Arsenal vs Chelsea: It’s fight or flight for Gunners in battle for top four spot

After taking two steps back at West Ham last week, Saturday’s clash with Chelsea will give Arsenal the chance to get back on the front foot as they bid to restore some order to the season.

The Gunners have had a full week on the training pitch to put right the wrongs of their abject performance at London Stadium, which was just about as tepid and toothless a performance as I can remember from an Arsenal side.

Unai Emery will also have had the chance, along with his coaching staff, to work on their own understanding of the players and the changes they need to make to ensure we finally get a grip on both sides of the game.

While the Gunners’ defensive work at West Ham was much improved from their efforts at, say, Liverpool, it seemed to blunt them as an attacking force, an aspect of their game that had, up until then, been something of a saving grace.

No matter how bad things were at the back, Emery’s side seemed to able to get themselves out of jail with a finish here or a wonderful attacking move there. Not so against Manuel Pellegrini’s resurgent Hammers.

Still, that aberration is in the past and a week is an awful long time in football.

What Emery’s men must show against Chelsea is a reaction, an acknowledgement that what was served up at West Ham was, well, shite.

While an easier game would have been preferable, a match against a quality side like Chelsea might actually serve to fire up the players and the fans and propel them towards something better than we have become used to seeing of late.

While I don’t expect miracles to have happened inside seven days, I think most of us expect that we will see a good deal better from the team and, frankly, with the pressing need for three points, we can’t afford anything less than excellent.

My guess is that Emery will ditch the back three and revert to something a little more ambitious, perhaps a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. That said, the Spaniard is much less predictable than his predecessor and there is no telling if he will stick to his guns and field three centre backs as he did last week and look to tweak things further forward.

I don’t think we should be averse to the idea of three centre backs or rule it out indefinitely. The system has its uses and, with the right players in the right positions, can be a flexible setup, playing into our strength in the half spaces high up the pitch.

Most interesting of all, though, will be the XI chosen to start this derby. After seemingly warming to the idea of a return for Mesut Ozil return in his press conference on Thursday, Emery may pivot entirely and opt again for Alex Iwobi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.

There again, with Ozil having redoubled his efforts on the training ground, it may be the German is favoured. If he is to have a future at Arsenal in the short to medium term, his inclusion or otherwise tomorrow will tell us a great deal.

In midfield, it was abundantly clear at West Ham that Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi simply did not work as a central midfield pair. They were too deep, too slow, and unable to link the play between the midfield and attack in any meaningful way.

If he is fit, Lucas Torriera must start alongside Xhaka, with either Aaron Ramsey or Mesut Ozil utilised ahead of them to bridge the yawning chasm we saw last Saturday. We have £110million-worth of talent in attack that was more or less reduced to a spectator’s role in our last outing, a flaw we can’t afford to see again.

While our visitors have had well-publicised struggles in attack, they retain a real threat in attack in the shape of Eden Hazard who has a nasty, itchy sort of habit of scoring against Arsenal.

Keeping him on the periphery of the game will go a long way to making sure we take three points, especially in the absence of a striker with the quality of Diego Costa or Didier Drogba in the visitor’s dressing room.

If naught else, it would be great to see a bit of energy and ambition from Arsenal. After seeing signs earlier in the season of just what Emery wanted to do with his side, we have seemed a little listless in the last month, a lacking the sort of cohesion and sense of certainty that you see in the likes of Liverpool or Manchester City.

I’d love to see that high-pressing, energetic, progressive football we saw snatches of in October and November make a return for 2019.

While things may not be perfect at the club at the moment, nothing heals quite like a win.



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