By 8pm today, Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery will face off against each other as head coaches of Chelsea and Arsenal football clubs respectively. Both managers took charge of their respective sides this summer and it is expected that they will face each other at least twice in the new season, when competitive fixtures take centre stage. For tonight though, it’s a friendly game that both teams will be participating in. On paper, it looks like a chance to just see what both men are all about, and perhaps how much work has been done with the players who will exhibit the philosophies taught by Emery and Sarri. On the pitch however, it promises to be a preview of how smashing this fixture will be in 2018/2019.
First of all, both managers will be keen to make a good first impression. While pre-season games for both teams have gone slightly under the radar, this particular fixture will be looked at much more closely. So no one can afford to screw up. Lose tonight and you’ll be billed as a struggling team before the season even starts. Not the kind of reputation a new manager wants to start with.
New players have come in for both teams, even though Arsenal have been busier. Jorginho is the main addition having followed Sarri from Napoli while Arsenal have signed Torreira and Lichtsteiner as part of a new era after Wenger. All eyes will be on these guys tonight. The midfield battles should be great to watch with Torreira going up against Jorginho, Xhaka up against Kante, and Fabregas facing Ramsey.
Both managers have a strong liking for attacking football. Both managers have a strong dislike for defending too, which means lots of goals are expected between them this season. Sarri’s Napoli was full of goalscorers (even Mertens became a goal machine under Sarri…imagine that…Mertens!!) but badly lacking in defensive organisation. In my opinion, that’s why they couldn’t win the Schudetto under him. Emery’s style made Sevilla and PSG so attractive to watch but painful to support. Just look at PSG’s clash with Real Madrid in the Champions’ League and you’ll understand how bad it can get from Emery. It could be OK to watch both teams go up against other clubs, but against each other? It will be a spectacle to savour.
Finally, both managers and their teams have so much to prove this coming season. Chelsea and Arsenal finished outside the Top Four in the league last season and both managers finished last season on a slightly disappointing note (Sarri failing to win the Serie A title despite topping the league for much of the campaign while Emery won everything apart from what he was hired to ACTUALLY win at PSG: The UEFA Champions’ League). The players themselves will see this year as a fresh start. Squad reshuffles are underway so whoever survives the cull knows he has a second chance. Might not get a third so the time to buckle up is now.
Tonight’s game may not have any sparks as I would expect but if there EVER was a time to lay down a marker and challenge the rest of Europe that you mean business, it is today. Screw the ‘Friendly’ tag, this match should be anything but. Both teams should go out there, show their guns, get crazy and pump up the adrenaline for the first competitive London Derby of the new season. If they do that tonight, one of football’s greatest rivalries will be lit AF in 2018/2019.