The contest was supposed to take place on Saturday evening but was moved to a midweek kickoff upon a revision from the Metropolitan Police, much to the dismay of supporters.
Facing the biggest test of their title credentials yet, Arsenal did little to suggest that they can last the course when met with the end-of-season Manchester City juggernaut, who taught their former employee Mikel Arteta quite the footballing lesson in a 4-1 romping.
Kevin De Bruyne’s brace, John Stones’s header and Erling Braut Haaland’s record-breaking 33rd Premier League goal of the season contributed to a comprehensive win for the reigning champions, and while the travelling fans were able to celebrate a well-taken consolation from Rob Holding, their side’s title destiny is no longer in their own hands.
Thanks to Man City’s 2-1 triumph over Fulham, Arteta’s men have been knocked off their perch and into second place, although one silver lining from last week was Brighton & Hove Albion’s loss to Nottingham Forest, which guaranteed Arsenal’s return to the Champions League for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
A top-four finish was the overriding goal for Arteta and co before the first ball was kicked this term, but a familiar sense of springtime dread is once again prevalent amid accusations of Arsenal ‘bottling’ the title – not completely unfounded given the manner of their draws with Liverpool, West Ham United and basement side Southampton.
Wednesday’s loss at the Etihad marked the seventh game in a row in which Arsenal have both scored and conceded – shipping an alarming 11 goals in their last four games – but only Newcastle United have prevented the Gunners from scoring at the Emirates this season, and Chelsea are not exactly jumping for joy at the moment either.
With every passing week, Todd Boehly’s peculiar decision to bring Frank Lampard back to Stamford Bridge is not being vindicated, as the Englishman’s losing streak stretched to a worrying five games when West London rivals Brentford came to town and left with a 2-0 victory.
The returning Cesar Azpilicueta had an own goal to his name in the 37th minute, and as profligacy reared its ugly head for Chelsea once again, Bryan Mbeumo took advantage with a well-taken second for the Bees 12 minutes from time, and 12th place is appropriately where Lampard’s side find themselves right now.
Crystal Palace leapfrogged their London rivals on Saturday thanks to their 4-3 success over West Ham, leaving Chelsea just 10 points clear of the relegation zone and – incredibly – still at risk of demotion to the Championship. It is also mathematically impossible for the Blues to challenge for the top four, but that ship had sailed some time ago.
While the Blues’ squad are said to be excited by the imminent appointment of Mauricio Pochettino as their new manager, Lampard is out to avoid a slice of unwanted history at the Emirates, where defeat would mark a 20th loss of the campaign for the first time in Chelsea’s Premier League era – they last suffered as many beatings in 1987-88.
Now winless in eight straight matches since Graham Potter masterminded a 3-1 triumph over Leicester City in March, Chelsea have just the one goal to their name since Lampard’s homecoming – Conor Gallagher’s deflected strike versus Brighton – and only one of their last 10 Premier League away games has ended in victory.
A Gabriel Magalhaes finish propelled Arsenal to a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge earlier this season, over a year on from the Blues’ Romelu Lukaku-inspired 2-0 victory at the Emirates in August 2021 – a similar showing from ex-Gunner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would not go amiss for the travelling fans here.
Arsenal Premier League form:
Chelsea Premier League form:
Chelsea form (all competitions):
We say: Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea
Chelsea may not be able to buy a goal at the moment, but Arsenal and clean sheets do not go hand-in-hand at the Emirates, and this still has the potential to be a banana skin of a match for the Gunners against a Blues side determined to deal further damage to their adversaries’ hopes of glory.
The hosts’ defensive nous and build-up play is evidently worse with no Saliba in the fold, but the visit of a morale-depleted Chelsea side is a prime opportunity for a return to winning ways for the Gunners, who may have to survive a couple of scares en route to victory and return to the summit, for 24 hours at least.