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Will Chelsea prove a thorn in Arsene Wenger’s side once again?

Arsenal have not won at home against the Blues for six years and their record against top-six teams is also uninspiring

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 5:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 10:56pm

Arsenal versus Chelsea is the big match in the English Premier League, with all the other teams in the top six facing sides from the bottom half of the early standings.

With Manchester City five points ahead of both Arsenal and Chelsea, this is an important game even at this stage of the season and will help to answer some of the questions surrounding their title ambitions.

A key concern with Arsenal is their relatively poor record against other big-six teams, with just four wins out of 21 since the start of the 2014-15 season, and Chelsea have caused them particular problems.

You have to go back to Christmas 2010 to find the last time Arsenal won at home to Chelsea in the Premier League and the Gunners have scored in just one of the six league and cup meetings at the Emirates since then.

It has been a similar story at Stamford Bridge, where Arsenal are on a losing streak of four and have failed to score on their last three visits. Their most recent victory at the Bridge was almost five years ago with the topsy-turvy 5-3 win inspired by a Robin van Persie hat-trick.

Chelsea’s form dipped considerably up to Christmas last season and, while Antonio Conte looks a good fit for their established style of play, the new manager has had a couple of setbacks with the 2-2 draw at Swansea followed by last week’s 2-1 home defeat by Liverpool.

The extra-time 4-2 cup win at Leicester midweek clearly meant a lot to Conte and, with Diego Costa back to his rampaging best with at least one goal in four of his five league matches, that has set up Chelsea for a good display here. The visitors look the team to back on the handicap.

The next biggest match is Manchester United at home to champions Leicester, who will provide a test of Jose Mourinho’s team after their difficulties.

The two teams have met already this season, with United winning 2-1 in the Community Shield curtain-raiser at Wembley, and this should be another entertaining match.

United are not looking too secure, with just two clean sheets out of eight in all competitions under Mourinho, while Leicester’s only blank came in a home goalless draw against Arsenal.

Leicester could win at big odds, just as Watford did against United last week, and are worth considering on the handicap at least. Over 2.5 goals also looks a decent bet.

The odds on the other big teams are not that appealing and the best bets appear to lie with a trio of less heralded sides on the road.

Crystal Palace look a team to follow in away games with their reshaped attack and they rate the bet of the weekend at struggling Sunderland.

Almost 18 months ago Palace won 4-1 at Sunderland with a blistering display of counter-attacking that made them one of the most dangerous away teams in the Premier League.

That victory was part of an outstanding year in 2015 when they won 11 out of 18 on the road in the league and lost only four times.

That form disintegrated this year and their 2-1 win at Middlesbrough in their most recent away game was their first victory in 12 attempts on the road in 2016.

Some argue that is typical of the hot-and-cold form of teams managed by Alan Pardew, but the fluctuating fortunes probably have less to do with Pardew and more to do with the players available to him.

Pardew was short of options in attack last season but he addressed that with the summer purchase of Christian Benteke from Liverpool and the early signs are that the Belgian striker’s all-round play is just what Palace needed.

The speed on the counter-attack is still there with Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Jason Puncheon, and Palace look well set up to get back to their best away form.

Another tempting away side are Southampton, who could be a slow burner under new manager Claude Puel and look solid enough to test shaky West Ham.

Southampton are still unbeaten against teams outside the big six, having only lost away to Manchester United and Arsenal, and even in those defeats Puel had them well organised.

Three of their six goals-against were penalties and at least one of them was a disputable award, while their defeat at Arsenal came in stoppage time.

On Monday night, Watford have a good chance to continue their exciting form with victory at Burnley and, like Palace and Southampton, look solid on the handicap.