Arsenal’s surprise 2-1 defeat to Watford on Tuesday night has increased the pressure exponentially ahead of their trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Now ten points behind Chelsea, the Gunners know that defeat against Antonio Conte’s league leaders will surely kill off any aspirations they had of ending that 13-year wait for a Premier League title.
However, manager Arsene Wenger, who will have to watch the game from the stands as he continues his four-game touchline ban, has something of a midfield shortage on his hands going into the game.
Aaron Ramsey came off injured in the defeat at the Emirates on Tuesday, and with Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain also picking up a knee injury that could rule him out (though Wenger remains hopeful), Arsenal could be left with just one fit senior central midfielder to play against Chelsea.
Grant Xhaka is serving a suspension of his own having also been sent off against Burnley, Santi Cazorla will not be considered for selection for a number of weeks yet as he recovers from surgery (if at all this season), while Mohamed Elneny is still on international duty with Egypt at the African Cup of Nations.
With Jack Wilshere on loan at Bournemouth, Arsenal could be left with Francis Coquelin as their only fit central midfielder going into the clash with their title rivals – and even he is still just coming back from injury.
If Oxlade-Chamberlain fails to prove his fitness in time, Wenger could be forced to use 19-year-old Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the centre against the Blues. Maitland-Niles has made just one Premier League appearance for the club – a brief cameo in a 4-1 win at Sunderland in October – and pitting him against Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kanté in his first real taste of Premier League action could be the difference-maker against a side that have won ten of their eleven league games at Stamford Bridge in this campaign.
From a position where Arsenal looked well in the title race recently, one bad defeat has threatened to derail their entire challenge. And with a Champions League last 16 tie against Bayern Munich to come in just two weeks, February could prove to be a defining month in their season yet again.