The best players of last season leaving, cries of ‘Arsenal in crises’ echoing all over the media and here we are after four games, Arsenal unbeaten and two points behind league leaders, Chelsea. Arsenal have the best defensive record till now conceding just one goal this season.
Now Arsenal have to face an acid test. The next two games are critical for the gunners. They have to face the English Champions and the European Champions: Manchester City at the Etihad on 23rd followed by Chelsea at the Emirates on 29th September. These next two weeks can shape the season for all title contenders. If Arsenal manage to get 4 points out of the possible 6, they should be in a very strong position. It would also suit them if Manchester United drops points against Liverpool. All that being said, we have reason to believe that Arsenal can beat both City and Chelsea, and grab all 6 points. It might be too early to say anything about the title race but for winning the title, all such games can make a big difference.
If we talk about head-to-head statistics, Arsenal has had the upper hand against most of the teams they have faced in the league. Out of the 180 games played between Manchester City and Arsenal, Arsenal has won 93, City 47 and 40 games ended up in a draw. But things have changed in the last couple of years. Manchester City are now Champions of England. Arsenal haven’t won the league since 2004. This season, however, Arsenal has had a better start. There are many loopholes in the City defence that Arsenal can exploit. Both Arsenal and City are unbeaten till now but Arsenal have had a better defensive record. Conceding just one goal, their defence has got a new life since Steve Bould took over. There might be questions raised over how reliable Mannone is in goal. Wojciech Szczesny was out of Tuesday’s Champions League game due to an ankle injury and there is no official statement released by Arsenal on how long he will be on the side-lines. As it stands, Vito Mannone is Arsenal’s no. 1 goalkeeper in the absence of Szczesny and Fabianski.
Mannone has turned into a potential no. 1 for Arsenal. Since his loan spell at Hull City, Mannone has improved a lot. It is good to finally see someone giving Szczesny competition for his spot. In July, I wrote a piece on how Arsenal can be the title contenders this season. I mentioned that they need to sign a very good goalkeeper. It is a very important position. Titles can never be won without a good defence. Arsenal didn’t sign any goalkeeper, so I hope Mannone proves to be that goalkeeper who will make Szczesny fight for his position.
For City, their defence has been pretty poor this season. Conceding 6 goals in the league already and throwing away their lead twice against Real Madrid in the Champions League raises questions over their defensive stability. They have some good players at the back. They can score goals as well. They pierced the Madrid defence twice at the Bernabeu. So Arsenal cannot rely on City’s weaknesses, which City is quite aware of and they will surely work on it. The problem for City is that it is very hard to find a way to pierce the Arsenal defence. Under Steve Bould, the team is looking completely different. Thomas Vermaelen is currently in the team of the season so far, alongside teammates Cazorla and Podolski. Vito Mannone hasn’t conceded a single goal in the league so far. Cazorla has had more shots per game than any Chelsea or City player. Arsenal has the most shots per game. They also enjoy 58% average ball possession, only Manchester United has had more possession. So City will not have an easy game this Sunday and the same goes for Arsenal. Although I do believe that Arsenal is looking a better side this season, despite losing Robin van Persie and Alex Song.
Arsenal and Chelsea, these are the only two big clubs in London and the London derby is one of the most exciting fixtures of the season.
Games played: 177
Arsenal won: 71
Chelsea won: 54
Again, Arsenal leading the head-to-head statistics considerably. Chelsea is currently on top of the table but it is too early to that having an impact on their oppositions psychologically. They have a tough test on 29th September. They have failed to beat Arsenal after October 2010 and the last time they beat Arsenal at the Emirates was back in 2009. However, as with City, Chelsea is also a different team now. They are the European Champions and their new squad is even stronger than last year. Their main concern remains at the front. After Didier Drogba’s departure, Chelsea have no option but to rely on Fernando Torres. I wrote an article on Torres earlier this month. I still stand by my opinion. If Torres fills Drogba’s boots as expected, Chelsea can win the title. Chelsea also have a few problems at the back, same as City: their defence. We saw that against Atletico Madrid, Reading and against Juventus this week. Arsenal can take advantage of their unsettled defence, which according to Roberto Di Matteo is struggling to adjust with the new squad.
At the Emirates, you have to play an exceptional game to beat Arsenal. It is one of the toughest fixtures for Chelsea, and Roberto Di Matteo is well aware of that. Arsenal’s strike force in Podolski, Gervinho, Cazorla and Walcott is good enough to get Arsenal the goals they need and if they can keep up their defensive performance, it will be very hard for Chelsea to score.
Eden Hazard has been one of best players of the season so far, so you would expect Chelsea to score goals but their last match against QPR suggests otherwise. Football is quite unpredictable. One might argue that Arsenal has not been really tested this season but I think they’ve had some good games. Stoke City, Liverpool and French Champions Montpellier, the gunners were decent against all these teams. Chelsea had to face the Italian Champions Juventus at home and they did pretty well with the attack but their defence gave up yet again. It will be a close game but considering the fact that it is being played at the Emirates, I would give Arsenal the upper hand. Let’s not forget the midweek League Cup fixtures. Arsenal will be playing Coventry, Chelsea will face Wolves and City will host Aston Villa. So it is a busy week ahead for all three teams.
[Statistics from whoscored.com]
Written by Mugais Jahangir.
(Follow on Twitter: @mugaisj)