No Thibaut Courtois or Santi Cazorla in our Arsenal-Chelsea combined XI
Arsenal must win their Premier League battle with Chelsea is they are to have any chance of hauling in the Blues in the race for the title.
The top-of-the-table clash sees Chelsea travel to the Emirates having already inflicted defeat on the Gunners this season in the form of the 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge in October.
However, one of the sub-plots of Sunday's encounter is likely to be much bigger than the match itself, as Cesc Fabregas will return to the Emirates for the first time since leaving the club for Barcelona in 2011, before the Spanish international joined Chelsea at the start of the season.
If Arsenal can secure a rare victory over the Blues - Arsene Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho - the gap at the top will be cut to seven points, but should Chelsea secure victory, they'll be on the verge of clinching the Premier League title.
Here is the combined XI:
David Ospina (Arsenal)
Yes, it comes as a shock, but the Colombian makes the cut ahead of Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois on recent form – as this team is picked – given his impressive spell in the Arsenal goal. Having ousted Wojciech Szczesny from the sticks, Ospina has cemented his role so much that Szczesny looks set to be sold in the summer, and the 26-year-old has conceded just three goals since the start of March, compared to Courtois’s six.
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)
The utility defender is one of the best right-backs around in the Premier League, and his worth to the team has been shown over the years since his arrival in 2008. Ivanovic is a prime example of a big time, having shown his best form in matches against their top four rivals as well as on the European stage. When these teams met at Stamford Bridge, he was able to keep Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla quiet as the two swapped flanks.
John Terry (Chelsea)
He’d probably be the captain too. Terry’s worth to the Blues is unquestionable, and his performances this season show why the club are happy to prolong his career-long spell at Stamford Bridge. He commands the back-line and remains a physical threat at attacking set-pieces, and seems to relish the London derby when he comes up against the Gunners.
Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
Without doubt Arsenal’s most consistent defender, although that doesn’t say a lot given the rest of the options available. That doesn’t do Koscielny justice though, as the Gunners are a much stronger team with the Frenchman in the side as his injury absences in the past have shown. Has an eye for a goal – much like Terry – and his pace at the back remains his strongest trait.
Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
He may be a natural right-back solving a problem on the left, but it’s some feat to keep out a Champions League finalist and La Liga winner in Filipe Luis. Neither Nacho Monreal or Kieran Gibbs have shown the form to put themselves in consideration, and with Azpilicueta’s perceived weakness coming in the air, he is unlikely to be tested against an Arsenal side notorious for playing on-the-ground technical football.
Nemanja Matic (Chelsea)
The Serbian defensive midfielder is probably leading the way in the holding role, although Frances Coquelin as emerged from the Arsenal youth ranks to make the position his own at the Emirates. It’s quite likely that Matic will look to latch on to Mesut Özil, having nullified the playmaker’s threat in the reverse fixture last October that also saw Özil injured for over three months.
Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)
The former Arsenal captain returns to the Emirates for the first time since leaving the club in 2011, and after a mixed reception from the Gunners support last October, the reunion may well be one to forget. However, despite his performances of late not quite matching up to his early season form, he still has the talent and ability to secure three points single-handedly, and his understanding with Eden Hazard – as demonstrated in the 1-0 victory over QPR – gives the Blues a threat that the Gunners currently lack.
Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
The Chilean has more than justified his expensive transfer last summer having established himself as a firm favourite among the red half of North London. Sanchez has the ability and awareness to play across either flank as well as a prolific goal-threat through the middle, and his ability to come up with goals when the side isn’t at its best – the recent FA Cup semi-final victory over Reading immediately springs to mind – gives Arsenal something they’ve lacked in recent years.
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
The World Cup winner can be accused of taking time to settle at Arsenal, but he appears to be growing in confidence with each games he comes through. He may not get the plaudits due to his lack of goals, but the chances he’s creating for those around him are of the highest quality, and he’s a big reason why Arsenal head into this weekend’s game off the back of a nine game winning streak.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Surely he’ll win the Player of the Year award? Hazard has backed up his promise to challenge for the crown of being named the best player on the planet with a simply sublime season, and he can lay claim to winning his side 11 points single-handedly this term – more than their current 10-point gap at the top. He run Arsenal ragged at Stamford Bridge earlier this season, and it remains clear that Arsene Wenger is yet to work out how to stop the Belgian maestro, who can realistically claim to be among the top three players on the planet.
Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)
Had Diego Costa been fit and at his ferocious best, Giroud would probably be sitting among the substitutes, but is yet to overcome his troublesome hamstring injury and while he could return against the Gunners, it’s the Frenchman’s 10 goals in his last 10 starts that locks down his position in our side. However, it’s time for Giroud to step up, as he is yet to register his first goal against Chelsea since arriving at Arsenal in 2012.
Manager - Jose Mourinho (Chelsea)
The clash between the two managers in October dominated the headlines, more so than the Blues' 2-0 victory. But the simple fact is that Arsene Wenger is yet to beat Jose Mourinho, which makes this decision an easy one. Until The Professor earns his first win against The Special One, it's a one-horse race.
Do you agree with our team? Leave your thoughts in the comment box below.
Independent News Service