Antonio Conte has been using the word “rotation” frequently as of late. And the truth is that the squad for Leicester City and Qarabag were built with an eye towards Arsenal. Chelsea have enjoyed success against Arsenal for years, but Conte has seen little of it. With Manchester United giving little ground and Manchester City set to push on, Chelsea need to keep winning. Conte will play it as safe as possible as he goes for the win against the big rival in red.
THIBAUT COURTOIS13, Belgium
Tuesday was one of those days where Courtois could have pulled out his lawn chair and read a book. Qarabag only tested him once and even then there was not much to it as the shot was skied. The Belgian also recorded an assist for Davide Zappacosta’s cross turned shot. Courtois will feature again versus Arsenal but the question of why Willy Caballero did not start will linger.
CESAR AZPILICUETA28, Spain
Azpilicueta is pretty much universally considered Chelsea’s best defender (fix yourself FIFA 18). But as of late he has not quite been able to put it all together. He has still been good, but odd decisions and at least one bad moment per game have revealed some frailties. So far, nothing too catastrophic has happened as a result, but the Spaniard needs to fix it before it is too late.
DAVID LUIZ30, Brazil
Andreas Christensen played like a player who had been there and done that. And that is because he has. Two years on loan in Germany gave him tons of valuable experience away from the microscope. He has earned himself a start against Atletico Madrid and Roma. But for now, the Premier League belongs to Luiz. Christensen will get his chance in the competition again when the matches pile up, but it is all Luiz all the time.
GARY CAHILL24, England
Cahill had to do exactly one thing to earn a start against Arsenal – avoid screwing up against Qarabag. An early yellow for a reckless tackle did not bode well, but Cahill recovered. It helped that Qarabag attacked little from there on out, but still. It also helps that Antonio Rudiger came on late and looked like a headless chicken. Conte will go for Premier League experience for Arsenal and Cahill just about sealed his spot.
VICTOR MOSES15, Nigeria
Make no mistake: when the entire lineup is available, fit and healthy, Zappacosta is the starting wingback. His performance against Qarabag was not just one of a good player against a minnow. It was simply outstanding. He was involved in everything and made Victor Moses look pedestrian. But Conte will go with the fully rested (and Premier League-experienced) Moses for Arsenal. The only thing that will win him a starting role moving forward is a huge statement game.
N’GOLO KANTE7, France
Kante was subbed off for just the second time in a Chelsea shirt against Qarabag (the first time was the loss to Spurs last January). Kante has put in a lot of minutes with club and country and even a brief rest can be enough to recharge his endless battery. His new found attacking abilities were on show against Qarabag and if he does that against Arsenal while still defending, then the Gunners will have fits all afternoon.
CESC FABREGAS4, Spain
The plan was to start Danny Drinkwater against Qarabag, but a late injury in training prevented that. Conte opted for Fabregas’ experience over pushing Tiemoue Bakayoko after his return from injury. Eden Hazard’s integration back into the squad has been going well, but a start against Arsenal will be too much too soon. So Fabregas will have to pick up the slack once more in a 3-5-2 that Conte has started to favor in recent matches.
TIEMOUE BAKAYOKO14, France
Bakayoko has quickly gone from 0 to 100 as his fitness has caught up with his ability. His recent matches have been nothing short of excellent and the tandem he has already formed with some players is fantastic. He and Kante will need to be the wall that protects Fabregas and allows him to create and pull strings. The Bakayoko-Kante partnership is virtually the strongest wall that can be built to do that job.
MARCOS ALONSO3, Spain
With Alonso being the only proper option at left wingback, one would have thought he would have been substituted against Qarabag. But Conte kept him on for the full 90, pointing to the Nottingham Forest match as the day to rest him. Hopefully he holds up, because he and Zappacosta ran the show against Qarabag. Both were up and down the pitch, often playing in both boxes. If that is the wingback pair going forward Chelsea will be formidable.
PEDRO 11, Spain
Willian played the entire Champions League match and Hazard is still being eased in. That means Pedro will have to be the sole forward connecting midfield to the striker. He did something similar against Leicester City, but Fabregas was further up the pitch than he is likely to be against Arsenal. Against Qarabag he would go central and drop deep often, perhaps hinting at his role for this Sunday’s match.
ALVARO MORATA9, Spain
Morata had been told to get ready to come on and it was clearly visible the weight that put on Michy Batshuayi’s shoulders. The Belgian’s confidence was immediately shot. For whatever reason, Conte opted not to put Morata on and the bounce returned to Batshuayi’s step, resulting in two goals (no matter what UEFA says). It will not be enough to unseat Morata, but now the Spaniard will be hungry to impress Conte against Arsenal.