Chelsea vs. Arsenal: The Battles That Will Shape a London Derby

Dan LeveneFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2014

Chelsea vs. Arsenal: The Battles That Will Shape a London Derby

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    Chelsea sit atop the Premier League table, Arsenal four points behind with a game in hand.

    The two meet at Stamford Bridge on Saturday lunchtime for what promises to be among the key games when it comes to deciding the ultimate destination of the Premier League trophy.

    What battles will decide who emerges victorious from this London derby? 

Jose Mourinho vs. Arsene Wenger

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    The Special One vs. Le Professeur.

    Or, if you prefer, Mr Embarrassing vs. The Failure Specialist.

    Whatever nickname you pin to your manager of choice, the title for most successful in head-to-heads is a whitewash for one man.

    In 10 meetings in all competitions, Mourinho has walked away victorious on five occasions, while the spoils have been shared five times as well.

    Wenger has not won a single game.

    Some have suggested Mourinho has the hex over Wenger before the players even set foot on the pitch.

    Looking at the statistics, it is difficult to argue otherwise. 

Eden Hazard vs. Per Mertesacker

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    If you're looking for key on-pitch duels, here's a big one.

    Chelsea have looked overreliant on Eden Hazard of late. However, when he's on song, there are few better contenders for the title of the best in the world.

    The tricks and flips that wow aside, he has looked his best when Chelsea play fast-flowing counter-attacking football. He uses his pace and control to drive the ball from one goal to the other in mere seconds of play.

    If that is on the agenda here at Stamford Bridge, one of the men in his way is likely to be Per Mertesacker.

    Experienced, clever and able—the German centre half has several tools in his armoury, but it has to be said that speed is not one of his key assets.

    Mertesacker and his defensive colleagues will have to find a way of stopping Hazard from getting into the final quarter of the pitch when in possession.

    It goes against all of Arsene Wenger's managerial instincts to go out to do that. 

Parking the Bus vs. Tiki-Taka

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    There was much talk of one team's creativity being stifled by the other's negativity after this season's dour 0-0 draw at the Emirates.

    However, with red-tinged pundits attempting to take the moral high ground in the battle for footballing purity, you could be forgiven for missing the statistics that suggested the complete opposite.

    Arsenal managed only one shot on goal in 90 minutes, and even that barely justified the tag. Chelsea had seven—most of which were equally soft, but the total at least proving they were the team with greater ambition.

    Neither team played especially flowing football. All talk of Chelsea's negativity was based on possession, which was 61 percent in Arsenal's favour.

    Chelsea like to play on the break. Possession stats do not imply either positivity or negativity. Expect much the same at Stamford Bridge, and expect it to have an equally minimal affect on the result.

Willian and Ramires vs. Ramsey, Ozil and Walcott

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    The men who will miss this match may be almost as important as the ones who play it.

    For various different reasons, five of the players who started the game at the Emirates on December 23 are sidelined.

    Willian and Ramires, both dismissed at Villa Park last weekend, will leave a big hole in the Chelsea midfield.

    Meanwhile, Arsenal's problems relate to condition rather than discipline, with Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott all medium- to long-term absentees.

    The visitors at Stamford Bridge have had much longer to come to terms with their missing-in-action men, and so the focus will be on how Chelsea plug that hole.

    Andre Schurrle looks the most likely replacement for Willian, with Jose Mourinho having the pick of Frank Lampard, David Luiz or John Mikel Obi to replace Ramires alongside Nemanja Matic.

    Whoever gets the nod is likely to play a very key role in the Blues' engine room.