LOSING to promoted Brentford in the season opener last weekend was not the start envisioned by Arsenal.
Facing Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow will be tough, if you are an Arsenal fan or the team’s boss, Mikel Arteta.
The Spaniard is already under pressure to lift his team and become a force again, more so after they finished in only eighth place last season.
A win against the Blues tomorrow will probably buy him some time as some fans are already calling for his head.
It looks like it will be a make-or-break season for the Spaniard, but whether he will last that long depends on the results before the end of the year.
Against Chelsea, Arteta will not have the luxury of fielding his strongest line-up as several players are missing due to injuries or illness.
Thomas Partey, Gabriel Magalhaes and Eddie Nketiah are all out for several weeks due to injuries.
It looks like star striker and club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette — who both missed the match at the Brentford Community Stadium because of their illness — will probably miss the North West London derby as well.
Coincidentally, the future of both players at the club remains in question, with discussion about them both being off-loaded.
Without Aubameyang and Lacazette, perhaps Arteta may be tempted to recall Bukayo Saka to the starting line-up and lead the charge alongside Gabriel Martinelli, Nicolas Pepe and Emile Smith-Rowe.
Saka was one of the standout performers in Arsenal’s ailing season that earned him a call-up to the England squad for the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament.
Still just 19, the young Englishman is pacy and skilful, and is not afraid of taking on his opponents, which maybe just what this team needs.
In midfield, Granit Xhaka should retain his place, captaining the side along new signing Albert Sambi Lokonga who looked positive with his passing range.
Looking back at the game against Brentford, Arsenal were the better team, with about 66% possession and 85% pass completions.
They had 22 shots at goal but only four were on target, while 10 out of their 22 crosses were met.
The Gunners will need to put in a lot more effort and need a bit of luck if they hope to get a good result against Chelsea, who swept aside Crystal Palace 3-0 in their opening match.
Thomas Tuchel, who already boasts an embarrassment of riches in attacking talent, looks set to unleash new club-record £97.5mil (RM562.38mil) signing Romelu Lukaku on the Gunners.
The Belgian, back to Chelsea after a decade away from the club, will no doubt be a threat that Arsenal cannot afford to lose sight of.
There are also the likes of Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz that can do Arsenal damage if left unchecked.
The odds certainly look stacked against Arteta’s side, but the Blues do not have a good recent record at the Emirates.
Over 10 matches across all competitions since 2016, Chelsea have only won twice and lost seven times.
Over at Anfield, Liverpool should have no problems seeing off Sean Dyche’s Burnley.
With the 3-0 win over Norwich City, it seems the Reds, especially their fearsome forwards, have found their groove and confidence early on this time.
Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah found the net, but Sadio Mane also played well and was a constant menace to the Clarets’ defence last weekend.
With the exception of Andrew Robertson, manager Juergen Klopp has a fully fit squad at his disposal.
The Reds will look to banish memories of the 1-0 defeat to Burnley in January this year, which started a run of six home defeats in a row, with a strong performance in the early kick-off today.