Old foes and former colleagues will reunite at Stamford Bridge on Sunday lunchtime as Chelsea tackle Arsenal in a mouth-watering Premier League London derby.
Both sides enter the game on the back of continental successes, as the Blues got the better of Dinamo Zagreb 2-1 in the Champions League, while the Gunners advanced to the last 16 of the Europa League.
Winning in Europe is always the perfect tonic after a demoralising domestic defeat, especially one which saw Brighton & Hove Albion teach former manager Graham Potter a footballing lesson in a 4-1 Amex romping, but Chelsea were made to work for their success over Dinamo Zagreb.
Electing to name a strong lineup despite already steering his side through as group winners, Potter witnessed Bruno Petkovic steal in and open the scoring after just seven minutes, but Raheem Sterling and debutant Denis Zakaria completed a much-needed turnaround for the Blues in the English capital.
The Blues’ stellar defensive streak under Potter may have been wiped out, but suffering just one defeat in 11 games is far from the worst start for the Englishman, although his side do have some ground to make up in the Premier League table as they lie in sixth position, three points behind Newcastle United in fourth with a game in hand.
It would take results going their way and a 12-goal swing for Chelsea to rise into the Champions League spots this weekend, but Stamford Bridge has been kind to the Blues in recent memory, as they are unbeaten in 12 consecutive matches in all competitions in front of their own fans.
However, Arsenal were the most recent team to overcome Chelsea on their own patch, and Stamford Bridge has been a happy hunting ground for the North London club in recent memory, so taking advantage of their extra 24 hours’ worth of rest will be of paramount importance to Potter and co.
In contrast, Arsenal sought to recover from a European defeat with a Premier League win last weekend, and the Gunners certainly demonstrated a clinical edge that has been absent more often than not recently, putting five past Nottingham Forest without reply even after Bukayo Saka came off injured.
However, the Gunners’ inability to kill games off when a goal to the good reared its ugly head in the Europa League this week, as Kieran Tierney’s sweetly-struck half-volley put Arsenal ahead against FC Zurich, but they nevertheless held on for a nervy 1-0 win which sent them straight through to the last 16.
Avoiding an extra playoff tie against an eliminated Champions League club is a touch of gold for Arsenal, who enter the weekend still two points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, but they could be knocked down to second by Sunday if the champions beat Fulham.
All five of the points that Arsenal have dropped in the Premier League this season have come on the road, but they nevertheless remain the division’s best-performing away side this term and have only conceded four goals on rival turf so far – the best record of its kind in the league.
Arteta has led Arsenal to two consecutive triumphs at Stamford Bridge in the last two seasons – with a 2-0 win for Chelsea at the Emirates sandwiched in between – and a new club record could also be set for the Gunners, who are aiming to win three successive Premier League London derbies away from home without conceding for the very first time.
Chelsea Premier League form:
Chelsea form (all competitions):
Arsenal Premier League form:
Arsenal form (all competitions):
We say: Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal
Even if Arsenal can find the back of the net early doors at Stamford Bridge – as they have done throughout the season – failure to put the game to bed would open the door for the Blues to dent the Gunners’ early title aspirations.
Potter is yet to suffer defeat at Stamford Bridge, but Arsenal have fond memories of their recent trips to West London and were able to rest a number of key first-team stars in midweek, so we expect the Gunners to take advantage of the Blues’ depleted defence and travel back to the Emirates with a hard-earned three points.