Sixth place Arsenal travels to Stamford Bridge Sunday to take on third place Chelsea in one of the weekend’s most anticipated matchups. The match will mark the first since Arsenal signed winger Theo Walcott, 23, to a new three-and-a-half year deal worth an estimated £100,000 per week, The Guardian reported Friday. Walcott has been the subject of many transfer rumors including some linking him to Chelsea, making Sunday’s match that much more intriguing.
Arsenal is coming off a 1-0 defeat of Swansea City in the third round of the FA Cup, which should give them some confidence heading into Stamford Bridge. On the other side, Chelsea is coming off a 2-2 draw against 15th place Southampton after squandering a 2-0 lead at halftime. The good news for The Blues is that newly acquired striker Demba Ba continues to score seemingly at will and gives Chelsea a viable scoring threat at any time.
It is unclear whether or not Chelsea captain John Terry will feature in Sunday’s lineup after returning from a two-month knee injury. The Blues have missed Terry’s leadership in central defense and will be looking forward to his return as they currently sit just six points behind second place Manchester City.
With the Champions League out of mind, Chelsea can focus their full attention on league play. Let’s take a look at some of the key battles for this Sunday’s matchup:
Theo Walcott vs. Ashley Cole
Sunday will mark Walcott’s first match since signing a new contract with Arsenal and a chance to prove he is worth every penny against arguably the league’s best fullback in Ashley Cole. Walcott is a crafty player who will be looking to weave his way into the box in order to get a shot or cross off against a big, strong Chelsea defense. Ashley Cole will have to be careful going forward as Walcott has superior speed and may limit Cole’s attacking presence down the left side for The Blues. It isn’t every day that two top notch players matchup directly, and because both players rely on speed, it will surely give the fans a great battle to watch.
Demba Ba vs. Thomas Vermaelen
Since transferring from Newcastle, Demba Ba has been Chelsea’s best attacking and goal scoring option. The Senegalese striker scored twice in his debut and again against Southampton in Chelsea’s last match. Arsenal captain and central defender Thomas Vermaelen will have his hands full with Ba, who has the ability and strength to hold up Vermaelen, plus the skill and deftness to beat him one on one. Vermaelen will have to be on the lookout for Ba at all times due to his innate ability to move off of the ball and create scoring space. The Belgian is a fantastic defender in his own right, but it is not always up to him, as the entire Arsenal defense will have to work together to stop the league’s third leading scorer.
Santi Cazorla vs. Juan Mata
Maybe the two most technically gifted central midfielders in the Premiership will be facing off Sunday in a classic Spanish duel. The Spanish international teammates are rare specimens in the Premier League as small, skill-based, pass first players, and control the flow of the match for their respective teams. Both players are deadly on free kicks, specialists on corner kicks, and creative masterminds in the offensive third of the field. It is rare that either player has a bad match because of the nature of their play. Neither Mata nor Cazorla force the issue too much and are so good because they most often make the best pass or the best decision when on the ball. The matchup between these two maestros will be a spectacle to watch and the match will probably come down to which player can control the flow of the match best for their team.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-2 Arsenal