The two London rivals will kick-off their seasons fighting for the first additions to their 2017/18 trophy cabinets.
A stunning display by Arsenal exposed the blemishes of a poor Chelsea in a 3-0 defeat last September. It was an embarrassing loss for Coach Antonio Conte who has spent years accustomed to winning.
The setback against Arsenal was Chelsea’s third game in a row without a win in the Premier League, which pushed Conte to spend sleepless nights thinking how he can implement his winning mentality on the blue side of London.
The week after, Chelsea traveled to Birmingham to face Hull City at Villa Park, with Conte switching to a new 3-4-3 formation. The Conte gamble worked as they secured a 0-2 win and continued to triumph for 13 back-to-back games, making history as they were crowned the Premier League Champions.
The Gunners’ victory over Chelsea in the beginning of the last season was the biggest turning point for Conte’s boys, while Arsenal’s win in the last official clash was the only silver lining in Arsène Wenger’s dark term.
Arsenal missed out on a top-four finish in the Premier League, failing to secure a Champions League qualification spot for the first time since 1997, which is one season before Wenger started his journey with the club.
It has been 14 seasons since Arsenal last won the Premier League, and with the recent poor performances, fans have been holding signs that read “Wenger Out” and “WEXIT” demanding the French coach to step down.
The protests continued as the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust carried out a survey indicating that 78 percent of their members want Wenger to quit and 86 percent cannot trust the board of the club.
The Gunners chief, who chose this club over his wife, stated, "I love this club, I don't know how long I will be here. I am clear in my head, that's the most important thing. The decision will be soon."
With a weary heart and trembling hands, Wenger sat on the Arsenal bench eager to overthrow Chelsea in the FA Cup final. Alexis Sánchez scored the opener in the fourth minute, which was canceled out by Diego Costa’s strike on the 76th minute. It only took Aaron Ramsey three minutes to sink Chelsea by a downward header into the bottom right making it 2-1 as Wenger screamed with joy, triumphing his seventh FA Cup title.
“It was an outstanding performance from the first minute onwards. This team has suffered, united, and responded,” he said after the game. He continued, “I am proud of doing two things that have never been done: to win a championship without losing a game, and to win seven FA Cups. It is not easy, believe me.”
Wenger is about to go head to head with Conte again this Sunday with revamped squads on both ends. Arsenal signed Schalke’s left back Sead Kolasinac, who assisted in seven goals last season, as well as Alexandre Lacazette, who is expected to prove he can be Henry’s heir. Arsenal’s new £52m signing talked about what inspired him to join the club, saying, "Throughout my childhood, thanks to Thierry Henry and other French players, I always dreamed of playing for this club. That dream has been fulfilled.”
Henry is arguably the greatest player to ever bless the English Premier League turf, which makes filling his shoes nerve wracking for any striker. Bu, the new French boy, has been gaining a reputation for boasting one of the deadliest right shoes, scoring 91 goals in the past four seasons and topping Atletico Madrid’s Griezmann and all the French strikers in Europe.
Arsenal will be missing Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Gabriel Paulista to injury while Alexis Sanchez already has one foot out the door, looking for a new club.
On the other hand, Conte will be facing a dilemma in his lineup, with Diego Costa leaving the club and Edin Hazard and Pedro injured, his trident upfront will be experimental.
Michy Batshuayi was impressive in the preseason and will be starting along with club’s veteran Willian. But with new signing Tiemoué Bakayoko injured, Cesc Fabregas is expected to drop to midfield next to Kante which might give new signing Alvaro Morata the go-ahead to start.
Morata is the striker Conte wanted since he was head coach at Juventus. The devastating striker joined Chelsea for an initial fee of £58 million, a new record for any Spanish player.
However, Conte believes Morata is still not ready to be unleashed. “Morata is just starting to train with us, he has to improve his condition a lot to adapt quickly into our team,” he said. If you know Conte well, you know it takes a lot of training to break into the starting lineup.
On Sunday, scorned Wenger will be hoping to reconcile with the fans, and Conte will be kicking bottles and swearing in the dressing room to keep his incomplete side fighting for the trophy in the first London derby of the season.