COMMENTARY I Nearly halfway through the Premier League season, England features the tightest race in Europe. In 90 minutes on Monday, Chelsea and Arsenal can shake up England's top four with just about any result.
If Chelsea wins on Monday, the Blues will be tied at the top with Liverpool on 36 points. Manchester City and Arsenal would trail by a single point. Yes, only one point would separate the top four teams in England.
Entering the 17th round of league play, Arsenal was leading the league, but a single defeat on Monday would see the Gunners drop from first to fourth. That is how tight the Premiership race is at the moment.
With Luis Suarez captainingLiverpool to a victory over Cardiff on Saturday, the Reds have usurped the throne for the time being. Even without its top scorer, Manchester City collected three important points at Craven Cottage and sits second in the table. However, City will drop down to third regardless of Monday's result.
With Liverpool and Man City already delivering strong statements for this round of play, all eyes are on Monday's match: Chelsea at Arsenal. With the entire world watching, the two London clubs will face a high-pressured 90-minute mid-term examination.
Entering Monday's fixture, neither Arsenal nor Chelsea is experiencing a particularly pleasant patch of play. Including a 2-0 loss to Napoli in the Champions League, the Gunners are win-less in their last three contests. In its last run about, Chelsea lost to relegation-threatened Sunderland in the quarterfinals of the Capital One Cup. Despite their league standings, both London clubs are stammering at the moment.
The Gunners may not be playing their best football, but they have only suffered one league defeat at the Emirates this season, and that loss came in the opening match of the season. In the Champions League, Arsenal's only blemish at home was a 2-1 defeat to Dortmund. Sure, Arsenal also lost at home in the Capital One Cup to this same Chelsea team, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger fielded a side that did not feature his top play-maker, Mesut Ozil, and his top striker, Olivier Giroud.
Also, Chelsea was sparked by the play of Juan Mata in that cup match. Mata continues to be a fringe player for Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, as the talented Spanish attacking midfielder has only played the full 90 minutes in two Premier League matches this season. Mata was not even on the bench in the league cup loss to Sunderland.
Incredibly, Mata has yet to score in the league this season. Has Mata has lost his skill or has Mourinho lost his mind? Either way, the Blues are suffering with the overlooked play-maker forced to serve as an overpaid spectator far too often.
Squad selection aside, Chelsea is not particularly strong away from home. The Blues already tasted road defeats at Stoke City, at Newcastle and at Everton in the domestic league. In the Champions League, the Blues were beaten by Basel in their final away fixture of the group stages.
The location of the match would normally give Arsenal the deciding edge, but one other factor plays a vital role in making a final prediction.
Prediction: Scoring Draw
With Laurent Koscielny likely out of the match through injury, Arsenal should pair Thomas Vermaelen alongside Per Mertesacker in the heart of the defense. Although both players are capable center-halves, the combination of the two can be a bit sluggish and leak opportunities.
In round 16, Koscielny went down with injury just shy of halftime. Vermaelen came on to replace the injured Frenchman, and Arsenal went on to allow four goals in the final 45 minutes. Vermaelen has only played as a central defender for a little over a match and a half this season, and the Gunners have allowed five goals with the Belgian standing in the middle of the defense.
That statistic should raise eyebrows when considering Arsenal has only allowed a total of 11 goals this season.
Everything considered, a 1-1 scoring draw sounds like a reasonable outcome. That result would put Arsenal at 36 points--only trailing Liverpool on goal differential. Chelsea would sit in fourth, only two points off the pace and level with Everton on points.
Monday's match may not decide the league in December, but head-to-head results in such a close title race will be a vital factor in picking a champion when May comes about.
Shahan Ahmed is a Yahoo Contributor in Sports and has covered the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga, and UEFA Champions League for the past four seasons. You can follow Shahan on Twitter @perfectpass and @ShahanLA
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