At the start of 2018, Arsenal and Chelsea put on a classic match at the Emirates Stadium with Hector Bellerin's late strike securing a 2-2 draw for the Gunners. While both teams looked shaky in defence, they played with a swagger in attack and on another day it could have been 4-4. The signs were there that there was confidence within both of Arsene Wenger's and Antonio Conte's sides but they have shown anything but that in the games which have followed. Arsenal have suffered defeats at both Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth, while ahead of Wednesday's FA Cup third-round replay with Norwich City, Chelsea had registered a club-record three goalless draws in a row. You would expect the London pair to return to winning ways in the league sooner rather than later, but that may not occur this weekend.
You will probably look at various Premier League betting tips and each of them will vary between Arsenal and Chelsea recording convincing wins over Crystal Palace and Brighton & Hove Albion to the Eagles and Seagulls battling their way to a point against two of the top flight's big six, but do not be surprised to see one of the so-called underdogs prevail this weekend. The first encounter of the weekend takes place at the Amex Stadium with Brighton hosting a Blues side who were already said to be tired before hosting Norwich on Wednesday. Conte inevitably opted to make changes to his starting lineup with less than 72 hours passing by before taking to the pitch on the south coast but while some of the club's big-hitters were able to stock up on an extra plate or two of pasta, it will not necessarily help their success rate in front of goal.
For an attack which features Willian, Pedro, Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata, it takes a considerable drop in confidence for none of the quartet to score or lay on an assist in three successive matches, and it is difficult to believe that all is going swimmingly on the training pitch. Even when Michy Batshuayi has entered the fray, Chelsea have still lacked a clinical edge in the final third. Such is their need for a fresh look that Ross Barkley may be thrust into the action this weekend - perhaps one week ahead of schedule - but it would be naive for anyone to expect an instant impact from a player who has not made a competitive appearance since May. At the other end, Chelsea have kept six clean sheets from seven matches - it is a statistic which has not been highlighted amid all of the talk about Morata's confidence and Hazard's substitutions - but the longer that Chelsea look lethargic in attack, pressure will increase in their defensive third and Brighton will relish the opportunity to play last season's league champions on their home patch.
Later on Saturday, Arsenal face Palace in North London and from a historical perspective, you would not fancy the chances of the visitors. Arsenal have won 12 of the 17 Premier League matches between the two and have not lost at home to Palace since 1994, but Roy Hodgson's men could not be in a better mindset ahead of the short trip to the Emirates. Their one defeat in a dozen league matches did come against Arsenal, but that result ended up out of their system as soon as they recorded a goalless draw against Manchester City three days later. Wins over Southampton and Burnley have followed and for the first time this season, Palace are more than a defeat away from dropping into the relegation zone. The pressure has been lifted and while they have made a habit of recording one-goal wins or salvaging late draws, the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Bakary Sako can now play with a sense of freedom on a big stage, and that spells trouble for Arsenal.
Even when the Alexis Sanchez saga reaches a conclusion one way or another, it still does not change the fact that Arsenal have looked poor in defence for a number of weeks and the backline is not going to improve until Wenger puts his hand in his pocket for a new centre-back and defensive midfielder. It is as simple as that. When everyone is fit, they still have the potential to outscore any team put in front of them but against Palace, Aaron Ramsey will be making his first start for over a month, Mesut Ozil will potentially be in the team after a short spell out through injury and neither Danny Welbeck nor Alexandre Lacazette have scored in the Premier League since December 2. The reemergence of Jack Wilshere has been a huge plus, but he cannot do it all on his own.
Going back to the defence, Arsenal have only kept one clean sheet in their last seven fixtures. Who was that against? A flagging Chelsea side in the EFL Cup. That is not a coincidence and neither Wenger nor any of the club's supporters should take any positives from that. This is a team which has conceded 14 goals in seven matches - six if you take out that Chelsea shutout - and while Palace have shown that they are not necessarily the most clinical of sides in the penalty area, their attacking players are all wrong for Arsenal's backline, whether that be a back three or back four. It has reached a point where Arsenal are now available at betting odds of 4/7 to win a home match against a team they have only lost to on four occasions in 42 matches. It is a sign of the current state of affairs at a club who could sit 11 points adrift of the top four by the end of the weekend.