Chelsea host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Sunday (1.30pm GMT, live on Sky Sports) searching for only their second home league victory since Rafael Benitez took charge in mid-November.
The Blues suffered another home setback in midweek, surrendering a two goal lead to draw 2-2 with Southampton in front of an increasingly disenfranchised support, who made their feelings about the performance and Benitez markedly clear upon the final whistle.
Benitez had admitted in the build up to the match that his side struggle to break down teams who come to Stamford Bridge solely to defend. The inclusion of Eden Hazard (pictured), Juan Mata and Oscar together in the line of three behind striker Demba Ba appeared a positive move towards righting that issue.
Ba gave Chelsea the lead in the 25th minute with an adroit finish as the ball dropped just behind him inside the area and Hazard added a superbly taken half-volleyed second to round off a first half in which he and Lampard had also gone close for the home side.
The second half did not go so well, however, as a problem prevalent under Roberto Di Matteo’s stewardship resurfaced to spoil Benitez’s evening. Chelsea had often been susceptible to quick breaks down their flanks under the Italian and it was from wide areas that Southampton’s two second half goals originated, leaving the final score at 2-2.
Chelsea have been excellent away from home since Benitez took charge, winning six out of seven in all competitions, but have won just two out of seven at home, failing to score in four of them. The Blues are far more comfortable away from home, where they generally receive more space to work in, but Benitez has, as of yet, failed to find the right balance at Stamford Bridge.
The draw with Southampton surely ended Chelsea’s faint hopes of gate-crashing the title race, with the Blues now 13 points shy of leaders United with 42 points from 12 wins, six draws and four defeats. The greater concern is likely to be the close proximity of Tottenham and Everton just behind them.
Sunday’s opponents Arsenal will also hope to be there or thereabouts come the end of the campaign. The Gunners are in sixth with 34 points from nine wins, seven draws and five defeats, but have a game in hand on all those around them.
To date, it has been an up and down season for Arsene Wenger’s side, who have twice gone on four match winning streaks but have also suffered periods like that from late September to early December, in which they won just three of 11 matches, losing four and drawing four.
The Gunners come into Sunday’s match on a positive note after defeating Swansea 1-0 in their FA Cup Third Round replay on Wednesday. They have faired less well in recent league encounters, drawing away at Southampton and then losing at home to Manchester City last weekend.
Like Chelsea, Arsenal have often gained greater success away from home, where more space is available for them to take advantage of the pace of Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott. Podolski, a summer signing from Koln, can be lethal on the counter attack, but is not the most technically gifted player and can struggle against packed defences.
Podolski and Olivier Giroud were signed to try and replace the goals of Robin Van Persie, who left for Manchester United after scoring 30 goals last season – 41% of Arsenal’s total.
But although the pair have mustered just 12 goals in 40 combined appearances, overall Arsenal are scoring at only a slightly lesser rate than late season.
In alliance with an improved defensive record, that should see the Gunners picking up more points than last season, but that is not the case. Last season they accumulated points at a rate of 1.84 per match, whereas this season that has dropped to 1.62 per match.
The problem is that while they have, on average, scored more goals per match, that average is inflated by large scores run up against poor opponents or those reduced to ten men. They put seven past Newcastle, six past Southampton and five past both Tottenham and Reading. They have also failed to score on six occasions, once more than in the whole of last season.
Chelsea v Arsenal Betting Tips
There is likely to be an unsavoury atmosphere at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, with the home supporters thoroughly fed up with the club’s home performances since Benitez took charge.
Arsenal are hardly firing on all cylinders themselves, but if they can hold Chelsea off in the early exchanges may be able to profit on the counter attack as the home side grow frustrated and begin to push more men forward.
We expect this to be a tight encounter from which Arsenal are able to obtain at least a point.
- Back Arsenal +0.5 on an Asian Handicap @ best odds of evens at Paddy Power.
- Arsenal will try to thwart Chelsea early on in an attempt to further exasperate an already vexed Stamford Bridge crowd and we believe they are capable of doing so. Therefore, back the time of first home goal (Chelsea) to be over 31 minutes @ 11/10 with William Hill.