BY PAUL EREWUBA
The English Premier League (EPL) enters another feverish week with all eyes at the Stamford Bridge quakes as two arch rivals – Chelsea and Arsenal clash to determine who runs away with the crucial three points at stake.
The Antonio Conte – tutored Chelsea have 56 points after 23 games while Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal have 47 points to show for their runs after 23 matches.
The Gunners beat Chelsea 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium in September last year.
Chelsea strengthened their grip on the Premier League title with a 1-1 draw at Liverpool on Tuesday, although Diego Costa missed a late penalty.
With the Blues nine points clear from their opponent, Conte has urged his wards to avenge their Arsenal loss by defeating their London rivals today.
The Gunners were 2-0 down within 13 minutes at the Emirates against Watford on Tuesday but were unable to comeback from the early setbacks despite Alex Iwobi’s consolatory goal, and keen league watchers believe this has no doubt, left their Premier League title chances hanging by a thread.
The result was Arsenal’s first defeat of 2017 and pundits say this has added even more significance to today’s showdown with leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
This is so because Chelsea, whose formation has changed since the arrival of their Italian tactician, go into today’s encounter exuding confidence.
Indeed, Chelsea have switched to a 3-4-3 formation, while the return of Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud from the bench has seen Sanchez return to the flanks.
And deciding how best to use the Chilean at Stamford Bridge could be decisive for Wenger whose wards have not shown enough spark. But one thing is sure; Sanchez could prove to be Chelsea albatross.
Alexis Sanchez’s flexibility gives Arsene Wenger different options as he looks to find a way to win against Chelsea who now appears indomitable.
But it must be noted that there have been changes for both teams since then.
However, poor starts have become a feature of Arsenal’s performances in January. They conceded two quick goals before battling back for a 3-3 draw at Bournemouth and had to respond to a seventh-minute opener from Preston in their third-round FA Cup tie.
Arsenal’s Premier League title hopes suffered a huge blow after Watford produced a brilliant performance to claim a 2-1 victory.
And the team’s experienced goalkeeper Petr Cech has acknowledged that the defeat to Watford represents “a huge setback” to Arsenal’s chances of winning this season’s Premier League.
Some football pundits are of the view that Arsenal was beaten by Watford because they lacked Chelsea’s attitude.
However, there are few weaknesses in the starting XI Chelsea coach Conte has been fortunate enough to field week-in week-out this season but, as Arsenal and Spurs have shown they are not unbeatable against a team at the top of their game.
Conte’s faith in 3-4-3 could be tested should one of his wing-backs suffer injury, while the Italian has yet to show faith in Michy Batshuayi if Diego Costa is injured.
They have also won a large number of their games by just one goal, a situation which Arsenal could capitalise on to pull a draw, if Chelsea does not up their game this afternoon.