Gun­ners want Chelsea scalp

The Lon­don derby will be an un­pre­dictable con­test de­spite Arse­nal top­ping the ta­ble and Chelsea be­ing out of the race

CityPress - - Sport -

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

DEN­NIS MUM­BLE

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