Saturday Star

A (Stamford) Bridge too far for Gunners to slam brakes on Blues

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LONDON: Arsenal’s clash against London rivals Chelsea is the north London side’s last chance to stop the Premier League leaders from running away with the title, former France winger Robert Pires has said.

Arsenal, in third place, failed to capitalise on Chelsea’s draw at Liverpool as they lost at home to Watford on Tuesday and will go 12 points behind the table-toppers if they are beaten at Stamford Bridge.

“I think this is the last chance for Arsenal and it is a final for the Premier League,” Pires, who enjoyed a highly-successful sevenyear spell at Arsenal, told Sky Sports.

“If Chelsea beat Arsenal, I think the Premier League is totally finished.

“Chelsea have played well for four months but if Arsenal beat them at Stamford Bridge, anything is possible.

“Arsenal will be more focused and when I see (Alexis) Sanchez and (Mesut) Ozil, they can do something at Stamford Bridge.”

Pires believes the battle between Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny and Chelsea striker Diego Costa will influence the outcome of the match.

“Koscielny is a good defender, maybe one of the best defenders in the Premier League,” Pires said. “He’s very strong, he’s very fast and everybody knows Costa loves to fight, he has scored a lot of goals. So, maybe this is the key for the game.”

Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Mousa Dembele senses there is something special on the horizon at White Hart Lane with his north London side sitting second in the Premier League, nine points behind Chelsea after 23 games.

To t t e n h a m fell away in t hei r p ursuit of a first league title s i nce 1961 l ast season and eventually finished third behind champions Leicester City and bitter rivals Arsenal after failing to win any of their final four matches.

“I think if we end up in the same situation, maybe we can do something special compared to last year. It is difficult to tell, but we have this feeling that we can do something,” Dembele told Sky Sports.

“Most of us learned from last year. But it’s a difficult thing, you need to be in that situation again to see if we have outgrown that.

“(But) there is a very good vibe, there’s a difference compared to last year, so yes we can do something special in the same situation.”

Striker Harry Kane was annoyed at seeing several strong challenges going unpunished during Tuesday’s 0-0 league draw with Sunderland, and Dembele echoed his teammate.

“Of course, for me there were a few challenges in the game I felt could have been more (than a yellow),” he said. Ma u r i c i o Po c h e t - tino’s charges host 15th-placed Middlesbro­ugh today.

Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Jürg en Klopp said elite-level coaches cannot give guarantees about their touchline behaviour due to the pressure that comes with being involved in the Premier League, but he urged his counterpar­ts to set higher standards.

Manchester United’s José Mourinho said this week he is punished more heavily for his behaviour than other managers after Klopp escaped sanction for his outburst at the fourth official during Liverpool’s draw with Chelsea.

“I agree 100 percent. The problem is only that to know about it doesn’t change the moment,” Klopp said yesterday when asked if he felt managers should be more restrained in their technical area.

Klopp apologised to the fourth official, who said he liked the coach’s passion, and the German admitted he was lucky to have avoided punishment.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was recently handed a four-match touchline ban for pushing the fourth official during his team’s win over Burnley.

“It would be a lie to give a guarantee to say that it would never happen again. Do we think Arsene Wenger is a person who when he sees the fourth official, he is going to punch him?” Klopp added.

“It happens because of the circumstan­ces and not the personalit­y. There is no excuse and that is why there are fines for it.

“It is my fault but that is not to say I can stop it. Behind a manager is still a human being and we are all weak in parts.We are not disrespect­ful.”

Liverpool, who are fourth in the table and 10 points behind leaders Chelsea, travel to second-bottom Hull City today. – Reuters

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