Arsenal vs Chelsea Classic Clash: December 26, 2020

Arsenal take on Chelsea in the hope of keeping their charge towards the title going, as we look at one classic clash in the recent past during the Covid season.

Clashes between Arsenal and Chelsea used to have a big aura around them, which has been lost in the last few seasons. For nearly two decades, the Blues dominated this fixture, leaving the Gunners to collect scraps from an occasional match here and there.

The tables have turned since the turn of the decade, with the Gunners not a more dominant force in this particular London Derby. Yet, they do not have the trophies to match Chelsea, who have incidentally won the UEFA Champions League in 2021, while Arsenal only have a solitary FA Cup to show for their cause.

Arsenal have flourished under Mikel Arteta, challenging for the title two seasons. The Gunners are a different side that was so used to getting knocked around by the likes of Chelsea and other ‘Big Six’ teams in the past decade.

The Gunners are now a lethal force in the Premier League and Europe, although they did crash out of the Champions League quarter-finals at the hands of Bayern Munich. The big difference is that they are not the team that otherwise used to take a spanking from the likes of Bayern or even Chelsea at any point of the season.

Arteta has drilled a new personality into his side, something Chelsea fans are desperate to see in their players, despite the heavy spending to buy talent. The Blues have been the highest spenders in the world in the last two years, and yet they are nowhere near showing signs they can challenge for big honours.

Chelsea finished in the second half of the table last season despite a huge outlay on newer, younger talents. Even this term, they seemed destined to finish in a similar position. However, Mauricio Pochettino has enjoyed a change of fortunes, which could see the Blues potentially finish in a European place, possibly even the Europa League.

Leaving the old rivalry aside, and even where the two teams might finish this season, we look at a classic encounter between the two teams that happened on Boxing Day of 2020. Some might recall the clash where the tides changed towards Arsenal, and since then, Chelsea have been unable to assert dominance in this particular London Derby.

Laying the setting

The mood of the Arsenal fanbase cannot be described as being at its peak, given the results that happened over the last week or so. The Gunners crashed out of the UEFA Champions League last week while also losing ground on the title challenge with a loss to Aston Villa at the Emirates.

Both those defeats have ensured there is some gloom at the Emirates, which was lightened after Arsenal’s win over Wolves at the weekend, that took them back on top. With five games still to go, the Gunners must face Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United, with the latter games coming away from home.

Leandro Trossard and Martin Odegaard were on target as the Gunners kept their 15th clean sheet of the season. Arteta will want a continuation of that momentum when they take on Chelsea, as the margins in the title race are at an all-time low.

As for Chelsea, they are in a resurgent form of late, although the overall look of their results has been fairly inconsistent. A run of eight games unbeaten in the Premier League has only helped them climb up to ninth. But they are three points off sixth-placed Newcastle United with a game in hand over the Magpies.

Hence, for Pochettino, a win at the Emirates will seem imperative to cement Chelsea’s place as challengers for that sixth spot, although Arsenal are still favourites heading into this clash. Chelsea will take inspiration from their game at Stamford Bridge. But again, no Blues fans will need reminding of what transpired after the team took a two-goal lead.

Overall, this is a very important game for both teams, with Arsenal looking to extend their lead at the top and keep their title charge alive with four games to play after this one. Chelsea will mount a serious challenge to finish sixth and in the final Europa League place but will have to battle Manchester United and Newcastle United, although they still have a game in hand over both.

What Happened on Boxing Day, 2020?

Some may describe this game as saving Mikel Arteta’s job at Arsenal. The table below showcases how the Gunners were in a dreadful run of form, winning just once in ten Premier League games. It was not a season many would have fond memories about, but every Gunners supporter will remember the Chelsea game on Boxing Day 2020.

Arsenal were coming at the back of this run with the general suggestion that Arteta’s job depended on the Chelsea result. Mesut Ozil tweeted after the game saying how things change when you have a No.10 in the side, and that was precisely what Arteta had changed, adding a certain Emile Smith Rowe to the lineup.

Smith Rowe ran the show; although he only had an assist to show for his cause, the Hale End academy graduate was the difference maker. Kieran Tierney won a penalty inside the box when Reece James tripped him, as Alexandre Lacazette converted from 12 yards out.

Granit Xhaka then doubled the lead for the Gunners with a sensational free-kick, and then Bukayo Saka tossed the ball over Edouard Mendy’s head for a fortunate third. Arsenal then sprung to action following that win, although it did not change their fortunes very much in terms of a better finish to the season than the last time out.

Chelsea got back into the game through Tammy Abraham, as he chested the ball past Bernd Leno to make the score 3-1. Arsenal conceded a late penalty. But unfortunately, Leno was there to save Jorginho’s tame spot-kick. Arsenal held on to their two-goal lead and picked three points in what was described as the turning point of their season and time under Arteta.

The Aftermath

Arsenal and Chelsea would go on to have contrasting ends to the season, with the Gunners finishing eighth in consecutive seasons. To date, Mikel Arteta has been criticised for those finishes, and it is like a permanent mark to divide his Gunners reign.

The fortunes of Arsenal between then and now are contrasting; the same could be said about Chelsea. As for the Gunners, they not only finished eighth but failed to qualify for any of the European competition, which was strange for their fans. Meanwhile, they also crashed out of the Europa League in the semi-finals at the hands of Villarreal, managed by none other than Unai Emery, the man Arteta took over from.

Chelsea have endured Europe-less football this season. But back then, they were bonafide European giants and showed their class at the end of the campaign. Their league finish helped Chelsea in making it to the Champions League by clinching fourth place.

But they did one better in Europe’s premier competition. The Blues defeated Manchester City in the final of the top-tier European tournament courtesy of a solitary Kai Havertz goal. Interestingly, the German international now plays for the Gunners and might have revenge on his mind this midweek.

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