Gunners want Chelsea scalp
The London derby will be an unpredictable contest despite Arsenal topping the table and Chelsea being out of the race
Title hopefuls Arsenal will be looking to make a declaration of intent when they welcome defending Premier League champions Chelsea to the Emirates this evening. The Gunners hold top spot heading into today’s encounter by virtue of a superior goal difference, with second-placed Leicester City hot on the heels of the London outfit. Chelsea have managed to steady the ship following the appointment of interim manager Guus Hiddink.
The Blues are unbeaten in their last six league fixtures, but are still in the bottom half of the league standings, six points adrift of mid-table Southampton and a further 14 behind fourth-placed Tottenham.
Despite the fact that Chelsea currently find themselves in the bottom half of the table, Arsenal boss Arsène Wenger feels it would be foolhardy to underestimate the threat they pose.
“They are not in this title race, but [look at] the quality of their team,” Wenger told arsenal.com.
“I think this season there have been exceptional circumstances for them and they will be back – I consider them direct rivals.”
“It will be an intense game – as usual what you get in the Premier League,” he added.
“Overall, I think because of the quality of the players on the pitch and because of what is at stake for both teams, it will be a very intense battle, no matter who sits on the bench.
“I rate [Hiddink] highly as a very strong manager with an exceptional career. He alternated between club and country but he’s one of the leading managers who represented the Dutch philosophy and exported it across Europe.”
On the team front, Arsenal are set to welcome back Alexis Sánchez into the first-team fold following a lengthy absence with a hamstring injury, while playmaker Mesut Özil is expected to slot back into the starting 11 after recovering from the foot problem that saw him miss last Sunday’s goalless draw at Stoke City.
And, in a further boost, midfield enforcer Francis Coquelin has returned to training ahead of schedule, although he will play no part in today’s crunch encounter.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have just one injury problem to contend with. Talismanic forward Eden Hazard is nursing a pelvis injury and will undergo a late fitness test ahead of kickoff.
Hiddink should have an otherwise fully fit squad to choose from at the Emirates, and will also take heart from the fact that Chelsea are unbeaten against Arsenal in eight Premier League matches.
In today’s only other Premier League match, Everton will be aiming to return to the winning trail when 17th-placed Swansea visit Goodison Park.
The Toffees have recorded three consecutive draws, a run of results that has seen them slip down to 11th place in the league table.
Swansea, meanwhile, will have a new manager at the helm for today’s fixture, following the appointment of Italian Francesco Guidolin. The 60-year-old counts Udinese, Parma, Palermo and Monaco among his former clubs, and will undoubtedly be targeting a winning start to his Swans tenure.
We have almost a month to go before the elections and we need to know where we stand
– TEAMtalk media