Arsenal  play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday with the hosts knowing that another defeat would plunge their title defence into further disarray following a dismal start to the season.

Already 11 points behind Manchester City, only a victory will do for Jose Mourinho's side, and the visit of arch-rival Arsene Wenger may force the under-fire Portuguese coach to draw a line in the sand.


Wenger has been waiting 11 years to record a Premier League win over Mourinho, and he will have few better opportunities to break that duck when Saturday comes around. With six draws and four defeats, beating the Portuguese in a league game has proven a tough nut to crack for the Frenchman, but there is a sense that, for the second time in as many months, Arsenal can beat Chelsea.

The Gunners kicked off the 2015-16 season by beating their London rivals 1-0 in the Community Shield. It was a victory that served to consolidate the belief that a title challenge beckoned for Arsenal and, on a personal note, it gave Wenger his first win over Mourinho in a case of 14th time lucky for the 65-year-old.

If there were psychological barriers hindering Arsenal against a Mourinho-managed Chelsea, then Wenger surely ripped them down that day when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's stunner was enough.

Both managers refused the traditional post-match handshake, on two occasions, in gestures which illustrated that the mutual antipathy would remain for as long as both are still active in English football. An Arsenal win only served to crank up the hostility.

It has been a conflict that has raged for over a decade, with the list of unsavoury comments and incidents stretching longer than the Frenchman's famous puffer coat. The war of words has been so vitriolic at times that it seems to go beyond professional rivalry. It has been personal since Mourinho accused Wenger of being a "voyeur" in 2005, before then referring to his opposite number as a 'specialist in failure' in 2014.

The war turned physical last season when Wenger pushed his opposite number during the hosts' 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge, and few would back against similar antics come Saturday. Beyond the Wenger vs. Mourinho subplot, though, it is a game which could just spike Arsenal's confidence as they chase a first Premier League title since 2004. They need all the confidence they can get.

The North Londoners have endured a relatively erratic start to the season themselves, having lost 2-0 to West Ham United at the Emirates on the opening day, before narrowly edging out Crystal Palace 2-1 a week later to smooth things out somewhat. Having suffered a nightmare debut against the Hammers, Petr Cech then silenced his doubters with a superb performance in a 0-0 draw with Liverpool in London.

After scoring just twice in their first three games, though, concerns over the Gunners' blunt attack began to surface; doubts that only intensified when an own goal gifted them a 1-0 win at Newcastle United prior to the international break.

However, Wenger refused to strengthen in the final days of the transfer window, and strikers Theo Walcottand Olivier Giroud were both on target in last week's 2-0 win over Stoke City in a result that would have slightly appeased disgruntled fans over the lack of activity in the market.

Their 2-1 Champions League defeat at Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday perhaps took some of the gloss off Arsenal's early-season resurgence but, having made six changes to his first XI for the trip to Croatia, Wenger has one eye on defeating Mourinho and Chelsea this weekend.

Recent form: LWDWW
Recent form (all competitions): LWDWWL


Eleven points behind top-of-the-table City after enduring their worst start to a league season for 29 years, it is fair to say that Chelsea, the Premier League champions, are teetering on the brink of a full-blown crisis - if they have not already reached that point.

Mourinho is reported to have imposed a 'banter' ban on his troops after last week's 3-1 reverse at Everton - their third defeat of the campaign. Lighthearted behaviour has been outlawed by the Portuguese, who will feel that the way in which the Blues have begun the defence of their title is anything but a laughing matter.

The visit of Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Champions League on Wednesday night offered a welcome escape for Chelsea as they looked to put their domestic woes to one side - and they did. Goals from Willian, Oscar,Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas secured a 4-0 win in West London. They will hope that such an emphatic victory will restore their gusto and prove a watershed moment in their season. It has to.

With the high-flying Sky Blues hosting West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium, losing to Arsenal on Saturday may just see the champions fall 14 points behind City after six games played. Mourinho may be known as the special one, but bridging that gap en route to defending their title would border the miraculous.

It is difficult to pinpoint where it has gone wrong for Chelsea but, in truth, they simply have not looked like a team ready to go again, having led the Premier League title race for a record 274 days last season. The physical and mental exertions of such a feat may have come at a cost.

There were symptoms of this early-season malaise from day one, after Swansea City out-played them at Stamford Bridge but could only come away with a 2-2 draw. The following week, their weaknesses were exposed in much more ruthless fashion as Man City blitzed them 3-0 at Eastlands. It could, and should, have been by a lot more.

Captain John Terry, such an instrumental figure in their success last term, was substituted at half time during that rout, before being sent off at West Bromwich Albion seven days later. Despite being a man down, though, Chelsea rallied and earned a 3-2 victory at The Hawthorns, with summer signing Pedronetting on his debut. Yet, it proved a false dawn.

On the day of his 100th league game at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho, who had lost one of those previous 99, watched his side lose 2-1 to Crystal Palace in a defeat that was allowed to fester for two weeks due to the international break. Things then took a turn for the worst once more when Steven Naismith's 'perfect' hat-trick inspired the Toffees to victory at Goodison Park.

In spite of Chelsea's form, the 52-year-old insisted that he was not feeling the pressure, and the visit of Arsenal arguably comes at a good time for the Blues. It is not just any other game, and Mourinho's deep-seated hostility with opposite number Wenger is sure to add an element of spice.

The hosts might need a fixture of this magnitude to rile them, but another defeat would certainly confirm the crisis mode and could just spell the beginning of the end for the Chelsea manager.

Recent form: DLWLL
Recent form (all competitions): DLWLLW

Team News

Willian, who lasted 23 minutes of the win over Maccabi, has been ruled out with a muscle injury, while summer signings Pedro and Radamel Falcao have been included in the squad, but Mourinho revealed that they were doubts.

Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, who have both struggled for form, are expected to come back into the first XI.

Costa, who started on the bench in midweek, is expected to lead the forward line instead of Loic Remy, while Asmir Begovic will continue between the sticks after first-choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was ruled out for three months.

For Arsenal, Wenger confirmed that he had no fresh injuries other than those of Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck, who remain sidelined for the rest of the calendar year.

Centre-back Per Mertesacker could return to the matchday squad, but Gabriel is expected to continue partnering Laurent Koscielny in defence.

Walcott could spearhead the attack at the expense of Giroud - who was sent off in Croatia - while Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin will also come back into the side.


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