Stats Focus: Previewing Chelsea vs. Arsenal: Arsene Wenger's 1000th Match
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, accused of being a "specialist in failure" by Jose Mourinho, as per BBC Sport, will get his chance to wreak revenge on the Portuguese and Chelsea this Saturday, March 22, in what will be his 1000th match in charge of the north London club.
With the Premier League title race now a full-on four-horse affair, with only six points separating the top four teams, neither team can afford to make any slip ups.
Liverpool's destruction of Manchester United last weekend has firmly planted Brendan Rodgers' team into the title mix after a season of flirting with the top four. Manchester City are also on the prowl. Manuel Pellegrini's team have three games in hand on the league-leading Blues and sit just six points behind.
The Citizens also have two games in hand on Arsenal, but they are ominously just two points adrift.
Here, Bleacher Report takes a look at the key tactical battles that will determine Chelsea vs. Arsenal...
Arsenal's Attacking Strengths
Neither Jose Mourinho nor Arsene Wenger are what one would call defensive managers.
There is little doubt that Mourinho takes a pragmatic "Six Sigma" approach to football, while Wenger likes his players to enjoy the game and to experience the moment.
This can be seen in the fact that Chelsea have the best defensive record in the league despite creating some 62 more goalscoring chances than Arsenal, who have one of the best attacks.
When it comes to Arsenal's attack and defense, perhaps no other player contributes as much as Bacary Sagna.
The French international is in the final months of his current contract at the Gunners and can leave on a free transfer in June. One thing is for sure, there will be no shortage of suitors for the Premier League's best right-back.
If Arsenal do not tie him to the club before the end of the season, teams like Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City will most definitely be interested.
Forty-one percent of all Arsenal's attacks emanate down the right flank. Much of the credit goes to Sagna's clever use of the ball and his, always, near perfect positional sense.
Chelsea will need Cesar Azpilicueta to be at his very best to stop the raiding runs of Tomas Rosicky and Sagna. Known simply as "Dave" to his Chelsea team-mates, the Spaniard has been nothing short of a revelation this season after swapping the right flank for Ashley Cole's home on the left.
Mourinho, known for his forensic insight into the opposition and his ability to develop files on each player will surely provide Azpilicueta with everything he needs to know.
Arsenal will have to grind Chelsea down and they will need Sagna to be at his very best.
John Terry: The Key to Chelsea's Solidity
John Terry has been an absolute rock for Chelsea this season. Both Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have deservedly earned plenty of plaudits for their performances this term but neither can hold a candle to the ex-England captain's contributions.
As can be seen in the graphic example of Terry's play, he is one of the most disciplined defenders in the game. Unlike his team-mate, David Luiz, the 33-year-old knows that his job is as a defender. He knows that no amount of fancy flicks, through-balls and 60-yard wonder passes will do you any good if you concede a sloppy goal.
That is why Terry and the more reliable Gary Cahill play ahead of the Brazilian. They are defenders first and foremost. Terry's positional sense verges on the telepathic. He always seems to know where his opposite-number is and maintains his central positioning very well. Teams try to drag him out of position, but his disciplined character, on the pitch at least, means that he does not waver far.
If one can imagine a theoretical line between the center of the goal and the center-circle, this is where Terry, as a good defender, moves along.
Arsenal need to get either him or Cahill out of position and allow the likes of Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to get into the vacant space and behind the defense.
Olivier Giroud will be vital in a physical battle, but Arsene Wenger needs to get more mobile players in and around Terry than his No. 12. If they can achieve that, they will have a great chance of winning the game. Without it, Chelsea will be as pragmatic as ever and grind out a result.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Key Player for Arsenal
Arsenal suffered their worst possession percentage of the season and their lowest passing total for five years against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, according to WhoScored.com and ZonalMarking respectively.
The one bright attacking spot from midfield came from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The 20-year-old missed 19 matches in a row following an injury in the very first week of the season. Since getting back into Arsene Wenger's plans and his team, he has hardly looked back.
"The Ox" will eventually play regularly in central midfield and at this very moment in time, he does appear to be ahead of Jack Wilshere in the order. That being said, he does need to work on the defensive side of his game.
Last week against Spurs, Oxlade-Chamberlain gave a great example of what Arsenal fans can come to expect in years to come. He made numerous lung-bursting runs from central midfield and bypassed Spurs' defense completely on a number of occasions.
While Aaron Ramsey also possesses the ability to break from central midfield at great pace, he does this without the ball. What marks ex-England international Mark Chamberlain's son out is that he frequently does it with the ball.
There is nothing more dangerous in football than a player running at a defender at great pace with the ball. When a player as mobile and as quick as the Ox does it from the center, it can cause panic throughout the opposition.
He will be a key figure this week against Chelsea.
The Gunners do not possess any real pace in the team without the injured Ramsey and Theo Walcott. Lukas Podolski is quick but nowhere near as fleet-of-foot as the above mentioned.
