Whatever happens, Arsenal’s visit to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea on Saturday will be a significant one for Arsene Wenger. The week leading up to the fixture has been full of tributes for the man who arrived from Japan in 1996 before transforming Arsenal, as he prepares for his 1,000th match in charge of the club. With Arsenal trailing Premier League leaders Chelsea by four points, with a game in hand, it is a fixture that Wenger has also called Arsenal’s most important of the season.
Wenger will be desperate for it to be a milestone for a third reason, too. In 10 previous contests, the Frenchman has never come out on top against Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho. Still, Wenger believes his side are in the right frame of mind to get a result at a ground where Mourinho has yet to taste defeat in charge of the Blues.
"The result tomorrow will be linked with the performance of the day," Wenger explained, according to Arsenal’s official website. "We come out of winning 4-1 against Everton, we drew 1-1 at Bayern Munich and we won 1-0 at Tottenham. We are on a good run so let’s take the confidence out of this run to make another surprise tomorrow.
"It is the game of the season for us -- it's as simple as that. We are in a period where every point is vital now, especially against your direct opponents. It is for us the most important game of the season now.”
One man unsurprisingly not quite getting fully into the celebratory spirit this week was Mourinho. The Portuguese has had a spiky relationship with Wenger down the years, not least this season when he referred to his counterpart as a “specialist in failure.” And while complimenting Wenger in his press conference on Friday, Mourinho again was unable to resist a sly barb.
“I admire him and I admire Arsenal because it's not possible to have 1,000 matches unless the club is also a fantastic club in the way they support their manager in the bad moments -- especially when the bad moments were quite a lot -- so I admire the manager and I admire the club,” he said, according to Chelsea’s official website.
Chelsea beat Galatasaray in midweek to claim their place in the Champions League quarterfinals, but suffered a costly 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa last time out in the Premier League. Having played down his side’s title chances throughout the campaign, Mourinho, in contrast to Wenger, was also far from building up Saturday’s contest.
“It's no more significant than the game last Saturday in Birmingham,” he said. “It's exactly the same significance; maybe a bit less now because of what happened last weekend. Last Saturday put us in a position where probably we wouldn't be now, probably we would be with more points than we have now.
“We want to get the maximum points possible during the season and this is our objective game after game so if we can add three points to the ones we have now that would be good.”
The defeat to Villa came at a further cost, with red cards to Ramires and Willian meaning both are suspended against Arsenal. Ashley Cole will be unavailable to take on his former club as he continues his recovery from a knee injury.
Arsenal’s injury problems show no signs of abating. Tomas Rosicky is the latest fitness worry, with the Czech midfielder set to face a late fitness test having suffered an ankle injury after scoring the only goal in Arsenal’s win at Tottenham last Sunday. Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby remain sidelined.
Where to watch: The Premier League match will kick off at 8.45 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.