By some measures, Chelsea’s opening slate of fixtures have been among the easiest in the league — in fact, based simply on where teams finished last year, we’ve had the easiest run so far. Of course, that’s a rather rudimentary way of assessing strength of schedule and opposition (which is why Squawka were squawking about it recently), but there’s no doubt that our upcoming fixtures are going to turn things up to 11. Yes, this dial goes to 11.
Three of the next four in the league are against the current top three, and while Spurs have had more than their fair share of luck so far to stay unbeaten, there’s no telling when such things will turn and get them back to normal. But first, it’s Arsenal, at home, and this one has the added symbolic benefit of a classic red versus blue footballing rivalry.
For much of the past twenty years, London was Blue. We can even pinpoint that exact time it became Blue: Wayne Bridge scoring three minutes from time against the “Invincibles” at the Emirates in 2004, in the second leg of the 2003-04 Champions League quarter-finals. But over the past twelve months it swung back to red quite definitively.
Will this be temporary? Is this the new world order? Nights like these will decide.
Date / Time: Saturday, October 21, 2023, 17.30 BST; 12:30pm EDT; 10pm IST
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Chris Kavanagh (on pitch); Jarred Gillett (VAR)
Forecast: Thunder and lightning, very very frightening
On TV: Sky Sports Main Event (UK); NBC (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); SuperSport Premier League, Canal+ Sport 3 (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: Sky Go (UK); Peacock (USA); Hotstar (India); DStv Now (NGA)
Chelsea team news: All eyes will be on the fitness of Reece James, who’s been reported out, in, and anything in-between over the past 48 hours. Mauricio Pochettino says that our captain needs to get assessed still, which isn’t very helpful for any clarity.
Also being assessed are Nicolas Jackson (hand surgery) and Axel Disasi (thigh), two of the handful of players to pick up injury concerns over the international break. Thankfully, Cole Palmer looks to be okay. Unfortunately, Armando Broja will miss out, as will Carney Chukwuemeka. Malo Gusto has returned from suspension to add more options on the defensive flanks once again. For everyone else, their status remains unchanged, though Benoît Badiashile could be fit enough to make the bench for the first time this season.
Chelsea were building some pretty good momentum before the break with three wins on the bounce, and now we will have to rediscover that mojo. Raheem Sterling and Cole Palmer had been in great form, Mykhailo Mudryk seemed to be figuring things out at long last, Robert Sánchez had been providing solid goalkeeping, our midfield trio of Enzo Fernández, Moisés Caicedo, and Conor Gallagher had started forming a stellar trio, and we even scored some goals! Hopefully we don’t have to go back to square one in all those aspects just because of a two-week break!
Arsenal team news: After a six-year (6!) absence, Arsenal returned to the top four last season, finishing second behind runaway champions Manchester City. Now, the Gunners are targeting the throne and doing a pretty good job of it so far. They trail surprise leaders Tottenham only on goal scored, and have lost just one game in any competition, a 2-1 reverse in Lens in the Champions League. The have the Premier League’s stingiest defense and second highest goal difference, and all the confidence that comes along with having had a core group of players improving together for the past few years.
Two of those key players could be missing in action however, with both Bukayo Saka and William Saliba getting the “need to be assessed” designation — though both missing from Friday’s training session, unlike Chelsea’s cadre of assessed. However, Arsenal were able to beat Manchester City, 1-0 without either already, just before the break. Leandro Trossard will also undergo a late fitness test, while summer signing Jurriën Timber is out for the season with a knee ligament tear.
And speaking of summer signings, Kai Havertz has made a rather unimpressive start to life in North London, finding the back of the net just once in a dozen appearances (nine starts), and that from the penalty spot. Other new arrivals have fared much better, with Declan Rice easily displacing Jorginho in midfield and David Raya doing the same to Aaron Ramsdale in goal.
View from the enemy: The Short Fuse
Previously: Arsenal have owned us in recent times, winning six of the past seven in all competitions, including three in a row. The last time we beat them at the Bridge was, and I hope you’re sitting down for this, in 2018. Yikes.