Arsenal need to get the ball into Olivier Giroud and allow the Frenchman to lay the ball off to the breaking Oxlade-Chamberlain. This will force John Terry to counteract by playing deeper and lying off Giroud, which will in turn allow more space for the striker, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky.
No other fit Arsenal player is capable of making these type of runs and if Chelsea wants to blunt Arsenal's attack, they will need to sit very tightly on the World Cup-bound Ox.
Oscar: Unsung Chelsea Hero
Oscar has been one of Chelsea's best players this season despite the headlines being dominated by Eden Hazard, Willian and John Terry.
The minute-Brazilian has made attacking central-midfield his own this term. He even convinced Jose Mourinho to allow Juan Mata join rivals Manchester United, such was his form.
It is true to say that he has dropped off his early season form, but he remains a dangerous and key player.
Weighing in at just 67kg (147.7 lbs), the 22-year-old is far tougher than his frail frame would make you believe. He shrugs off challenges from bigger men as if they were mere rain drops and puts in a shift across the entire team from defense to attack.
This is the main reason why Mourinho kept the Brazilian international over the Spanish international in his prime: He works tirelessly in defense and attack and is an extremely disciplined midfielder. He fits the template of a Mourinho player in that he can keep his concentration, no matter the task, for the entire game.
One of the best features of the creative dynamo's play is that he is comfortable on the ball in any section of the pitch. With that in mind, as the above graphic shows, he tends to drift and swap positions with Hazard and Willian at will. This makes the attacking trio extremely difficult to pick up.
Add in his outstanding technical ability and vision, WhoScored states that he makes 1.3 key passes per game with a passing average of 82.4 percent, and you have a player who can wreak havoc from anywhere on the pitch.
Chelsea will try to get him into the game as often as possible so Arsenal will need to be aware. Mikel Arteta is most likely to pick him up as he and Mathieu Flamini are Arsenal's most defensively-minded players. However, neither are mobile and if Oscar drifts, the Gunners will run into problems. Therefore, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will also need to be aware of Chelsea's central threats and make a far more telling defensive contribution than of late.
The battle in central midfield will determine this game, and Arsenal have just too many injured stars at the wrong time. Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil will be badly missed and without them, the Gunners' chances are far less.
Jose Mourinho vs. Arsene Wenger
It would be fair to say that Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho are not the best of friends.
The pair have exchanged jibes, barbs and downright insults ever since the Portuguese took over Chelsea, to great success, in 2004, as per the Daily Mail.
The rivalry between the two legendary managers was only made worse recently when Mourinho responded to a Wenger comment about managers.
As per the Guardian, in a thinly veiled jab at Mourinho, Wenger told a February 14 Premier League press conference that managers rule their team out of the title race because of "a fear to fail." He went on to say:
If you declare yourself not in the race, you cannot lose it, simple as that.
I just think our job is to be ambitious and to try to win.
And if we do not win, to take full responsibility for that.
It's very difficult when you're first in the league to distract people.
Mourinho was incandescent after hearing Wenger's comments and responded as only he can.
So if supposing Wenger's right and I'm afraid of failure, it's because I don't fail many times.
So maybe he's right. I'm not used to failing.
But the reality is he's a specialist because, eight years without a piece of silverware, that's failure. If I did that in Chelsea I'd leave London and not come back.
He is saying we're not candidates because we're afraid of failure?
Failure of what? Not winning a title this year? Or in two years?
I have a lot of respect for him, he's a great coach, but failure is not winning a title in seven or eight years. That's failure.
Am I aggressive in my words? I don't know. Ask him, not me.
If I don't win a trophy in four years, I don't want a new contract. It's as simple as that.
Wenger then responded back by calling Mourinho "embarrassing," as per the Daily Mail.
With the biggest game of the season just around the corner, these quotes will rear their ugly heads in the build up.
The saddest fact about this is that the two managers seem to be at opposite poles in an argument that no one can remember the origins of.
Wenger will lead his team out for the 1000th time against Chelsea. This is a remarkable achievement and it is one in which Mourinho, as the opposition manager, should lead the plaudits. There are very few men who get to stay in the game for as long as the Frenchman and he deserves all the credit he is bound to receive.
When Arsenal and Chelsea last met, they drew 0-0 at the Emirates Stadium. That brought Mourinho's overall record against Wenger to 10 games unbeaten.
Their head-to-head record reads as:
Played 10: Wenger: Win 0, Draw 5, Mourinho: Win 5
Tactically and philosophy wise, both men are from different planets. Perhaps this explains their animosity towards each other.
There is no better man to beat on his 1000th game for Arsene Wenger than Jose Mourinho. And there has hardly been a more important match for the Gunners over the last nine long years without a trophy.
This has all the makings of an epic heavyweight contest of the likes of Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman.
Neither man will want to lose, and that guarantees a cracking game.
Statistics provided by WhoScored and Squawka.