Arsenal’s end to 2017 was not a happy one as they were held to a draw by relegation threatened West Brom, Mike Dean would certainly have not been getting any well wishes from the Gunners fans after his contentious award of a penalty at The Hawthorns.
It was by no means a classic performance in the West Midlands as Alan Pardew’s men gave one of their more spirited performances since the former Crystal Palace boss took charge but they still managed to get their noses in front after an Alexis Sanchez free kick was adjudged to have taken a final touch off of James McClean.
It was at that moment that you felt that Arsene Wenger’s side would come away from The Hawthorns with a somewhat undeserved three points but then step forward the man in black, Mike Dean. He felt that Kieran Gibbs speculative cross was unlawfully handled by Callum Chambers in the area.
A spot kick was given and Jay Rodriguez did the rest to level the game and end Arsenal’s year on a particularly flat note. That means the North London outfit have lost ground to Liverpool in the race for fourth and are now back down to sixth in the table after Tottenahm’s win over Swansea last night.
Tonight they go into this all important London derby with Chelsea six points behind Liverpool albeit with a game in hand knowing that defeat in front of their own fans will no doubt seriously hamper their chances of returning to the Champions League next season.
Once again Arsenal will play with the transfer saga’s of both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in the background, Ozil did not feature last Sunday and perhaps that was an insight as to what life will be like if and when the German international moves on.
Alexis Sanchez is certainly playing like a man who knows that a transfer window is open and with Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus out injured for somewhere in the region of six weeks, could that move Pep Guardiola to launch a bid for the Chilean international this month?
Both players will have to be at their best this evening as they go up against a Chelsea side who looked nothing short of rampant last Saturday as a five-nil win at Stamford Bridge over Mark Hughes’ Stoke saw them move into second in the table for the first time this season.
Antonio Conte’s men come into this game this evening sitting third in the table after Manchester United won at Everton on New Year’s Day but a win at the Emirates this evening will seem them once again split the Manchester duopoly in the Premier League.
It was very much a squad performance last Saturday in West London as five different scorers got on the score sheet for the defending Premier League champions and not perhaps the usual names you would expect with neither Alvaro Morata or Eden Hazard bagging a goal for themselves against what was very meek opposition.
Hazard did not even get on the pitch for the thrashing of Stoke, whether that was down to the fact that he had reportedly refused to sign a new contract or whether it was a case of being rested for tonight’s London derby I guess is up to you to make your own conclusions.
The logical decision would be the latter but you never know if Antonio Conte is trying to send a message to the Belgian international. Tonight will probably answer the question for us then again regardless of being a contract rebel I would be very surprised if he did not feature from the start later this evening.
Chelsea are unbeaten in their last five Premier League outings and have picked up 13 points from a possible 18 during their last six matches, this puts them fourth in the current form league table if we look at the last half dozen fixtures in isolation.
But it is a return to second that will be looking at this evening, last season it was arguably this fixture that started the Chelsea revolution after Arsenal eased to a 3-0 win which then saw Antonio Conte change the teams shape, a change that helped them win the title.
Antonio Conte will be looking to exact some revenge over Arsene Wenger with the Frenchman coming out on top in the rivalries that they have had since the Italian’s arrival in this country and I think it will be a dish that is served up tonight as Chelsea return to being the best of the rest. An away win for me.