The curtain raiser for the season is just a day away as Chelsea take on the 2015 FA Cup winners Arsenal, in the 2015 FA Community Shield at the new Wembley. Ever since Jose Mourinho returned to Chelsea, this particular fixture has been more of Wenger vs Mourinho than Arsenal vs Chelsea. But worryingly for the Gunners, Arsenal have failed to score against Chelsea in the last 5 attempts, let alone winning.
There is also the infamous record that Wenger holds against Mourinho, having failed to defeat him in 13 attempts, which resulted in the Portuguese claiming that winning Arsenal is ‘no big deal’. With pressure mounting from all sides, it is high time that Wenger gets the better of Mourinho. A win for the Gunners would be the perfect motivation to go on and win the League title. Having said that Wenger vs Mourinho is the most important battle, but let us have a look at the other key battles that might turn out to be decisive in this fixture.
But before that, the in’s and out’s for this fixture- Alexis Sanchez will miss this match due to a delayed pre-season as a result of the successful Copa America which he was a part of. David Ospina is unavailable for similar reasons. Danny Welbeck is yet to recover from the knee injury sustained from last season. Gary Cahill will rather be rested by Mourinho after the knock he took against Barcelona though he is fit again now, because Mourinho might prefer to give a chance to Kurt Zouma. Not at all a bad replacement. Same goes to Wenger preferring Gabriel over Mertesacker. Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech are expected to start between sticks for the respective sides. Diego Costa on the other hand, has been confirmed fit by Mourinho for the match.
Now, to the key battles.
Ramsey & Coquelin vs Fabregas & Matic: Coquelin has been compared with Matic numerous times, it is time for the young Frenchman to prove why he is being compared with Matic in the first place. After a tremendous second half of 14-15, that made Coquelin cement his place in the starting line-up, the new season puts forward as huge test and there can be no bigger test than facing Chelsea’s midfield and strike force. The Blue half of London scored 2 goals against Arsenal last season, with the second one coming from an outstanding lofted through ball played by Fabregas to Costa. That particular example is enough to say what role the defensive midfielder holds, to prevent Fabregas from playing those key passes to the wingers and striker. Any Arsenal fan would know how deadly Fabregas would be when he has the time and space to play such passes. Coquelin will also be expected to cope with Matic’s physicality when Chelsea attacks. The second part of the battle between these two pairs is the battle between Ramsey and Matic. As good the Welshman is with his movement and crucial runs into the box, he is equally capable of being silenced by the mere physique of Nemanja Matic.
Hazard vs Bellerin: The PFA Player of the Season last season seems to be taking off from where he left, after his stunning solo goal against treble winners Barcelona. If he is to be kept silent, then ex-Barcelona full-back Hector Bellerin has a lot of work to do. He is surely fast enough to cope up with Hazard’s pace, but as far as Eden Hazard is concerned, it is more about his quick feet, trickery, on the ball movement and his ability to take down defenders one by one. Bellerin is not known that much for his defensive abilities as much he is known for his offensive ones, which means that one can expect him to have a tough evening.
Oxlade-Chamberlain vs Azpilicueta: The battle at the other end of Arsenal’s right flank is equally intriguing. After a terrific pre-season, fit again Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is expected to start on the right wing, which means he will have to face the Cesar Azpilicueta. Whatever was said about Bellerin, the same can be told about Azpilicueta. Pace, trickery and some cheeky movement is what he will be facing in the form of Chamberlain. He is Arsenal’s trump card to outdo the physical game Chelsea are expected to play.
Walcott vs Ivanovic: In the absence of Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott is expected to start on the left wing after a successful stint in that position in the Barclays Asia Trophy final against Everton. Unlike the Chamberlain-Azpilicueta battle, Walcott is the one who faces is a tougher test, considering that he has to come up against the experienced Serbian full back Branislav Ivanovic. It will take a lot for Walcott to outdo Ivanovic’s physicality, sensibility and talking in a different sense, his attacking prowess too. Which is why it is expected that Wenger will put the England International to face Ivanovic.
Apart from the aforementioned battles, the other key battles include the tests that the respective defences face, with Koscielny and Gabriel having to face Costa and Oscar, and Terry and Zouma having to face Ozil and Giroud.
To conclude this detailed preview, these are the expected starting line ups:-
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud.
Cheslea (4-2-3-1): Courtois, Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Matic, Willian, Oscar, Hazard, Costa.