Red let­ter day for Blues

The Mercury - - SPORT - Lon­don

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 played in the Europa League last night.

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.

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 kick-off 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 be­fore re­turn­ing to his boy­hood team.

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.

Pep Guardi­ola’s City side travel to Watford to­mor­row, with Marco Silva’s team un­beaten in the first four matches of a top-flight sea­son for the first time.

To­mor­row’s ac­tion be­gins with for­mer Eng­land man­ager Roy Hodg­son tak­ing charge of Crys­tal Palace for the first time in their early kick-off at home to Southamp­ton.

Hodg­son re­placed Frank de Boer af­ter the Ea­gles made a mis­er­able start to the sea­son, los­ing all four matches and fail­ing to score. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: EPA

Wayne Rooney re­turns to Old Traf­ford on Sun­day when Ever­ton visit his for­mer club, Manch­ester United.

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