Two of the Premier League’s top three defences will clash at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Chelsea enter the weekend boasting the top flight’s most miserly back line with only 23 goals conceded to date, Arsenal not far behind in having allowed the opposition on the scoresheet just 28 times.
At the heart of each of these impressive records lies a pair of centre-back's that have been as constant as they have effective - Gary Cahill and John Terry for the Blues, and Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny for the Gunners.
In an encounter with massive title implications, the stingier of the two sides may indeed take the spoils - particularly as both Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger will be wary that defeat against a direct rival would be quite damaging at this point.
Let’s have a look at how the clubs’ respective - and potentially decisive - central defence partnerships compare to each other on the statistical front.
Challenges & fouling
|Name||Team||Total Tackle||Won Tackle||Last Man Tackle||Challenge Lost||Fouls||Apps||Mins|
Koscielny and Mertesacker are the victors in the tackling department, clear of both of their Chelsea rivals by some distance - the Frenchman leading the way overall with 41 tackles.
This being said, Cahill has been a master of efficiency for the Blues in winning 86% of his tackles whilst losing out in just seven challenges to date, though Terry hasn’t fared quite as well.
A downside to Koscielny’s aggressive nature for Wenger’s side is that he gives away a great deal of fouls - 24 to date - significantly more than either Mertesacker, Cahill or Terry.
Making up for his indiscretions has been his knack for making crucial interventions, with five last man tackles to his name as Chelsea’s pair have come up with just one between them.
Breaking up play
|Name||Team||Ball Recovery||Interception||Interceptions In Box||Poss Won Def 3rd||Apps||Mins|
In metrics related to ending opposition moves and definitively winning back possession, Koscielny proves dominant above all others - even team-mate Mertesacker.
The France international has recorded the most ball recoveries and interceptions by a great margin, also unmatched in his prowess at taking over on the ball in the defensive third.
As a supplement, Mertesacker still reads the game rather well with 45 interceptions to his credit, Chelsea’s duo far less proactive with only 51 such actions combined.
Often in a high line and afforded less cover than Mourinho’s centre-backs, it’s understandable that the Arsenal men come out on top here - Wenger’s tactics demand it, as his Stamford Bridge counterpart calls for his side to defend more collectively.
Aerial duels & clearances
|Name||Team||Aerial Won||Aerial Lost||Effective Clearance||Effective Head Clearance||Apps||Mins|
Where Chelsea’s two stalwarts categorically outperform their opposite numbers at Arsenal is in the air.
Cahill and Terry have won an aggregated 180 aerial duels at a success rate of 69%, brushing aside 125 made by Mertesacker and Koscielny - the towering German accounting for 80 on his own at a 73% clip.
Regardless of his lacking aerial ability, however, Koscielny still leads the way in terms of effective clearances, having notched up 193 in total even in falling behind on those of the headed variety.
Security on the ball
|Name||Team||Poss Lost All||Pass Accuracy||Error Lead To Shot||Error Lead To Goal||Apps||Mins|
Arsenal’s duo boast average pass accuracies verging on 93% whilst the Chelsea men come in at markedly lower figures.
In the same vein, Mertesacker and Koscielny have each lost possession far less times than Saturday’s rivals, comparatively much stronger on the ball than Mourinho’s favourites.
A fair bit of this can be attributed to divergent playing styles, however, as Wenger requires his centre-backs to participate in build-up play with quick, short passing - not the same case for Mourinho.
In light of this, a solid measure is the number of chance-creating errors each player has committed - Terry and the flawless Cahill having made the fewer, though at this point neither pairing has conceded a goal due directly attributable to a mistake.
The Arsenal men trump the Chelsea tandem in nearly every category - in large part due to the impressive figures posted by Koscielny - but it’s important to remember that the Blues hold the superior record in having conceded fewer goals.
Both sides’ central defenders will have plenty to think about in coming up against fluid attacks, and whoever can gain the upper hand at the back will likely have a great impact on determining the result.
A colossal occasion for two sets of colossal guardians manning the ramparts it will be - the fate of the title race potentially in their hands as Arsenal and Chelsea come to blows in west London.