Without playing a single match, this matchup has gone from first versus third to third versus fifth. That's how tight it is at the top of the Barclays Premier Parity League.
Chelsea in fifth is not a pretty picture, but it does get better when you realize that we're only three points from the top. Should we win, we're back on level terms with Liverpool albeit just in second because of goal difference. Should we lose, we stay fifth, five points off Arsenal's pace. It would not actually be, but it would probably (certainly?) feel tragic. And if there's a draw - a likely outcome, all considered - a grand total of two points would separate the top five sides. For the sake of competition, that'd be amazing.
We may have already won at the Emirates this season, and Chelsea may have yet to lose to Arsenal with Mourinho in charge (five wins, four draws), but none of that will matter one bit tomorrow. What will matter is Chelsea putting together their best performance since, perhaps, the UEFA Super Cup.
Date/Time: Monday, December 23, 2013, 20:00 GMT; 3pm EST; 1:30am IST (next day)
Venue/Location: Emirates Stadium, North London, UK
Forecast: Rain. Rain, rain, rain, rain, and then, more rain.
On TV: Sky Sports 1 (UK); NBCSN (USA); Star Sports 4, Star Sports HD 2 (India)
Online: NOW TV, Sky Go (UK); NBC Live Extra (USA); Star Sports (India)
On bar stools, drinks in hand: Yours truly, taking in all the liquid courage fit for midday consumption.
Arsenal squad news: Mourinho has talked up Arsenal as potential champions, heaping special praise on his pal Mesut Ozil. Whether he's doing that out of genuine belief or as an attempt at mind games, there's hardly a question that Arsenal's early season form (confirming their league-best form for the 2013 calendar year) has them well-positioned for a title challenge. The sobering part for the Gunners is that they've coughed up an eight-point lead and they have yet to hit the toughest part of their schedule, but for now, they're reaping the benefits of staying the course with Arsene Wenger.
Wenger should have a most of his squad available, with defender Laurent Koscielny the one key injury. The Mertesacker - Koscielny pairing have started 11 of the last 12 league matches and Arsenal have yet to win any of Thomas Vermaelen's three starts, so there's something to give our strikers hope. Abou Diaby and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are long-term absentees. Jack Wilshere was a bad boy last weekend and he's thusly suspended. Lukas Podolski however is now available.
Arsenal are winless in three, a 2-0 loss in Naples sandwiched by a home draw versus Everton and that 6-3 away shellacking by Manchester City.
View from the enemy: The Short Fuse
Chelsea squad news: Marco van Ginkel is making good progress, but he's still a few months away from any sort of real action. Ryan Bertrand continues to carry some sort of mystery injury. Michael Essien is suspended, having managed to pick up his fifth yellow on just his sixth appearance (fourth start) midweek. Impressive, Mr. Bison, most impressive.
Last time we played Arsenal, Jose Mourinho had to point out just how much he values Cesar Azpilicueta as a squad player who never complains and does exactly what's asked of him. Now, he needs to field question about Ashley Cole and whether he'll ever play another important game for Chelsea. The times, they sure are a-changin'. Joining Azpilicueta in defense will be John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, and either a crazy Brazilian or a boring, timid Englishman.
My guess is that we'll see a front four of Fernando Torres & The Three Amigos, although Willian could just as easily deserve a starting spot as well on account of his excellent recent form. Frank Lampard and Ramires will no doubt hang out in the middle and approximate a midfield. Nothing less than our strongest starting eleven will do, to state the obvious.
Previously: Chelsea are 4-2-2 all-time at the Emirates, winning four of the last five there. Since Wayne Bridge scored that goal, Arsenal have beaten Chelsea only four times in 24 tries (inclusive of that Champions League two-legged quarterfinal). While historically this cross-London rivalry has been decided in favor of Arsenal more often than not (71 vs. 57 wins), the recent advantage has been firmly in our court. May that long continue.