The Blues head into this mouthwatering fixture sat sixth in the table, 10 points adrift of the table-topping Arsenal after 12 games. They were trounced 4-1 by Brighton at the Amex Stadium last time out in what was Graham Potter’s first defeat as Chelsea boss, so the west Londoners must be desperate to return to winning ways at the weekend.
On the other hand, Arsenal have enjoyed a fantastic season thus far and hold a two-point lead at the summit of the Premier League. Mikel Arteta’s side followed up the 5-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest with a slender 1-0 win over FC Zurich in the Europa League on Thursday.
With a game expected to have its own share of thrills and spills, here are the key battles that could decide the contest at Stamford Bridge.
#Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang vs Arsenal centre-backs
Nowhere-else to begin with but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lining up against his former employers as a Blue.
Aubameyang, who previously hit 92 goals for Arsenal, will be aiming to put a dent in the Mikel Arteta-managed side’s title bid, after an unceremonious exit from the Emirates Stadium to Barcelona back in January. He joined Chelsea in the summer, and while it hasn’t been plain sailing in his next chapter so far, the Gabonese will fancy his chances against the Gunners.
William Saliba has been the spine of the Arsenal defence along with Gabriel, helping the team to the top of the table. They are growing as a pair in central defence and will be raring to keep Aubameyang at bay. So, the Arsenal centre-backs’ duel with Aubameyang could go a long way in determining the outcome of the London derby.
#Thomas Partey vs Mateo Kovacic
The next key battle is expected to take place in midfield. After recovering from a thigh problem at the start of the season, Thomas Partey has excelled in a deeper role in a double pivot with Granit Xhaka for the Gunners.
The Ghanaian international’s passing ability, defensive prowess and reading of the game has been crucial to Arsenal’s success this term. Plus, he has also chipped in with a couple of goals, proving himself to be a complete package in midfield.
Chelsea boss Graham Potter has confirmed Mateo Kovacic trained on Friday morning and is in contention on Sunday. Kovacic has had niggling calf problems this term but is fit to put in a big show against the Gunners.
To prevent Partey from dominating the midfield, Potter could start Kovacic alongside Jorginho in Chelsea’s midfield and task the Croat with sticking to Partey all game.
#Marc Cucurella vs Bukayo Saka
Chelsea were dealt with a massive blow in midweek when Ben Chilwell suffered a serious hamstring injury in his team’s win over Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. While the scans are yet to confirm the severity of the injury, Chilwell has been ruled out against Arsenal.
This means Marc Cucurella is a shoo-in to start on Sunday. Considering his struggles in a three-man backline against Brighton last time out, Cucurella could feature either at left wing-back or at left-back, depending on the system Potter employs against Arteta’s side.
The Spaniard has endured a tough time at the club following his summer move from Brighton and has been substituted in the last two Premier League games. So, he will be raring to prove his doubters wrong in a big game but will face a tricky test in Bukayo Saka.
Expected to start on the right flank, Saka can be a real nuisance for the opposition with his movement, dribbling skills and late runs into the box. Arteta will want the young winger to stay as high up the pitch as possible often, forcing Cucurella to sit deep and thus prevent him from bombing forward.
The Cucurella vs Saka could turn out to be an engaging battle in west London.