Sanchez-Costa battle the key to London contest
Main men Sanchez and Costa will be the key factors to success
ARSENAL v CHELSEA
(Tomorrow, 12.30am, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Three months ago, the French were toasting the resurrection of Olivier Giroud as Les Blues swaggered into the Euro 2016 final.
Over in the Spanish camp, Diego Costa was dropped from the squad like a bad smell.
Rumours abounded that he was turning his back on Stamford Bridge, too.
At Arsenal, a new dawn beckoned for Giroud. At Chelsea, Costa looked just about done. What a difference a few weeks make.
Costa is the main man once more and Giroud is a nowhere man, a slight injury sparing him the embarrassment of being dropped again as Arsenal host Chelsea tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Deputising for the forlorn Frenchman, Alexis Sanchez has stood tall at the apex of the Gunners' attack.
And the Chilean appears ravenous, hungry like the wolf, the lone-wolf role that Costa typically relishes at the Bridge.
In recent games, the two forwards have practically left the pitch with blood-stained fangs, stepping over the carcasses of eviscerated defenders.
Sanchez claimed two against Hull. Costa has knocked in three in his last two league games, making it five for the season so far.
Sanchez stands on four goals, with a couple of assists to reflect both his tireless displays and his natural instincts to drag defenders away from the box.
In a meeting between erratic defences, the two invading forces will treat the opposing back four like vulnerable chicks in an unlocked henhouse.
It could get bloody. It could also be quite brilliant.
Their contest entices because the two strikers share a robust physique and an unerring eye for goal, but little else.
Sanchez gives the impression that he leads the line out of necessity rather than choice.
Happier out wide, where his upper body strength allows him to charge past lightweight fullbacks, the Chilean can look a reluctant front-man.
Costa, on the other hand, most certainly isn't.
The snarling, simulating Spaniard is the antithesis of an Arsene Wenger striker, an elbowing, diving, kind of centre forward that the Arsenal manager loathes.
One of the London Derby's most intriguing sub-plots is the relationship between the exasperated idealist on the touchline and the unapologetic agent provocateur on the pitch, kicking lumps out of red defenders.
Costa has history with Wenger and Arsenal, like he does with most clubs.
The Spaniard contributed to two red cards for the Gunners last season. He set up psychological booby traps for outraged markers and invited them to fall in.
His niggling, pushing, kicking, collapsing and wailing routines are pins in a Wenger voodoo doll, cynical acts of gamesmanship that goes against everything the Arsenal manager believes in.
The trouble is, Wenger's gullible Gunners have failed to counter Costa's antics.
Arsenal rarely beat Chelsea. Since Jose Mourinho's first arrival in 2004, the Gunners have recorded just five victories in 12 years.
The Blues' cautious line-ups, with a lone striker, often stymied the Gunners' free-flowing football as Wenger's men struggled to contain Costa's slippery cunning.
The Spaniard enjoys the target practice, his street smarts revelling in the opportunity to irritate and provoke supposedly noble opponents. He's essentially a street urchin outsmarting Arsenal's stuffy traditionalists.
But, on this occasion, something similar could be said of Sanchez. He faces the brittle-boned Blues, a side with one clean sheet in 14 games.
Antonio Conte desperately wants John Terry to shake off an ankle injury, the manager's hopes resting with a slow centre back who turns 36 in December. Unfortunately, Conte won't get his wish as Terry is still out.
To worsen matters, Gary Cahill is off form. And it's not been a happy second homecoming for David Luiz.
It's difficult to predict how they'll fare against a rampaging Sanchez.
Wenger might be tempted to introduce the nifty Lucas Perez, who scored a double in the League Cup in midweek, and move Sanchez inside, but the Chilean neatly combines the pace and power required to destabilise Chelsea's defence.
As individuals, Sanchez and Costa are poles apart. As in-form strikers, there is nothing between them.
The outcome of a pivotal London Derby rests largely on their shoulders.
As lone wolves, they cannot afford to be all bark and no bite.
HEAD TO HEAD
Form: 5 goals, 1 assist
Season so far: The Spaniard is back to his fabulously polarising best. This incarnation of Costa looks a lot like the barnstorming brute who led Chelsea's charge to the title.
Role against Arsenal: Irritate at every opportunity. In both games last season, he burrowed his way under the skin of anyone in an Arsenal jersey. The Gunners could find themselves down to 10 men once more. And, in such fraught circumstances, no one would bet against Costa gleefully smashing home the winner.
Form: 4 goals, 2 assists
Season so far: Blessed with speed, a low centre of gravity and terrific upper body strength, the Chilean has excelled playing up front alone. Apart from his goals, his relationship with Mesut Oezil, revelling in a No. 10 role, has added another dimension to his game and given Arsenal an unexpected goal source.
Role against Chelsea: The attacking triangle of Sanchez, Oezil and Theo Walcott has found a definitive shape in recent games and it seems highly likely that the Chilean will remain at the apex of the attack.
BY THE NUMBERS
5 Diego Costa has scored five goals in five EPL games this season, three of which came in the last two games.
1 Chelsea have kept just one clean sheet in their last 12 league games. They have also conceded in each of their last six away league outings.
4 Arsenal were handed four red cards in their last five games against Chelsea.
0 The Gunners have failed to score in their last six league games against the Blues. Alexis Sanchez has also failed to score in his last four league appearances at home.