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After defeating Newcastle United last weekend, Chelsea have had a rare week off to prepare for the visit of Arsenal on Saturday evening. Whilst there has been no action on the pitch Chelsea’s transfer gurus have been busy behind the scenes trying to secure Maurizio Sarri a couple of new players.
At the time of writing, there is every chance that Gonzalo Higuain could be in contention for a place in the starting XI. In order for that to happen Marina Granovskaia will have to secure his signature by 12 pm today. With flights and medicals to be had, it may be too late for the Argentinian to make his West London debut.
Last weekend was a good one for Chelsea. Not only did they get those crucial three points at home to the Toon, but both Arsenal and Tottenham lost their respective games. For all their “scintillating play”, Spurs, who have the media eating out of their Wembley trough, find Chelsea just one point behind them. Born again Arsenal are lagging 6 points behind.
Saturday’s game is a classic ‘6 pointer’. A Chelsea win extends that lead over the Gunners to 9 points, a defeat and Emery’s side will be just 3 points behind. A win for Chelsea will see them overtake Spurs taking third place in the Premier League, at least for 24 hours ahead of the Lilywhites game against Fulham.
One Chelsea player not taking part will be Alvaro Morata who looks likely to move back over to Spain at some point during this transfer window. Atletico Madrid are the favourites to sign him, probably on an initial loan. With £70m Morata on his way out and Higuain on his way in, Sarri can be satisfied that the club’s owner and directors are backing him. Both Jose Mourinho 2.0 and Antonio Conte will be looking back jealously. So who starts on Saturday evening.
Goalkeeper – Kepa Arrizabalaga is the one and only choice. The goal that Chelsea conceded against Newcastle was not down to Kepa, once again it was a lapse in defensive concentration that allowed Ciaran Clark a free header. As a side note, with Petr Cech this week announcing his retirement at the end of the season, Chelsea fans will be disappointed he didn’t head home for one more season at Chelsea as Kepa’s number two before hanging up his gloves and head-gear.
Defence – Like Antonio Conte before him, Maurizio Sarri rarely messes with the defence. This game is unlikely to see that trend change. Cesar Azpilicueta remains Chelsea’s Mr Reliable, and pretty much ever-present right-back, so once again he captain’s the side. It was in the centre of the defence that Clark found the space to score last weekend but David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger remain Sarri’s best pairing – assuming Ethan Ampadu is not getting a chance. It shouldn’t be overlooked, and it was apparent against Newcastle, that Luiz remains one of Chelsea’s best passers of the ball. Marcos Alonso was looking tired as the new year came in but a week of rest and recovery should see him good to go again.
Midfield – With Cesc Fabregas gone, a replacement is needed but as yet is not forthcoming. Whilst rumours abound, Sarri knows his best current three. The passing machine that is Jorginho has now eclipsed 2000 passes. The criticism he’s received for not making assists is unjustified given that’s not what he’s in the team for. N’golo Kante is adapting to his more forward role but Sarri is still being told he’s being played out of position, the Italian has to be trusted. Mateo Kovacic is set to resume his place in the midfield three but like the other two needs to add goals to his game.
Attack – As previously indicated this game could just come too soon for Gonzalo Higuain. However, his arrival will signal a change of intent as Chelsea look so much better with a genuine striker as a focal point. The industrious work rate of Eden Hazard is much better suited floating around the penalty area. Although it’s claimed he plays the ‘false nine’ role when deemed necessary, in reality, he only does that when Chelsea don’t have the ball. So often balls are being crossed into nobody. In preparation for Higuain’s arrival, Olivier Giroud starting against his former club would make sense.
The final spot is literally a toss-up between the other two attacking midfielders, both of whom scored in the last game. You won’t find this writer dismissing Willian’s credentials for pulling on a Chelsea shirt – he’ll always have my utmost respect. Pedro started well against Newcastle and frequently scores an early goal. He deserves the chance to try and do the same against Arsenal.
Arrizabalaga, Alonso, Rudiger, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic, Hazard, Pedro, Giroud
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