Chelsea vs Arsenal: Gunners must strike while iron is hot as balance of power shifts for London derby

Chelsea vs Arsenal: Gunners must strike while iron is hot as balance of power shifts for London derby

As Arsenal go toe to toe with ­Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, it has almost been forgotten how far ahead they are of some of their other rivals.

Mikel Arteta’s side are five points clear of Tottenham, with a game in hand, eight points above Manchester United and a staggering 15 in front Liverpool.

Chelsea sit 10 points back from the leaders and, should they lose to Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, they will be 13 points behind them a third of the way into the season.

Even at this stage, that would represent a sizeable gap and signal a change in dynamic between the clubs.

Arsenal being above Chelsea was a rare sight during the Roman Abramovich era.

During the Russian billionaire’s time as Chelsea owner, Arsenal finished above the Blues just three times in 19 seasons. In that time, Chelsea won every major honour under Abramovich, while Arsenal’s decline ultimately ended in the exit of Arsene Wenger in 2018.

The Abramovich era was a time of dominance for Chelsea, but they are in transition under new owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.

Like Abramovich, the Americans are ambitious, as their record £273million transfer spend in the summer shows. Arsenal, though, are in a good place with their own American owners, and their initial struggles under the ­Kroenke family perhaps serve as a warning to Boehly that projects can take time to succeed.

After some difficult years under the Kroenkes, Arsenal have stability in the form of manager Arteta and technical director Edu.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

When he joined in 2019, former ­Arsenal and Brazil midfielder Edu earmarked this season as the moment the Arsenal project would click. That prediction has proved right.

Two points clear at the top, the Gunners go into Sunday’s game as ­favourites and, for the first time in a long time, feel ahead of Chelsea in terms of the ­projects of the two clubs.

The Abramovich era showed how quickly things can change, though. Arsenal went unbeaten as they won the Premier League in 2003-04 in his first season in England. Just 12 months later, Chelsea were champions.

Boehly and Clearlake are ready to be aggressive in their attempts to get ­Chelsea back to the top and it is why Arsenal must strike now while the iron is hot.

They go into Sunday’s match in fine form and buoyed by Bukayo Saka ­recovering from an ankle knock last week. Both Saka and Gabriel Martinelli have been two of Arsenal’s star performers this season and Arteta will look to them to exploit wide areas against Chelsea.

Arsenal have dramatically moved on since Aubameyang left in January.

The Blues have been hit by problems on their flanks, with Reece James and now Ben Chilwell out injured, and ­Arsenal will look to take advantage.

The midfield battle at Stamford Bridge promises to be key too, with Chelsea still without N’Golo Kante and the ­Arsenal trio of Granit Xhaka, captain Martin Odegaard and Thomas Partey looking more settled than they have ever been.

And then there is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who for so long was Arsenal’s talisman and captain but is now the man they want to keep quiet after his ignominious exit from the Emirates.

Arsenal have dramatically moved on since Aubameyang left in January, one of their finest performances coming in the 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge last April, Eddie Nketiah netting twice with the other goals coming from fellow academy graduates, Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.

Sunday is another chance for Arteta, who is unbeaten in three trips to Stamford Bridge as a manager, to show his project is destined for big things.