We’re back in Premier League action on Wednesday night when we host Chelsea at Emirates Stadium.
Ahead of the game, tactical expert Michael Cox and former Gunner Adrian Clarke examine our opponents in detail.
MC: Antonio Conte’s first season in English football was hugely impressive, taking Chelsea to the title with the second-highest number of points in the Premier League era. The turning point was midway through this fixture last season, when Conte decided to make a surprise substitution, removing Cesc Fabregas and introducing Marcos Alonso. It seemed a peculiar change at 3-0 down, but Conte wasn’t trying to turn around the game – he was experimenting with a new formation, 3-4-3. They promptly embarked upon an incredible 13-match winning run, taking them from eighth to nailed-on title favourites.
MC: Towards the end of last season, however, opponents started to become wiser to Chelsea’s 3-4-3 – including Arsenal, who defeated them in the FA Cup final with a 3-4-3 system of their own. This season, therefore, Conte has often used a 3-5-2 system to provide tactical variety, and an extra central midfielder.
AC: They’ve got a lot of options. Plan A appears to be Morata up top with Eden Hazard floating in behind. I must say that whenever I’ve seen them operate together like that, they’ve been brilliant. Even though there’s only two of them compared to the three we’ve seen in the other shape, they’ve got more than enough ability to cause problems. The other option of course is to have two players in behind, like Willian and Pedro. Sometimes we’ve seen Hazard as a false nine with Willan and Pedro floating around as well. I think if Morata’s fit then he’ll play.
MC: Centre forward Alvaro Morata is a newcomer this season but is a typical Chelsea striker – a tall No 9 who has replaced Diego Costa in terms of goals, if not aggression. He’s been particularly prolific with his head – and his most frequent assister has been, unusually, Chelsea’s right-sided defender Cesar Azpilicueta, who has stepped forward to provide excellent crosses for his compatriot.
MC: In the 3-4-3 system, Conte prefers Eden Hazard drifting inside from the left and Pedro running in behind from the right. But in the 3-5-2 Pedro is sacrificed, with Hazard taking up his favoured central position. The Belgian is even more unpredictable in this role – he can come short or sprint in behind, and is excellent at combining with Morata on the break.
AREAS TO TARGET
MC: After the packed Christmas schedule, Conte might be forced to rotate – and he’s frequently raised concerns about his lack of depth. Italian Davide Zappacosta provides cover at wing-back and Antonio Rudiger at the back, but neither have established themselves as undroppable first-teamers. Danny Drinkwater has often been injured since his switch from Leicester, while Michy Batshuayi has rarely started up front.
AC: What I will say is that last time we played against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the defenders were brilliant. They were absolutely outstanding in the way that they handled Alvaro Morata, who I rate highly. They really got into him, they were really physical, resilient and basically roughed him up. I’d like to see them do that again.
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