Our head-to-head mini-series continues today as we look forward to the biggest game of the weekend between Arsenal and Chelsea. And this afternoon, we’re assessing each side’s defensive units, with the help of CFCnet.co.uk.
So let’s begin with Chelsea…
Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta are the most successful back-four in Chelsea’s history, boasting a staggering 30 major trophies between them.
As a unit, they’ve been together for a little over four years, with Azpilicueta replacing the ever-reliable Ashley Cole at left-back following the former England star’s move to Roma.
This back-four are yet to experience defeat in the league against Arsenal, and a stat that will worry Gooners is that they’ve only scored twice in their last ten competitive outings against Chelsea. It’s no coincidence that the aforementioned names have featured in almost all of those games.
But for all of their trophies and experience, there have been some concerns surrounding this unit over the last 12 months.
All four players were significantly involved in last year’s horrendous campaign, and the arrival of Marcus Alonso along with the return of David Luiz suggests new boss Antonio Conte is looking to shake things up at the back.
A combined age of 124 makes this defence one of the oldest in the Premier League, but is it still a stronger base than Arsenal’s?
Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal and new signing Shkodran Mustafi have only played together on three previous occasions, and while the unit are yet to experience defeat, there are still some teething issues which Antonio Conte’s men will be looking to exploit.
Between them, they have six major trophies to their name, including a World Cup won by Mustafi back in 2014. And while their combined age is a relatively youthful 106, they certainly boast enough experience at a high level to deal with the threat Chelsea’s attacking options will pose.
None of this back-four have tasted victory over a Chelsea side in the league, and both meetings with the west London outfit last campaign saw an Arsenal defender sent off, although on this occasion neither Gabriel Paulista nor Per Mertesacker will feature in Saturday’s match due to injuries.
In Bellerin, Arsenal have a defender who featured in last year’s PFA Team of the Year, while Koscielny was a key figure in a France side that almost won Euro 2016. Mustafi’s arrival in the summer has added stability to a previously error and injury-prone position, and Monreal is continuing to establish himself as one of the league’s finest left-backs.
The question is, which defence will finish out on top come Saturday night?
We asked CFCnet for their opinion on the matter, and here’s what they had to say…
“We’d never vote against our own team so let’s just say that our defence is a work in progress. It’s going to take time for the unit to gel and the absence of John Terry has been keenly felt. Read into that what you’d like but let’s put it this way, we need to sort out our defence quickly.”
Which Arsenal defender should Chelsea be targeting come Saturday evening?
“All of them. Each has his own individual weakness and as a collective they hold no fear for us. Don’t forget it was only just over two years ago that we hammered them 6-0. Their mental strength as a team is no match for us.”
Meanwhile, lifelong Chelsea fan George Preece said…
“It pains me to say it but at this moment in time I think Arsenal have the stronger defence of the two teams. Regardless of whether Terry is fit for Chelsea, Gary Cahill has been error prone so far this season and Ivanovic still looks a shadow of his former self.
In terms of targeting Arsenal’s defence, I think we should go after Mustafi. He’s new to the Premier League and coupled with Diego Costa’s form this year, I think Chelsea could get some joy out of him.”
So who would make your back-four? Let us know your picks in the comments section below!
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing