We return to Premier League action against Chelsea on Saturday - and ahead of the game, Michael Cox examines their strengths, dangermen and areas that the Gunners should look to target.
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After three title-winning campaigns with Juventus and an impressive run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals with Italy, Antonio Conte was an intriguing appointment as Chelsea manager this summer.
Renowned as both a strict disciplinarian and a keen tactician, he’s sure to help Chelsea recover from last season’s 10th-placed finish.
While Conte generally used a 3-5-2 system with Juventus and Italy, this was largely because he had the same three outstanding centre backs with both teams, and it’s not a particular personal preference.
With Chelsea, Conte eventually settled on the 4-3-3 system that Chelsea have used, on and off, since the start of Jose Mourinho’s first spell with the club 12 years ago. There’s an overwhelmingly structured feel to the side, with N’Golo Kante signed from Leicester and instructed to remain solidly in front of the defence, effectively in the role Claude Makelele made his own.
It’s notable that the other two midfielders, Nemanja Matic and Oscar, largely hold their position rather than storming forward into attack. This creates a solid three-man cordon across the midfield, making it difficult for opponents to launch quick counter-attacks. Cesc Fabregas has only been a substitute.
This has helped Chelsea to record impressive defensive statistics – they’ve conceded fewer shots on target than any other team in the league.
The main goal threat is Diego Costa, who has started the season in typical fashion – five goals and three bookings in five matches. Having been involved in incidents which resulted in both Gabriel and Per Mertesacker being dismissed last season, Arsenal know they must be calm and intelligent in their defending against the striker.
Left-sided Eden Hazard has also recaptured his old form after a quiet 2015/16, cutting inside from the left dangerously. His acceleration is quite incredible, and his battle against the similarly speedy Hector Bellerin should be fascinating.
AREAS TO TARGET
Defensively, Chelsea were extremely passive during last Friday’s 2-1 home defeat to Liverpool. While their opponents pressed high up the pitch to regain possession quickly, it was notable that Conte’s side retreated quickly into a deep defensive block, allowing Liverpool’s deep midfielders time on the ball. If allowed time in that zone, Arsenal must use the ball intelligently.
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