- Arsenal (10 points): 4th in PL, 5 points off the lead
- Chelsea (10 points): 5th in PL following first defeat
- Blues won home and away vs. Arsenal last season
The opposing manager keeps changing, but he just stays the same — for better, or for worse. On Saturday, when Arsenal take on Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Arsene Wenger will come up against first-year Blues boss Antonio Conte, the 12th opposing manager in the Arsenal versus Chelsea London derby.
Following an opening day defeat to Liverpool and a scoreless draw with Leicester City the second weekend of the 2016-17 season, Wenger’s side has quickly turned things around and hit a patch of form matched only by the Premier League’s no. 1 and no. 2 sides ahead of the weekend, Manchester City (five wins in five games) and Everton (four straight wins). Last weekend’s win over Hull City was the most emphatic of the bunch, with Alexis Sanchez scoring twice as the center forward with Olivier Giroud unavailable through injury. Giroud (toe) is expected to be unavailable a further week and miss the clash with Chelsea.
For Chelsea, Saturday is all about bouncing back from last week’s home defeat to Liverpool. It was Conte’s first defeat as Chelsea manager, and the second straight game in which his side dropped points. Just like that, they find themselves five points back of runaway leaders Manchester City.
Diego Costa sits atop the PL’s goalscoring charts (alongside West Ham United’s Michail Antonio) with five goals from the first five games, just as he does for should-have-been red cards, predictably. Always toeing the thin line of immorality, twice already this season Costa should have been shown a second yellow card and sent to an early shower, only to remain on the field and score the game’s decisive goal. Conversely, it was Costa who goaded Per Mertesacker into a red card offense the last time these sides met before going on to score the game’s only goal five minutes later. The beauty, and the beast, of Costa.
INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Per Mertesacker (knee surgery), Danny Welbeck (knee surgery), Carl Jenkinson (knee surgery); QUESTIONABLE: Olivier Giroud (toe) | Chelsea — OUT: Kurt Zouma (knee surgery), John Terry (ankle)
What they’re saying
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on the derby’s emotions: “It’d be nice to keep 11 men on the pitch against Chelsea this time round. I know it sounds funny but generally speaking in the last few games against them, it’s always a big clash with a lot of emotions and maybe some mind games. First and foremost, it’s a massive game and we just need to keep our discipline and stay in the game.”
Conte, on bouncing back from last week’s defeat: “I saw a great reaction from my players and my team [against Leicester in the EFL Cup]. This is very important because they showed a great heart and a will to win and go in the next round. It wasn’t easy at 2-0 and after a defeat in the last game. We know that we can improve, I repeat this. The only way I know to continue is to work hard and to improve on different aspects.”
Arsenal will struggle without strong center forward around which the attack can revolve. Wenger will likely load up on pace on the outside, hoping to hit Chelsea on the counter. The Blues’ full backs won’t be caught out, though. David Luiz, on the other hand, must improve upon his PL re-debut, otherwise the Gunners will be afforded chances they otherwise shouldn’t be. A point apiece sounds fair, 1-1.