Chelsea vs Arsenal
It’s amazing what a difference a few months can make.
At the end of last Premier League season and, dare I say it, even as recently as the turn of 2021, these two clubs’ managers provided a compelling comparison.
In the red corner was Mikel Arteta who, in effectively less than six months in charge, had guided Arsenal to an FA Cup triumph over Chelsea, swiftly followed up by a Community Shield success against Liverpool.
In the blue corner was their favourite son Frank Lampard who, while without silverware, had reached the end-of-season showpiece and finished fourth in the Premier League, at the same time as blooding young players and showing genuine promise amidst a transfer embargo.
Then it all went awry.
The consensus with this SBOTOP observer was that Arteta always displayed much more promise and I still feel that, even though it’s unfortunate for the Gunners that they seem to have regressed in recent months.
Chelsea were in danger of doing the same until a more experienced head came in and, quite frankly, they have not looked back since Thomas Tuchel was appointed Lampard’s successor.
While Arsenal are now contemplating a first season without European football in a quarter of a century, Chelsea are looking ahead to FA Cup and Champions League finals.
So, will this encounter – one which has produced numerous Premier League 2021 highlights down the years – go with form or will Chelsea have one eye on the final and allow Arsenal a glimpse of glory at Stamford Bridge?
Well, you have to go with Chelsea whose turnaround and resurgence under Tuchel has been helped enormously by their defensive improvement under the German tactician.
Tuchel has been in charge of the team for 25 games now and has still lost only two of them – one when his team played for an hour with 10 men, the other when they already held a healthy aggregate lead in a two-legged European tie.
In contrast, Arsenal’s season would be largely bereft of redeeming factors but for the emergence of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, alongside the continued development, when not injured, of full-back Kieran Tierney.
It’s certainly a potential benefit for the visitors that Chelsea will surely have one eye on the FA Cup Final, which follows less than 72 hours after this one.
While it’s been a terrific spell for Tuchel’s men, Arsenal have had a miserable time of it, despite back-to-back Premier League wins.
Their 2020/21 campaign was effectively ended by a Europa League semi-final defeat to Villarreal last week which has sparked questions and left Arteta accepting significant changes need to be made to a floundering squad over the summer.
Even victory in this encounter will not alter that stark realisation and the end of the season for the north Londoners can’t come soon enough.
On saying that, if they can secure a league double over their rivals, for the first time since their ‘Invincibles’ campaign of 2003-04, it will prove a rare bright spark to hold onto.
Over the years, Arsenal have won 79 of their meetings with 65 Chelsea victories and 59 draws.
When these sides met earlier this season – on Boxing Day – Arsenal produced a fine showing to run out 3-1 winners when an Alexandre Lacazette penalty set them on their way and was added to by goals from by Granit Xhaka and Bukayo Saka before Tammy Abraham netted a late consolation.
The corresponding fixture last season ended 2-2 as Hector Bellerin netted a late equaliser at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea have only won three of the last 13 meetings in all competitions in this long-established rivalry.