EPL Week Six should see one one of the games of the season so far when Arsenal play host to Chelsea, while Jose Mourinho needs a return to winning ways in the league and Manchester City head back to Swansea for the second time in four days.
Can Arsenal end Chelsea hoodoo?
If you are an Arsenal fan, the head-to-head stats for this fixture make for some depressing reading. No Premier League side has dominated the Gunners in recent times more than Chelsea.
October 29, 2011 – the last time Arsenal beat Chelsea in a league tie. And it was quite an emphatic victory too, a 5-3 trouncing of the Blues on their own turf. Since then the two sides have met nine times in the league, with Chelsea claiming six wins. The other three were goalless draws.
January 20, 2013 – the last time an Arsenal player scored a league goal against their bitter London rivals.
The recent rivalry timeline tells a story of Chelsea’s ruthless stranglehold over Arsenal. That dominance will imbue the Blues with confidence going into the latest battle. But this is football. What has gone on in the past is inconsequential and has little bearing on the looming contest. The form book is shredded and all historical results are as good as expunged seconds before the first whistle to signal the start of the new battle.
There is no love lost between Arsenal and Chelsea, a fiery rivalry underpinned by intriguing subtexts. The last two meetings saw three Gunners players dismissed – Per Mertesacker, Gabriel and Santi Carzola.
On such crucial decisions matches turn. It is a point Arsene Wenger will no doubt stress to his players. The Gunners boss will caution against impetuosity. He will also not want his players to be engulfed by the emotion of the occasion.
Diego Costa’s part in Gabriel’s controversial dismissal the last time the two sides met will still be fresh in the memory. Going into Saturday’s clash Wenger will demand that his players be wise to their opponents’ antics. Costa loves a good confrontation and rest assured he be actively looking for one. Arsenal defenders will not only be pitting their wits against a combative forward, but also one of the best exponents of the art of gamesmanship. And against the Chelsea collective the Gunners will be up against opponents who are proving to be more resilient than spectacular so far this season.
Under Wenger’s tutelage Arsenal have the advantage of managerial continuity. By contrast, Chelsea under Antonio Conte are still a work in progress. What impact, if any, will that have on this tie?
Jose must lift his dazed troops
Just how much of a fillip was Manchester United’s League Cup win over Northampton Town in midweek? It was important in only as far as it halted a three-match losing streak, but otherwise United are still very much in a mini crisis. The wound must be treated before it festers.
The performance at Sixfields did little to convince increasingly restless fans that their team is back on track. After making heavy weather of the victory over lowly opponents the real and proper test of the Red Devils’ ability to bounce back will be provided by Leicester City on Saturday. A third successive league defeat would set the cat among the pigeons at Old Trafford.
Mourinho has some tough selection decisions to make. Will he succumb to growing publish pressure and drop Wayne Rooney, or will the Portuguese keep faith with his out-of-sorts captain. That Rooney played against Northampton from start to finish was telling. There is no doubt Mourinho picked the England international in the hope that he would find form, score a couple of goals and draw confidence from the performance. Instead, Rooney gave his detractors more ammunition with another iffy display.
It has been suggested that United players are suffering from a crisis of confidence. After flattering to deceive in the opening three matches, in the last four they have looked decidedly like the bunch Mourinho inherited from Louis van Gaal – error prone, tentative and almost timid. Mourinho must summon all his experience and find ways to coax the best out of his stars.
A quick renewal of acquaintances
It will be a much-changed Manchester City side when the league leaders return to the Liberty Stadium, scene of their midweek League Cup triumph over Swansea City.
The bad news for Swansea is that Sergio Aguero is back after serving his three-match ban, not that City have missed him. Pep Guardiola’s free-scoring charges plundered eight goals in the Argentina international’s absence.
City are odds on favourites to beat the Swans for the second time in four days and maintain their perfect start to the season. Swansea, without a win since the opening day victory over Burnley, have their work cut out against opponents determined to establish an early stranglehold on the title race. There is an ominous look of invincibility about City that it is difficult to see any outcome other than a win for the visitors.
Bilic and the second-season syndrome
Yes, we know it’s only five matches into the season and that there is still plenty of time for West Ham to rehabilitate their season, but asking whether Slaven Bilic has been afflicted by the second season syndrome is a perfectly legitimate question.
After the highs of last term, the Hammers’ new season has started with a mystifying whimper. Bilic’s men are on a three-match losing streak in the league. The manner of their team’s capitulation in the last two matches would have been a cause of considerable consternation among the West Hams fans. To lose to Watford and West Brom in quick succession and by the identical 4-2 scoreline was a shock to the system. No disrespect to the Hornets and the Baggies, but on last season’s form smart money would have been on West Ham to win both matches with minimum fuss.
How long before the natives become restless?
It makes Sunday’s home tie with Southampton a must-win for West Ham.