Though it's only Matchday 6, both Chelsea and Arsenal enter Saturday's London derby at a crossroads of sorts, with the reigning champions out to regain their footing and the Gunners looking to regroup from a disappointing opener in the Champions League.
The two sides never lack for subplots when facing each other, whether it's the incessant sniping between managers Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, or this season's new wrinkle of goalkeeper Petr Cech making his return to Stamford Bridge after winning four Premier League titles and the 2012 UEFA Champions League with Chelsea. But the two teams also enter this match with the common worry of having to chase down a Manchester City side that appears - domestically at least - to be in imperious form.
That especially holds true for Chelsea (1-1-3), who are off to their worst Premier League start in club history and enter this match 17th - already 11 points behind City - on the heels of consecutive league defeats to Crystal Palace and Everton. Last weekend's 3-1 loss at Goodison Park in which the Blues conceded a hat trick to unheralded substitute Steven Naismith finally prompted Mourinho to make wholesale changes to his first XI.
"We didn't start the season well and when you see Chelsea so far down the table you have to check twice to make sure this is happening," midfielder Cesc Fabregas said. "We just have to win. It is a London derby, we know Arsenal are a quality team, they play top football and it will be tough but we want to win and we can achieve that."
Some of those changes quickly took hold Wednesday when Mourinho stalked the touchline with fervour and the Blues began group play in the Champions League with a 4-0 rout of Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv. The manager made six changes, with defenders John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic on the bench along with midfielder Nemanja Matic and forward Diego Costa.
The scoreline flattered to a degree, even with Eden Hazard's early miss of a penalty, but the introductions of defender Baba Rahman - who made his Chelsea debut - and midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek brought needed vitality. Loftus-Cheek had played just 17 minutes before Wednesday, and he worked seamlessly with Fabregas as the Blues bossed the midfield.
"Fabregas and Loftus-Cheek gave speed to the team," Mourinho said. "The ball was quickly leaving defensive areas and reaching attacking players."
Loftus-Cheek, a homegrown 19-year-old, may be in line for another start since Mourinho has already ruled out Willian and Pedro due to injuries. Willian was forced out in the first half of Wednesday's match after scoring the game's first goal, while Pedro doesn't appear to have recovered from a knock suffered in the loss to Everton.
"We played some really good football going forward and defensively, so I think the players all got a big lift," Loftus-Cheek said. "We are relieved to get the win. We have got to stick together as a team and fight through the situation."
Fighting through the situation for Chelsea on Saturday means solving Cech, who moved across town - much to Mourinho's dismay - after losing his starting job to Thibaut Courtois last season. The Belgian, though, is out long-term with a knee injury, and Asmir Begovic is still seeking his first league victory after coming over from Stoke City.
The 33-year-old Cech already showed Chelsea he still had plenty left, backstopping Arsenal (3-1-1) to a 1-0 victory in the Community Shield in August in his Gunners debut. Wenger dropped the Czech 'keeper in favour of David Ospina for Wednesday's Champions League opener in which the Gunners lost 2-1 at Dinamo Zagreb, saying he wanted to give Cech "some rest mentally."
Arsenal looked out of sorts after starting brightly, and Olivier Giroud complicated matters by getting sent off in the 40th minute for his second yellow card after the Gunners had fallen behind. Theo Walcott pulled one back late - his fourth goal in his last three matches across all competitions - but it was the kind of momentum-sapping loss after a strong run of play that has vexed Wenger and Arsenal for so many seasons, in this instance coming after shutout victories over Newcastle United and Stoke City.
"You know that when you don't win the game you have to look at yourself in think, 'I didn't get it right,'" Wenger said. "I personally don't believe that the players who came in had a bad game. It just didn't work.
"We were maybe a bit unlucky and maybe lacked cohesion or some competition in some situations."
Mourinho has made antagonising Wenger a cottage industry of sorts during his stints with Chelsea, both on the touchline and in the media. Even in losing to Wenger for the first time in 14 overall matches at Wembley this summer - the "Special One" is 7-6-1 lifetime against "Le Professeur" - he chastised Wenger by saying Arsenal "left their philosophy in the dressing room" by playing a cautious style more similar to Chelsea than the attacking style normally associated with the Frenchman's Gunners.
Chelsea took four points in the two matches last season, including a 2-0 victory in the corresponding fixture on goals by Hazard and Costa on either side of halftime. The Blues limited Arsenal to one shot on goal in the 180 minutes.
Arsenal are winless in their last six (0-3-3) league meetings with Chelsea, and scoreless in 392 minutes since Walcott netted in a 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge on Jan. 20, 2013.