Mikel Arteta faces a tough test in his first home match as Arsenal head coach when fourth-placed Chelsea visit the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League on Sunday (9am ET).
At the end of a fairly lengthy recruitment process, Arteta was the man chosen to replace the sacked Unai Emery on the Arsenal bench. After three years as an assistant to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, he now steps into the limelight in his first head coach role.
Arsenal’s players were unable to give Arteta a winning start away at Bournemouth on Boxing Day. They created marginally the better chances of the encounter, but their hosts always carried a threat in transition and took a first-half lead from such a situation. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang equalized just past the hour mark to secure Arsenal a share of the spoils.
There were some positive signs, including slicker forward movement of the ball on the counter-attack, but it was difficult to tell to what extent that was simply a result of facing off against a side who had lost six of their previous seven fixtures. In the end, the result was the same: for the 10th time in their last 11 fixtures, Arsenal failed to take all three points.
The Gunners have put just 24 points on the board during the first half of the season, which leaves them on track for their worst campaign in 25 years. Their top-eight attack is allied to a bottom-eight defence. They sit outside the top 10, eight points removed from their pre-season goal of a top-four finish. It would take a significant turnaround in performances and results to make up that deficit.
The degree to which Arsenal have underperformed so far this season is likely to provide Arteta with a bit more time to get his feet under the table and begin to implement his chosen approach. Expectations have been lowered. The post Arsene Wenger period has not yet born the fruit that some supporters believed it might. They may now be more willing to accept a reset of this kind around a young and ambitious coach.
Like Arsenal, Chelsea will be led out by one of their former players on Sunday. After a solid year at Derby, Frank Lampard was handed the reigns at Stamford Bridge. He was tasked with leading the club through a potentially awkward season in which a summer FIFA transfer ban would require them to lean on some of their younger players.
So far, he is doing a pretty good job. Chelsea are up in fourth, with good underlying numbers. Academy graduates Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham have all been regular starters. Their German-style approach, built around getting the ball forward quickly and then pressing determinedly to win it back once lost, has yielded solid results.
Chelsea’s recent run of less impressive results seems to have occasioned a bit of self-doubt. After a streak of six consecutive victories from late September into early November, Chelsea have lost five of their last seven. Lampard has started to chop and change even though some of those losses didn’t really reflect the balance of the matches.
Over their last two fixtures, Chelsea have employed a more cautious approach, switching out an attacker for an additional central defender. It was an understandable and successful tactic in their 2-0 away at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. Yet it proved unnecessary and unsuccessful in a home defeat to Southampton by the same scoreline on Boxing Day.
In what was one of Chelsea’s worst attacking performance of the season, they failed to create anything of real note against a Southampton team with one of the most porous defences in the league. Lampard’s frustrated post-match comments suggested there may be additions to the squad in January as they seek to consolidate their place in the top four under pressure from an improving Tottenham Hotspur.
Our Preview’s Arsenal vs Chelsea Predictions with Betting Tips & Picks Verdict
It will be interesting to see how Lampard tackles Sunday’s visit to the Emirates. Given Arsenal’s poor form and confidence, and the scant time they have had to work under their new coach, a bolder approach, perhaps including the reintroduction of Christian Pulisic to the attack, would likely produce a positive result. Assuming that is the route he takes, an away win looks a good wager. So this is our Arsenal vs Chelsea prediction against the United States friendly bookies: