We host Chelsea on Saturday in the Premier League. Chris Harris previews the game with the help of the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger.
“Being serious is the only way to be successful and maybe the only way to get pleasure out of your game - to put real heart in. You cannot play for Arsenal and not turn up with that intensity.” - Arsene Wenger
Once upon a time, we just didn't lose to Chelsea.
From December 1995 to August 2005 - 19 games over virtually a decade - our Premier League record against the Blues was DDWWWDWWWDDDWDWWWDD.
The following decade? Not so good.
OP = Outfield PlayersGK = Goal Keepers
Notwithstanding last year’s Ox-inspired Community Shield win, we haven’t won any of our last nine top-flight meetings with Chelsea and haven’t scored in the last six of those.
There were times when we’d boss possession but create little and get picked off by that man Didier Drogba. Last season, a new trend emerged - encouraging starts washed away by red cards.
Gabriel, Santi Cazorla and Per Mertesacker all fell foul of the referee last term so rule No 1 on Saturday is simple: keep 11 men on the pitch.
“They [the players] know that,” Wenger told Arsenal Player. “But of course, we tell them that last year we had two unfortunate incidents but we want to focus. It’s important to have good discipline.”
As for that rotten run against Chelsea, the boss has a simple explanation. “I explain it by the fact that they always had strong teams,” he said. “Maybe we have a hurdle to overcome. It’s what you call an inconvenient fact.
|Arsenal: Ramsey (hamstring), Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Welbeck (all knee), Giroud (toe - doubt)Chelsea: Terry (ankle), Van Ginkel, Zouma (both knee)|
“But a quality of a team is to change things - when you have an opportunity to change things, you take it. We have a chance to reverse what’s happened in recent years against Chelsea. There were periods where we won always, periods where we couldn’t beat them, so let’s hope we go into a new era where we can deliver.”
The signs are undeniably promising. Wenger made 11 changes for the midweek trip to Nottingham Forest but the performance lost none of its intensity, fluency and seriousness from the Hull City game.
“Yes, I believe that the pace, the movement, the technical quality and the way we want to play football was there,” he said. “We had the needed intensity, because their supporters were behind their team and they were ready to create something special. We started well and in the end we got a comfortable win.
“Being serious is the only way to be successful and maybe the only way to get pleasure out of your game - to put the real heart in. You cannot play for Arsenal and not turn up with that intensity. Let’s not forget we had nearly 5,000 fans there - and they want to see the players really committed. They were.”
ONE TO WATCH
Wherever you watch Arsenal, you might have heard - or complained yourself - that we don’t shoot from distance that much. Those grumbles might dry up if Granit Xhaka gets a run in the side.
The midfielder announced himself to the Premier League with a thumping long-range strike at Hull and scored from distance again at Forest. Wenger acknowledges that it’s hardly textbook Arsenal, but he knows there’s value in having a variety to your attacking play.
“The fact that you have potential to shoot from distance can pull defenders out and create more space for the game we want to play,” he said. “To have a player like Xhaka, who can score from a distance, gives us different hopes, different variety in our attacking.
“Hopefully that can create the confidence for some other players to sometimes take a shot from distance, even if the basis of our game is more short combinations.”
The boss spoke a lot last season about how our ‘expected goals’ tally did not reflect what went down on the pitch. With eight goals in two games, that is changing.
“We have a better percentage of converted chances into goals,” said Wenger. “Let’s touch wood and hope it continues, because we go into a period where we play every three days. The fact that we scored the first goal is vital in these kind of games.”
A week before his 20th anniversary as Arsenal boss, Wenger will face his 12th Chelsea manager.
|This will be Arsene Wenger’s 55th game against Chelsea as Arsenal manager - he’s only faced Man United more (56)We’ve had four players sent off in our last five PL games against Chelsea and have been given more red cards against the Blues than any other opponent (7)|
In the wake of Gullit, Vialli, Ranieri, Mourinho, Grant, Scolari, Hiddink, Ancelotti, Villas Boas, Di Matteo and Benitez comes former Italy national coach, Antonio Conte.
He’s brought extra vigour to Chelsea’s touchline celebrations, a batch of signings - N’Golo Kante, Michy Batshuayi, Marcos Alonso and David Luiz - plus some tactical tweaks.
“I believe that Conte has moved to a 4-3-3,” said Wenger. “He has very strong defensive solidity and the pace they have on the flanks with Hazard and Willian and with Diego Costa up front makes them dangerous every time they win the ball back.
“They are the players who have the main responsibility to create offensive danger. We have, of course, to keep them quiet.”
It’s a bit early to talk about season-defining games, but there’s no doubt a win over Chelsea would be symbolic and significant. We will surely see plenty of the ball on Saturday but, as the Blues found at Swansea a fortnight ago, you have to be ruthless when you’re in control.
“That’s the problem of the Premier League today,” said Wenger. “If you miss your strong moments in the game, you are always in danger because at some stage the opponent team has enough quality to come at you. It’s true that [Chelsea’s 2-2 draw at] Swansea is a good example of that.
“I believe we are, as a team since the start of the season, on the way up. We want to grab this opportunity to show that our progress is consistent.”
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