Terry may not be enough to spike Gun­ners

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

FOR those fed-up with Eng­land’s Pep-Jose love-in, the first big Lon­don derby of­fers a wel­come respite – al­beit not for long thanks to the al­most pre­or­dained League Cup draw pit­ting the pair to­gether again. But Ar­se­nal vs Chelsea is al­ways a feisty clash of cul­tures and should be worth a late night on Satur­day as both har­bour gen­uine ti­tle as­pi­ra­tions.

If the Manch­ester clubs have hogged the head­lines, the Lon­don­ers have had rea­son­able sea­sons so far, both sit­ting on 10 points, only sep­a­rated by a sin­gle goal. Af­ter tak­ing one point from their first two games, the Gun­ners have crept up to fourth while Chelsea, one place be­hind, en­joyed a 100% record un­til a draw and a loss.

But there the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. They are just 10km of busy Lon­don streets apart but might be in dif­fer­ent hemi­spheres the way they are run, play and man­aged. Not to men­tion their ethos. Take last week­end for in­stance.

Af­ter the Gun­ners had run out com­fort­able 4-1 win­ners at Hull, news came of “a cri­sis meet­ing” at Chelsea. The Blues had lost to Liver­pool on Fri­day night and, ac­cord­ing to most of Fleet Street, Ro­man Abramovich had been hud­dled with his di­rec­tors in an im­promptu meet­ing un­til 1am on Satur­day.

“Conte in cri­sis” and “Ro­man rage” ran just two of the head­lines. The trou­ble for those news­pa­pers was that there was ab­so­lutely noth­ing in the story – no meet­ing had taken place. But such is the Rus­sian’s rep­u­ta­tion that a home loss to a ri­val fol­low­ing a stut­ter­ing draw at Swansea was enough for the pa­pers to as­sume the worst.

But even by Abramovich’s trig­ger-happy stan­dards, to sug­gest that Conte’s job would be in jeop­ardy af­ter one de­feat would have been push­ing it – es­pe­cially when the Ital­ian has cut such an im­pres­sive fig­ure and been a big part of the wider ap­proval of over­seas bosses.

You won­der what they made of it in the Ar­se­nal board­room where Arsene Wenger has been able to dis­play only the FA Cup on two oc­ca­sions in a dozen years, yet ap­pears as im­mov­able as Her­bert Chap­man’s bust.

The me­dia dot­ing on this for­eign man­ager lasted for half his 20 years in the job and even now he ap­pears in no im­mi­nent dan­ger from the board. Abramovich reached dou­ble fig­ures with man­agers in less time.

Still, as Luis Fe­lipe Sco­lari, An­dre Vil­lasBoas, Roberto di Mat­teo and now Jose Mour­inho know, mess up in au­tumn and you’re look­ing at a win­ter of dis­con­tent. Even the Dou­ble couldn’t save Carlo Ancelotti. A scowl from the owner can put paid to a dy­nasty let alone a promis­ing ca­reer. So, no mat­ter how out­ra­geous it seems, Conte knows he’s far more likely to be sacked this win­ter than his op­po­site num­ber.

As for the on-field build-up to this game, al­though both won their League Cup ties in mid­week in the same neck of the woods, their ex­pe­ri­ences were wildly con­trast­ing. Where an un­der-strength Ar­se­nal had a stroll against Cham­pi­onship For­est, a full-strength Chelsea found them­selves 2-0 down to cham­pi­ons Le­ices­ter and needed ex­tra time to come through.

Most of all, they needed Cesc Fabre­gas and John Terry. Fabre­gas, crim­i­nally un­der-used by Conte so far this sea­son be­cause he doesn’t de­fend, scored twice and showed the cre­ative savvy the Blues have been miss­ing. Terry wasn’t there and his ab­sence was as con­spic­u­ous as it had been against Liver­pool. Even at 35, whether he’s fit to start against Ar­se­nal could have a big bear­ing on the out­come.

To be fair to Conte, he is still search­ing for his best team and in the sum­mer was de­nied two play­ers he badly wanted. But the fees de­manded for Al­varo Mo­rata and Kali­dou Koulibaly were so pro­hib­i­tive even Ro­man wouldn’t budge so cheaper al­ter­na­tives (Michy Bat­shuayi and David Luiz) came in­stead.

The scarcely chal­lenged con­cen­sus on Chelsea’s dis­as­ter last sea­son is that Mour­inho lost the dress­ing room. And just as safe an as­sump­tion has been that any halfde­cent re­place­ment would over­see a re­turn to the sort of form that won the ti­tle two years ago. But can we be so sure? Mour­inho cer­tainly blew it, but what if the play­ers aren’t that good any­more?

The de­fence is held to­gether by Terry and stick­ing plas­ter while the at­tack is car­ried by Diego Costa. Eden Haz­ard is still frus­trat­ingly un­der- per­form­ing, Wil­lian nowhere near the player he was last sea­son, Gary Cahill an ac­ci­dent wait­ing for Terry’s re­turn, Ne­manja Matic nowhere near the rock of two years ago. Fabre­gas, lazy and light­weight though he may be, is the most cre­ative player they have and if N’Golo Konte re­ally is “like two play­ers”, then the Spa­niard is a lux­ury Conte can af­ford. Mour­inho even tried to sign him for United in the sum­mer which surely ex­on­er­ates him from be­ing be­hind the dress­ing room re­volt. Where Conte still searches for the blend, Wenger is set­tling on his and has quelled his crit­ics with his sum­mer ac­qui­si­tions. Granit Xhaka even brings lon­grange ar­tillery be­sides bite in the tackle while Shko­dran Mustafi and Lu­cas Peres could also be de­cent value. Even if Terry does play, with ei­ther Cahill or Luiz along­side he may not be able to shore up the de­fence suf­fi­ciently to staunch the an­tic­i­pated pass­ing on­slaught. Which is why Ar­se­nal have to be favourites and Conte could be look­ing anx­iously at his boss.

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