Lon­don derby a turn­ing point again?


AR­SE­NAL’S clash with Chelsea a year ago marked the turn­ing point in a sea­son that fin­ished with the Premier League ti­tle head­ing to An­to­nio Conte’s side at Stam­ford Bridge.

Arsene Wenger’s team in­flicted a 3-0 de­feat on their ri­vals at The Emi­rates that day but Conte used the ex­pe­ri­ence to change his for­ma­tion and Chelsea went on a 13-match win­ning league run.

For Ar­se­nal, it was to be their only vic­tory all sea­son against any of the teams who fin­ished in the top four. The north Lon­don club came fifth, miss­ing out on the Cham­pi­ons League for the first time in 20 years, and thus go into Sun­day’s show­down at Stam­ford Bridge off the back of a Thurs­day night match against Cologne in the Europa League.

Chelsea, mean­while, will have had a four-day break fol­low­ing their Cham­pi­ons League maul­ing of Qarabag on Tues­day.

Although the cir­cum­stances are very dif­fer­ent from this time last year, when Ar­se­nal were in the Cham­pi­ons League and Chelsea were not even in Europe, it is busi­ness as usual for Wenger. “Wed­nes­day night or Thurs­day night is no dif­fer­ent for us, apart from the fact that it’s a dif­fer­ent com­pe­ti­tion, but when you play Wed­nes­day-Satur­day it’s sim­i­lar to Thurs­day-Sun­day,” the French­man said this week.

The pres­sure will be on Ar­se­nal to avoid a third suc­ces­sive league de­feat on the road hav­ing al­ready come un­stuck at Stoke City and Liver­pool, where they were thrashed 4-0.

Chelsea, on the other hand, have once again learned from their mis­takes to put to­gether a three-match win­ning run fol­low­ing a shock open­ing-day home de­feat by Burn­ley.

Af­ter their 6-0 vic­tory at home to woe­ful Az­eri side Qarabag on Tues­day, Chelsea goal­keeper Thibaut Cour­tois said they were rel­ish­ing the prospect of fac­ing the Gun­ners.

“Some­times it is good to face a big team early,” he said. “Last year it didn’t work out against Liver­pool and Ar­se­nal, but this sea­son we have al­ready won at Tot­ten­ham. It is good to face Ar­se­nal now.

“We are do­ing well. Af­ter the bad first half against Burn­ley, I think all our per­for­mances have been good. We have shown good spirit, good foot­ball and good wins most im­por­tantly of all.”

A block­buster of a Sun­day does not end in Lon­don, with the late kick­off fea­tur­ing Wayne Rooney’s re­turn to Old Traf­ford as Ever­ton take on league lead­ers Manch­ester United.

The 31-year-old for­mer Eng­land cap­tain is sure to get a warm re­cep­tion from the club where he be­came record goalscorer in Jan­uary this year be­fore re­turn­ing to his boy­hood team in July.

Last month Rooney re­tired from in­ter­na­tional foot­ball to con­cen­trate on pro­long­ing his club ca­reer and he has scored twice in four league ap­pear­ances for the Tof­fees. Ron­ald Koe­man’s side are look­ing to bounce back from a chas­ten­ing 3-0 de­feat at home to Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur, while Jose Mour­inho’s new-look United have yet to drop a point at home.

United’s win­ning start to the sea­son was halted at Stoke last week in a 2-2 draw, mean­ing they top the ta­ble on 10 points, ahead of ri­vals Manch­ester City on goal dif­fer­ence. City travel to Wat­ford on Satur­day, with Marco Silva’s team un­beaten in the first four matches of a top-flight sea­son for the first time.

Satur­day’s ac­tion be­gins with for­mer Eng­land man­ager Roy Hodg­son in charge of Crys­tal Palace for the first time, at home to Southamp­ton. – Reuters STAN­LEY MENZO is con­fi­dent that his Ajax Cape Town team is just one win away from turn­ing things around. And the Cape side won’t have a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity of record­ing that win than tonight, when they host Polok­wane City in a PSL fix­ture at Cape Town Sta­dium (8pm kick­off ).

Ajax haven’t had the best of starts to the PSL sea­son, but head coach Menzo is con­fi­dent that bet­ter times are com­ing. Three games into the new sea­son, the Cape side has picked up just one point. They come off a 1-0 de­feat to Or­lando Pi­rates, and the for­mer Nether­lands goal­keeper knows how im­por­tant vic­tory is against Polok­wane.

“One point af­ter three games is not good enough,” said Menzo. “We have to catch up. This is a cru­cial game against Polok­wane, we have to make sure that we win. It won’t be easy, but we have to go for it. We’ve got Roscoe Pi­etersen back from sus­pen­sion and Rheece Evans back from in­jury, and that will help.”

In essence, the prob­lem at Ajax is that they are des­per­ate for an in­jec­tion of con­fi­dence and, above all, a good dose of old-fash­ioned lead­er­ship and per­son­al­ity in the team. Now, with the avail­abil­ity of Pi­etersen, a so­lu­tion may just have been found.

Pi­etersen was red-carded in the fi­nal game of last sea­son and has sub­se­quently been sus­pended for Ajax’s three open­ing fix­tures of the new PSL sea­son. Among their stand-out play­ers dur­ing a dif­fi­cult time in the last cam­paign, his re­turn af­ter sus­pen­sion is ma­jor boost for Menzo. Pi­etersen’s ver­sa­til­ity is prob­a­bly even more im­por­tant, in that he can play in the cen­tre of de­fence or as a hold­ing mid­fielder.

Menzo also took the op­por­tu­nity yes­ter­day to re­veal the club’s lat­est ac­qui­si­tion. The Ajax coach doesn’t al­ways get too ex­cited about play­ers, but there was a glint in his eye when he spoke of Soumaila Ou­at­tara, the 22-year-old cen­tral de­fender from Burk­ina Faso. A free agent, the Burk­in­abe was able to pen a deal with the Ur­ban War­riors out­side the trans­fer win­dow.

While Ou­at­tara won’t be avail­able against Polok­wane tonight – Ajax are still await­ing a work per­mit – Menzo had no doubt the player would be vi­tal dur­ing the rest of the sea­son.

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