The Boxing Day fixture against Chelsea might just be Arsenal’s chance to get their season finally up and running. We go into this game on terrible form, sitting 15th in the table and winless since our 1-0 victory against Manchester United in early November. 11 points, in fact, away from our rivals Chelsea and Spurs. However, it’s not long since Arteta’s Cup Final masterclass where we were triumphant over Chelsea.
Naturally, it is very difficult to be at all hopeful as an Arsenal fan right now, but there could be a lot riding on this game. After a difficult game against Chelsea, Arsenal have a run of what at least seems very winnable games. Games against Brighton, West Brom, Crystal Palace and Newcastle. If, and this is a big if, Arsenal can get a shock win against Chelsea on Boxing Day, we would be well placed to go on a run which the likes of Chelsea, Spurs and even Manchester United have already done to find themselves where they are in the table.
However, what makes this task even more difficult is the injury list going into this fixture. Partey is still on the road to recovery, whilst Aubameyang is in need of assessment after missing our last two fixtures. Chelsea are not without their issues either though, with their dynamic full backs, both Reece James and Ben Chilwell, doubts for this fixture.
Arsenal need to try and get at Chelsea. Hunt in packs and suffocate them in key areas; this is what we did so well in the FA Cup Final to make it difficult for them to create any real chances. Chelsea is a team that is going to thrive on Arsenal sitting back and inviting pressure. They have the players to break through this, unless Arsenal defenders are on their absolute A-game which hasn’t been the case of late. I want to see a 4 at the back with Tierney and AMN providing the width. This will enable us to really get the best out of Pepe and Saka in this game. With their first choice fullbacks likely out for this match, this is the area of the pitch where we can make the difference.
With all that being said, here is how I’d set Arsenal up…
Leno – Following Alex Runarsson’s poor showing in the quarter final defeat to Manchester City, it is clear that, at least for the time being, Leno needs to play every major game.
Maitland-Niles – I have been defending Arteta as well as possible, however I’m going to struggle to continue that if he goes for Bellerin over Ainsley in this one. He is just far more willing to overlap, rather than always looking to play inside. He is the key to maximising Nicolas Pepe.
Holding – I still think he is Arteta’s preferred option in that RCB position. At some point. I’d love to see Saliba given a chance there but this isn’t the right game to make that change.
Gabriel – One of the first names on the team sheet now. He has been excellent so far for Arsenal.
Tierney – I really hope we see Tierney played in his best position at left-back. Almost every decent chance we seem to be able to great comes from a link up between him and Saka, high up the pitch. So let’s not waste one at CB and the other at LWB; let them attack!
Elneny – Elneny will play a crucial role in letting the fullbacks bomb forwards. He needs to be our metronome in this game; simply moving side to side in front of the back 4 and playing his usual progressive passes when needed.
Ceballos – With Elneny doing the boring job, Ceballos needs to start being a true number 8 again. I want to see him floating around, following the ball. Playing quick passes in tight areas and most of all, having the confidence to join the attack.
Pepe – Hopefully, with Martinelli back up front and AMN on the overlap, Pepe can take this game by the scruff of the neck and exploit a potential weakness in the Chelsea backline without Chilwell.
Lacazette – I’d continue with Lacazette in the number 10 role. He and Martinelli seemed to have a good chemistry in what was perhaps the only good thing to take from the game against City. I concede he is not clinical enough to lead the line, but he links the play well behind the striker and helps us press from the front more effectively with him in that deeper role.
Saka – No matter what the rest of the lineup looks like, Saka has to start. I don’t think I need to tell any of you how good this guy has been for us this season. I just wish the rest of the squad could play with his confidence and energy.
Martinelli – I was worried for Martinelli after his knock against City, but it has since been confirmed that he is ready to go again. If he is fit enough, he has to start. He is far from the finished article, but his relentless pressure will at least make it difficult for Chelsea. More difficult than I think an Nketiah or even slightly jaded Aubameyang would make it.