Chelsea and Arsenal’s rivalry has always created a high-stakes derby but it will be extra intense for Gunners boss Mikel Arteta this week with plenty more than just bragging rights to play for.
Arsenal travel to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday looking to salvage any shred of their top-four hopes as they battle it out against their London foes for a crucial three points.
Just a few months ago, Arsenal looked to have made a sensational comeback and salvaged what was on track to be a disastrous season.
Arsenal’s clash with Chelsea is a must-win for Mikel Arteta’s (pictured) top-four hopes
The Gunners had not only looked to have clawed their way back in to the race for top four but also appeared to have a firm grip of the final coveted Champions League spot. Everything pointed to them finally making their long-awaited return to Europe after five years.
But just as quickly, Arteta’s men have imploded, leaving themselves with an uphill battle for the top four with a visit to Stamford Bridge nothing short of a must-win for the Spaniard.
Defeat against Southampton at the weekend tied up a string of three shock defeats on the bounce, which have seen Arsenal slip down to sixth, three points off local rivals Tottenham in fourth.
The Gunners have slipped down to sixth in the Premier League after a run of three defeats
Arsenal had the chance to pull level after Spurs lost to Brighton at the weekend but were left frustrated on the south coast.
Jan Bednarek’s first half goal secured a 1-0 win for the Saints as Arsenal were unable to find away past Fraser Forster in goal.
Now, Chelsea are being presented with a golden opportunity midweek both to secure their top four status with seven games remaining and effectively knock their London rivals out of contention.
Jan Bednarek’s (left) first-half goal secured a 1-0 win for Southampton at the weekend
The Gunners were unable to find away past Fraser Forster (centre) to pull level with the Saints
Arteta has made no secret of the importance of Champions League for his side with Arsenal not qualifying for Europe’s premier club competition since 2016-17.
The Gunners boss has pilled the pressure on his players, describing qualification for the competition as a ‘game-changer’.
‘Champions League brings, first of all, the club much closer to where we want and to play in a competition that has a huge history in relation to our club,’ he said.
‘Secondly, obviously it improves every situation with the sponsor, financially, expectations, the capacity to grow our players and expose them into a different dimension of a competition and this is where we want to be. It is a game-changer.
‘The Champions League pushes you there with the best teams in Europe and we definitely want to be there.’
Arteta piled the pressure on his squad, describing the Champions League as a ‘game-changer’
But after four defeats in their last five, Arsenal desperately need to bounce back with a win on Wednesday if they want to secure their place among Europe’s best.
But one of their three defeats does not present a good omen for them as their 3-0 loss to Crystal Palace represented Arsenal’s second London derby defeat on the bounce away from home, with Brentford getting the better of Arteta’s men 2-0 in the first gameweek of the season.
With their next league fixture another London derby away from home it does not bode well for Arteta’s side.
Should Chelsea prevail and keep a clean sheet on Wednesday night, it will mark the first time in Arsenal’s 136-year history that they have lost three league London derbies away from home without scoring a single goal.
Their 3-0 loss to Palace represented Arsenal’s second away London derby defeat on the spin
Meanwhile, the Blues have lost their last two home games in all competitions – against Brentford and Real Madrid – but it has been 29 years since Chelsea last suffered a trio of consecutive defeats on their own turf in all competitions.
However, the third defeat in that sequence did come against Arsenal, who need history to repeat itself this week.
Arsenal have managed to avoid defeat in their last two trips to Stamford Bridge, and not since 1995 have the Gunners suffered four consecutive Premier League defeats.
Arteta has won three, lost two and drawn one of all matches he’s faced against the west Londoners as manager. In fact, his Gunners side have lost just once against Chelsea in their last five meetings.
Arsenal suffered a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea in the second game of the season in August
Romelu Lukaku (right) and Reece James sealed the win for the Blues at the Emirates
The sole defeat in the last five came earlier in the season when the Gunners lost 2-0 at the Emirates as Romelu Lukaku and Reece James sealed the win for the visitors in the second game of the campaign.
But goals have dried up with only two in the last five games and Arsenal will need to find attacking inspiration if they are to find a way past Chelsea.
The Emirates was also rocked by the news this week that captain Alexandre Lacazette, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is talking to clubs about a move.
ARSENAL’S RUN IN
Chelsea (a) – Wed 20 April
Man Utd (h) – Sat 23 April
West Ham (a) – Sun 1 May
Leeds (h) – Sun 8 May
Tottenham (a) – Thurs 12 May
Newcastle (a) – Mon 16 May
Everton (h) – Sun 22 May
Arteta will be without long-term absentees Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey, who could be joined on the sidelines by doubts Takehiro Tomiyasu and Lacazette.
But the Chelsea clash is not the Arteta’s only concern as the Gunners will face more fierce challenges in the run-in to the end of the season.
Arsenal quickly follow up their midweek match with a game against top-four contenders Manchester United.
The Red Devils haven’t exactly been in stellar form either, and they were hammered on Tuesday night at the hands of title-chasing Liverpool.
Despite that poor result for United, the rivals sit on the exact same amount of points – with Arsenal having the advantage of two games in hand.
Arsenal also have to face seventh-placed West Ham and north London rivals Tottenham before the season draws to a close and a win against Chelsea could be key in kickstarting their momentum for a final top-four charge.
The Gunners have little choice but to take a good points haul from this fixture if they are to have any chance of earning a spot at the top table again.