Thomas Tuchel has admitted he does not know what to expect from Arsenal when their depleted squad welcome his Chelsea to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Three weeks after facing off in a pre-season encounter at the same venue, the two London rivals will be going head to head again in their first derby of the new Premier League season. They enter the clash with contrasting moods; Arsenal lost their season opener to promoted side Brentford, whereas Chelsea followed up their Super Cup win with a comfortable three points against Crystal Palace.
The Gunners have been affected in recent weeks by a bout of coronavirus cases. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Alex Runarsson all missed the Brentford game due to positive tests, while Willian is also still recovering following his own contraction of the virus.
It makes Chelsea’s preparation difficult, because Tuchel admitted he does not know how their opponents will line up.
“I don’t know what their team will be. It’s a difficult one to predict,” he said. “For me the situation, when I put myself into their shoes, is that they can play the underdog role with the complications they had with Covid and that they lost their first match.”
Even so, Tuchel is expecting a strong Arsenal after seeing how they played in their pre-season meeting, even though his own side won that game 2-1. What’s more, form goes out of the window on occasions such as this.
“In pre-season we saw the energy the stadium could produce. They had a bit of a rough start and from their perspective it can be a help that a big rival from within the city arrives. It can create a situation where they stick together and try to win their crowd over with a strong performance.
“So we should be prepared for the best Arsenal possible. They have a strong coach, strong team, strong signings, so we should prepare for the best Arsenal possible.”
Tuchel provides Chelsea team news
Chelsea are not without their own personnel issues, because one of their own has also returned a positive Covid test.
Tuchel confirmed that Christian Pulisic is therefore unavailable, but he is more confident that Hakim Ziyech and N’Golo Kante, who have been dealing with other issues, could be in contention to play.
“Christian has unfortunately had a positive test and needs to follow the protocols. He’s not been training and is not available for the game.
“Hakim and N’Golo both trained yesterday so we need to have more physical intense session tomorrow and decide tomorrow. Right now, it seems very positive that both can be in the squad for Sunday.”
Ziyech endured a difficult debut season at Stamford Bridge and there have been rumours of an exit this summer. But the former Ajax attacking midfielder has been backed by Tuchel after a positive pre-season.
“He was decisive in every friendly and in the Super Cup against Villarreal. It was unfortunate he got injured but now we have to take care with him.
“We’re happy he’s back on the pitch but a shoulder injury can be tricky. Tomorrow is decisive for him and we’ll see how things go.
“The good thing is that with a shoulder injury you can still keep your fitness. He has training in his legs. Once he feels totally free, hopefully he can find his performances from pre-season very quickly.”