Arsenal face Chelsea on Saturday in what is arguably the biggest game of the season so far for the Gunners. After a shock defeat to Watford on Tuesday night, the pressure is most certainly on Arsenal to pick up the three points.
The three points will be hard to come by, however, against an efficient and well-drilled Chelsea team that has the joint best defensive record in the League and has only lost three times – including a loss to Arsenal. Although Arsenal are reeling off a loss, they still boast the second-best offensive record in the League and are still capable of unlocking a strong Chelsea defence.
With all that said, here’s our combined XI of the two teams. We’ve assembled the players in a conventional 4-2-3-1 formation but not to the advantage of Arsenal.
GK: Thibaut Courtois
A tough call here. Both ‘keepers have had a very good season and are strong contenders to take the golden gloves at the end of the season. One could argue that Courtois had the added benefit of having a back three sitting in front of him but the Belgian goalkeeper has still been a commanding presence for Conte.
There’s not much to separate the two but based on who’s made fewer mistakes, Courtois just edges it.
RB: Hector Bellerin
Victor Moses has been reborn under Conte. After multiple spells out on loan, the Nigerian finally seems settled and has embraced a role that gives him a lot of responsibility. Hector Bellerin, on the other hand, has been one of the outstanding fullbacks in the Premier League since he burst onto the scene. Overall, Bellerin is better than Moses in both attack and defence.
CB: Gary Cahill
Yes, David Luiz has been brilliant, but in a system with four at the back Cahill is much more reliable. Take Luiz out of a back three and Luiz wouldn’t be half the player. Cahill’s performances have gone unheralded this season but he has been a solid player for Conte.
Mustafi could also have got in here but recently has looked slightly shaky. Not much separates Mustafi and Cahill but the Englishman’s consistency wins out.
CB: Laurent Koscielny
So underrated yet so essential to Arsenal. Laurent Koscielny has been one of the best defenders in the League so far and takes the spot here. Koscielny can do just about everything, thus he beats everyone to this spot.
LB: César Azpilicueta
Monreal has been solid for Arsenal, likewise, Marcus Alonso has played well for Chelsea and seems a completely different player to the one we saw at Sunderland. This spot, however, goes to a defender who has been playing at a high level since he arrived in the league.
Cesar ‘Dave’ Azpilicueta plays in a centre back trio for Conte but he has proven already in his career that he can play as both a left and right back. He may not be the best technically but in defence, he is absolutely excellent.
CDM: N’Golo Kante
No surprises here, N’Golo Kante has been a huge reason as to why Chelsea sit top of the League. The diminutive Frenchman seems to appear everywhere for Chelsea to sniff out any threat the opposition poses. With Cazorla out, no one from the Arsenal team can really push Kante out of this XI.
Today Wenger insinuated that Chelsea offered Kante a better deal, Arsenal may rue not coughing up a bit more money.
CDM: Nemanja Matic
With Arsenal’s lack of midfield options the defensive powerhouse that is Matic, gets in next to Kante. Moreover, this season Matic has upped his offensive game too with six assists to his name so far this season. Cesc Fabregas provides more going forward but Matic is just a better all round midfielder.
RW: Theo Walcott
Some might pick Pedro in this spot, who since the beginning of December has scored five goals and is forming a brilliant trio with Hazard and Diego Costa. Theo Walcott has missed some time due to injury but over the whole season he has scored eight goals, while also registering two assists. Moreover, his newly found work rate has been crucial in protecting Arsenal’s right flank, especially due to Bellerin’s runs going forward.
CAM: Eden Hazard
Probably one of the most contentious positions in the team. Ozil has increased his goal tally this year with five goals while also registering four assists but in reality, his performances have not been outstanding. With Giroud back in the team, Ozil doesn’t have a striker who can make runs in behind.
Hazard, on the other hand, has scored nine goals, while creating three assists for Chelsea. He doesn’t play as a 10 for Chelsea and instead almost is given license to roam the pitch but he still has the ability to play just behind the striker. Due to his ability to take players on, Hazard edges Ozil in this team.
LW: Alexis Sanchez
Sanchez has simply been incredible for Arsenal. The Chilean star has kept Arsenal afloat at times, especially when he played through the middle. At first, many doubted if he could play as a lone striker but he’s certainly proven them to be wrong with 15 goals on the season.
The idea of Sanchez linking up with Hazard is a mouth-watering prospect, no defence could keep them out.
ST: Diego Costa
On current form, Diego Costa is the best striker in the League. He and Sanchez have been the two most devastating attackers in the country, both scoring 15 in the season so far.
Under Conte, Costa has been back to his bullying best. He’s quick enough to threaten behind, he’s strong enough to wrestle defenders and smart enough to bring his teammates into play – a complete striker.
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