ARSENAL’S DAY OF RECKONING
Arsenal travel across town to a vengeful Chelsea on Saturday knowingthatanotherdepressing defeat at Stamford Bridge would see their Premier League title hopes swept away with the lunchtime leftovers. Victory for Chelsea in the early kickoff will send the Blues 12 points clear at the top and draw a definitive line under the 3-0 mauling Antonio Conte’s side suffered at the Emirates in September.
Chelsea went on a 13-match winning run after that setback – their heaviest loss of the campaign so far – and are favourites against third-placed opponents shocked by a stinging 2-1 home loss to Watford in midweek.
“When you lose a match like that (in September) playing for this kind of club, it is very hard to accept,” said Chelsea midfielderNemanjaMaticaheadofaderbythat never lacks needle. “I hoped it was going to be a wake-up call for us and it was... sometimes you have to lose a game to wake up and I am sure we will not allow any more defeats like that one,” he told reporters after Chelsea drew 1-1 at Liverpool. “A r e we l o ok i n g forward to this game evenmoretoputthings right? Of course.” Arsenal fans, who still have nightmares about the 6-0 drubbing suffered at Chelsea on manager Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge in 2014, will be hoping that the Watford result has a similar galvanising effect. The Gunners have not won at their rivals in the league since October 2011 but need to do it more than ever this time if a first title since 2004 is to be anything more than a distant dream this season.
Wenger will not be on the bench, with the Frenchman serving the third game of a four-matchtouchlinebanforhissendingoff againstBurnley,buthewillhavehadplenty to say to his players.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech, returning to his old surroundings, is sure to be pepped up already as will Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, whose tally of 15 goals currently tops the league scorers standings with Chelsea’s ANTONIO CONTE Diego Costa. But Arsenal will need to be fully switched on, mentally as well as physically, to crack a defence that has conceded just 16 goals in 23 matches.
And there are those who doubt Arsenal’s ability to put it all together in what could be their toughest test. “Even Wenger must concede they need a miracle to win the Premier League now,” commented old foe and former Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp in a column for the Evening Standard.
“TheyhavetobeatChelseaonSaturdayto have any chance, but the players must be at an all-time low after losing to Watford, who had one win in nine games before Tuesday.
“Their defending for both goals against Watford was shocking and it just makes me think even more that Arsenal’s back four is not up to the level needed to win the title.”
Wenger has given his players two days rest ahead of the clash, according to media reports. The Gunners will be without injured midfielder Aaron Ramsey and have striker Olivier Giroud doubtful with an ankle knock. Head-to-head LAST 10 MATCHES Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea
Arsenal 0-1 Chelsea Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea Arsenal 0-2 Chelsea Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal time. Terry had put Chelsea 2-1 ahead at the interval after Van Persie had cancelled out Frank Lampard’s opener. Andre Santos and Theo Walcott turned the score back in Arsenal’s favour before a fine strike from Juan Mata drew Chelsea level before Van Persie’s winning flourish.