answer was for a ruthless clear-out, terminating the contracts of some players.
The decision was made to target young players, both from the academy and in the transfer market, and Arteta was given time for the project to grow.
Given Pochettino’s track record with young players, such a strategy would make sense for the Blues.
There is pressure on Chelsea’s owners after this season, and it was a similar story when Arteta came in at Arsenal, with disillusionment among fans over the direction of the club. Now, the atmosphere at Emirates Stadium is better than ever.
It has, though, been a painful rebuild. Their first two seasons under Arteta resulted in eighth-place finishes, and Chelsea should prepare for bumps in the road.
Chelsea have struggled for goals all season and their only one in the past seven games was a deflected shot by Conor Gallagher against Brighton.
Kai Havertz should return tonight after overcoming a knee injury and that should help resolve their scoring woes. Aubameyang could feature, with the striker preparing to return to the Emirates for the first time since leaving last summer.
For Arsenal, Leandro Trossard is vying for a starting spot after impressing off the bench at City. The Gunners need a spark to reignite their title charge and Trossard could be the man to provide that.