ARSE­NAL’S DAY OF RECK­ON­ING

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Alan Bald­win

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.

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