It’s said that a football match can often be won or lost in the middle of the pitch, and in Saturday’s meeting between Arsenal and Chelsea we’ll see some of the finest midfield talents currently in the Premier League. So as we edge closer to kick-off, we want to know which manager has the best options to choose from.
It’s been the case for a while that Arsene Wenger has had a wealth of offensive talent to choose from in the middle of the park, but questions have continuously been asked about the defensive side of his midfield.
The departure of Patrick Vieira back in 2005 sparked many years of concern for Gooners, who were left wondering which player would step forward and fill the Frenchman’s boots.
Many tried, but few stuck around, and this was an area of the pitch that Arsenal fans were screaming at Wenger to reinvest in this summer.
And he did exactly that, spending £34m on 23-year-old Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach.
In Xhaka, Arsenal now have a genuine midfield powerhouse, but Wenger has been careful about when to play and rest the Switzerland international up to this point, so don’t be surprised if he watches much of the game from the bench.
Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin have started Arsenal’s last two league games together and the pair have the advantage of spending almost two years playing alongside each other. But Xhaka’s form means nobody’s position is safe right now.
And let’s not forget about January buy Mohamed Elneny, who has also enjoyed a strong start to the season, albeit largely from the bench. Although the Egyptian hasn’t started a league game since the opening day defeat to Liverpool, his inclusion on Saturday would certainly bring balance to an otherwise attack-minded side.
At last, it seems Arsene finally has a welcome selection dilemma.
Antonio Conte also faces a tough decision prior to kick-off with regard to his central midfielders. So far he’s stood by Nemanja Matic and new signing N’Golo Kante, who’ve both started all five of Chelsea’s Premier League games this season.
But a certain Cesc Fabregas is now knocking on the door for a starting place, reminding his boss what he’s capable of with a two-minute brace against Leicester this week in the EFL Cup.
And given the importance of Saturday’s game on a personal level to Fabregas, there’s every chance Conte will shake things up in the engine room after two games without a win in the top-flight.
Doubts over John Terry’s fitness for Saturday’s game rule out any possibility of Chelsea returnee David Luiz featuring anywhere other than in defence, meaning Conte will either stick with the midfield pair which have so far brought him 10 points in five games or replace one of the two with Fabregas.
So will Wenger add another defensive-minded player to his starting line-up? Or will the fact he’s playing at home sway him into fielding an offensive side?
Will Fabregas start against his old side? Who has the better midfield? We asked @goonerclaude, star of Arsenal Fan TV, and AFTV Extra host @Memz_Dogi for their opinion on the matter, and here’s what they had to say…
“I feel we have the edge but the right balance has to be played on Saturday so one of Cazorla or Ozil has to be on the bench as Elneny and Xhaka must start, but I wouldn’t swap any of Chelsea’s midfielders for ours.”
“This is a massive test for Arsenal, a win will give us the confidence to build this season. We are due a win v Chelsea, and now is the right time to get it.”
Do you agree with the Arsenal Fan TV duo? Who would be your midfield pair? Let us know in the comments section below!
And don’t forget to come back tomorrow where we’ll be looking at each side’s forwards, inclulding the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard and Willian.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing