LONDON — Jose Mourinho has warned Arsene Wenger that Chelsea are back in the groove as the English Premier League soccer champions look to extend their revival in today’s showdown with London rivals Arsenal. The match kicks-off at 1:45pm. Mourinho’s side are languishing just above the relegation zone following a miserable run of one win from their first five matches, but the Blues boss is confident his players are beginning to rediscover their swagger after a 4-0 demolition of Maccabi Tel Aviv in midweek.
That vibrant opening to their Champions League campaign was a stark contrast to the doom and gloom that surrounded the club after their worst start to a season since 1988. Already trailing leaders Manchester City by 11 points and fourth placed Arsenal by six, a third successive league defeat this weekend could leave Chelsea’s title defence in tatters. Yet Mourinho expects the challenge of taking on a title rival will draw a powerful performance from his team against an Arsenal side reeling from their surprise Champions League defeat at Dinamo Zagreb.
“We come with a different feeling. We can wake up with a different state of mind,” Mourinho told Chelsea TV. “Saturday is a big match, it’s a great rival. This result can put us in a better situation. We had too many bad results. We couldn’t have this one on top of it.” Mourinho has been quick to dismiss claims of a rift with captain John Terry, one of several players dropped for the Maccabi clash.
But Mourinho looks an agitated figure at present and locking horns with old rival Wenger is likely to keep him in a waspish mood, especially since he is still smarting from losing to the Arsenal chief for the first time in 14 meetings in the Community Shield last month. The Chelsea boss confirmed Willian will be unavailable for the London derby with Arsenal and said fellow attacking midfielders Oscar and Pedro are also doubts for the game. Striker Radamel Falcao is also an injury concern for Chelsea. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says his side have no “cheap excuses” regarding a lack of preparation time for today’s game at Chelsea.
The Gunners were beaten in Croatia by Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League on Wednesday, the same day the Blues beat Maccabi Tel Aviv at home.
“I don’t use that as an excuse,” said Wenger. “I believe we are in a position where we can perform.” Wenger made six changes in Zagreb as he dropped keeper Petr Cech, left-back Nacho Monreal, midfielder Francis Coquelin and forward Theo Walcott to the bench, while midfielder Aaron Ramsey and right-back Hector Bellerin were not in the squad. Ramsey and Bellerin are back in contention to play Chelsea, while Wenger says he has yet to decide whether Olivier Giroud, who was sent off in Croatia, or Walcott will start.
“I stand up for my selection and take responsibility for it,” added the Frenchman. “I believe we can repair what happened. We are on a good run in the Premier League and it is important now to look at that. Every defeat hurts but every defeat is also an opportunity to respond in a very strong way.” Wenger refused to go into his fractious relationship with Chelsea counterpart Mourinho or the struggling start his 17th-placed rivals have had.
“I do not consider too much where Chelsea stands at the moment and I’m focused more on us performing well with full power,” he said. Facing Chelsea on the back of a European setback is hardly ideal preparation for Arsenal, who haven’t scored in their last four league meetings with the Blues.
However, Gunners forward Theo Walcott is adamant his team will shrug off that setback in time to add to the Mourinho’s problems at Stamford Bridge.
The Gunners have been solid if unspectacular in the league so far and Walcott, who came off the bench to score against Zagreb, said: “Everyone will be very disappointed but we need to move on now.
“We have had setbacks before and have managed to bounce back from them. We have got a big, important game at the weekend. “The manager will make sure that it’s put to bed in the changing room and that it will stay there. We need to reflect on this game and move on quickly.”
City’s flying start to the season ground to a halt with a 2-1 home defeat against Juventus that continued their lacklustre Champions League record.
And Manuel Pellegrini’s team would be wise not to underestimate West Ham, who visit Eastlands today looking to claim a third famous away win of the season after triumphs at Arsenal and Liverpool. “On one hand it would be a surprise of course if we won because before Juventus, Man City scored 11 goals and didn’t concede, they are cruising,” West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said.
“But to be fair it would not be a shock considering we have done it two out of two (in away games) already.”
Manchester United, five points behind City in third place, will bid for an uplifting end to a traumatic week when they travel to Southampton tomorrow.
Louis van Gaal’s team slumped to a 2-1 Champions League defeat at PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday and to make matters worse England left-back Luke Shaw broke his right leg in two places following a challenge by Hector Moreno.
Newcastle, Sunderland and Stoke — the three top tier sides still waiting for a first league win this term — aim to end their barren runs against Watford, Bournemouth and Leicester respectively.
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri, whose team are surprisingly unbeaten in second place, has offered his players an appetising incentive to keep Stoke at bay.
“I told them, if you keep a clean sheet, I’ll buy pizza for everybody. I think they’re waiting for me to offer a hot dog too!” he said.
Fixtures (all 4pm unless stated)
Today: Aston Villa v West Brom, Bournemouth v Sunderland, Chelsea v Arsenal (1:45pm), Manchester City v West Ham (6:30pm), Newcastle v Watford, Stoke v Leicester, Swansea v Everton
Tomorrow: Liverpool v Norwich (5pm), Southampton v Manchester United (5pm), Tottenham v Crystal Palace (2:30pm) — AFP.