Chelsea come into 2018 in very good form, riding a six-match unbeaten streak and losing just once in 14 games in all competitions since that 3-0 debacle two months ago in Rome. The odd power outage in front of the oppositions’ goal aside, it’s been mostly smooth sailing for Conte, as the Blues ended the old year in second place and can regain that position today with three points at the Emirates.
But beating Arsenal (in a competitive setting) has been a shockingly tall task for Conte over the past 18 months, with a 3-0 loss last season causing his first CRISIS (though also prompting the famous switch to the 3-4-3) and a 2-1 loss in the FA Cup final putting a sour final note on what otherwise was an amazing first season for the Chelsea boss. The new season began with a penalty shootout loss in the Community Shield, followed by a disappointing 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge. The Hazard-inspired 3-1 at the Bridge last season (Coquelin may still be spinning like a top in his nightmares) is the lone exception — we’re not counting the friendly win in Shanghai — and is Conte’s only win over Wenger in five tries.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have had a few rough outings immediately after New Year’s, including some of the worst games in recent years, such as the 5-2 loss to Spurs in 2015, the 1-0 loss to QPR (at the Bridge) in 2013, or even the 2-0 loss to Spurs, again, just last year. What is it about odd years? Chelsea almost lost to Villa in the first game of 2011 (drew 3-3 instead) and then lost to Wolves in the second game of 2011! A similar pattern was followed in 2009, with an FA Cup draw against much lower league Southend (!) followed by a 3-0 demolishing suffered at Old Trafford. 2007 began with a 0-0 draw at Villa, but finally, if we go all the way back to 2005, we’ll find a New (odd) Year’s win (1-0 at Anfield).
Fortunately, we’re in an even year!
Date / Time: Wednesday, January 3, 2018, 19:45 GMT; 2:45pm EST; 1:15am IST
Venue: Emirates Stadium, London, England
Referee: Anthony Taylor — the same man who refereed the FA Cup final (watch it, Victor Moses) and the same man who refereed the 2015 Community Shield, both of which involved Chelsea losses to Arsenal. Arsenal have actually not lost under Taylor for 12 straight matches.
Forecast: Gusty, possibly rainy
On TV: Sky Sports Main Event (UK); NBCSN, Universo (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: Sky Go (UK); NBC Sports Live Extra, Universo Now, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo (USA); Hotstar (India)
Arsenal team news: Arsenal may or may not be suffering yet another injury crisis, out of which we’d make a bigger deal were it not for a similar situation in the FA Cup final last year that hardly even mattered in the end (I mean, Mertesacker? Come on...).
The one meaningful injury could be Sead Kolašinac, who played very well against Chelsea in the Community Shield and would’ve been a lovely addition to the Blues, too, had they not been asleep at the transfer wheel last year. Aaron Ramsey’s absence will be key as well, as he remains sidelined with a thigh injury alongside Monreal, Giroud, and the permanently injured Santi Cazorla. Mesut Özil and Laurent Koscielny face late fitness tests, though the latter only has about a 30 per cent chance of passing it, apparently.
Wenger’s spirits suffered a big injury last time out as well as Arsenal drew with West Brom thanks to a late and harsh penalty call on Calum Chambers, which has now been followed up by an FA Charge after he attempted to strike down Mike Dean using words unleashed with great vengeance and furious anger. Wenger could very well be facing a suspension (which could include our League Cup meetings), but he will be available for water bottle-throwing and coat-zipping duty today still.
View from the enemy: The Short Fuse
Chelsea team news: Despite the angry draw, Arsenal are actually unbeaten in eight straight, although four of those were draws in the league and that has seen them drop off the top four pace a bit. A Chelsea win would increase that gap to 10 points between second and sixth.
Conte has been counting on all his players this holiday season, but he’s likely to revert to an all first-choice 3-5-2 in this one, with only backups David Luiz and Charly Musonda Jr unavailable. But their recovery has been going well and they both should be available for the weekend’s FA Cup diversion.
Until then, all hands on deck!
Previously: The day it all changed.