Chelsea and Arsenal set for Premier League clash Saturday

League-leading Chelsea entertain Arsenal (7:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) Saturday with a chance to create even more separation at the top of the league table.

Of course, Arsenal doesn’t see it that way. The Gunners will be hoping to reel in the front-running Blues a bit with a win at Stamford Bridge.

Table watch: Chelsea has a comfortable lead over both Tottenham and Arsenal. A loss by Arsenal would see it fall 12 points behind the Blues with 14 matches left.


Man in the middle: Martin Atkinson will be the referee for this one. Chelsea has lost both matches with him in charge this season while Arsenal has split a pair of games.

Form guide: Chelsea is 3-1-1 in its last five league matches with the most recent being a 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield on Jan. 31. Arsenal lost to Watford, 2-1, at home on the same day but still matches Chelsea’s 3-1-1 mark.

Texting it in?: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger won’t be in the technical area for this one, as he’s still serving a touchline ban for pushing fourth official Anthony Taylor last month.

He is allowed to watch from the stands, communicate with his staff during play and meet with the team before the match, at halftime and afterwards. Thank goodness for smartphones, right?

Team news: Antonio Conte has a fully fit squad at his disposal, and should be able to employ his version of the 3-4-3. Pedro and Eden Hazard will line up on either side of Diego Costa up front while N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matić will provide cover — and plenty of tackles — behind them.

Arsenal will likely be without Aaron Ramsey (injury), Granit Xhaka (suspension) and Mohamed Elneny (Cup of Nations). The big question is will Olivier Giroud feature, or will Wenger opt to play Alexis Sanchez up front alone to held manage the threat from Chelsea’s midfielders?

They said it, part one:

They said it, part two: “I don’t know, but in a press conference you always have to deal with the ‘ifs.’ I believe what’s most important is that we turn up with a positive performance. We have shown in the first game that we can beat Chelsea so let’s turn up with the same quality and show a straight response. What is at stake is how well we respond, in a united way and in a determined way, to get there and play our game.” — Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Analysis: We hate calling early February matches in the BPL “must-wins,” but this one at least qualifies as a “can not lose” for Arsenal to retain any realistic title aspirations.

The deck is stacked against the Gunners. Wenger will be in the stands, surrounded by Chelsea fans and stewards, and Arsenal’s traditional winter injury pile up is well underway.

Toss in the fact that Chelsea hasn’t tasted defeat at the Bridge since a loss to Liverpool in September, and you’ve got a recipe for a tough day at the office for Arsenal.

A draw suits Chelsea just fine, so Conte won’t be inclined to take a bunch of unnecessary risks. Against what is shaping up to be a makeshift midfield, chances for his team are likely to arrive in abundance regardless of his level of tactical ambition.

We’re just hoping to avoid an early Chelsea goal, which would make this match positively Italian.

Prediction: It’s the wrong match in the wrong place at the wrong time for Arsenal. Chelsea 2, Arsenal 0

About Randy Capps

South Carolina native, Fulham apologist, writer and sports fanatic.