Arsene Wenger has conceded that Arsenal’s critics are justified in questioning his team’s Premier League title credentials and has challenged his players to prove them wrong and cope with the pressure of Monday’s clash with title rivals Chelsea at the Emirates.
After a soaring start to the season, Arsenal have taken just one point from their last two matches, including a humbling 6-3 defeat at the hands of Manchester City. From having a five point lead atop the Premier League standings, Arsenal will fall to fourth spot were they to fall to defeat in the final match before Christmas. Wenger is fully aware of the pressure on his players to perform.
"At the moment everybody still questions us." he said, according to Arsenal’s official website. "We haven't won it [the Premier League] for a long time, that's why they question us.
"It [the possibility of going fourth] adds pressure but you cannot play in the Premier League without pressure. There are periods where the pressure is a bit bigger and periods where it is smaller. You have to live with that and resist that kind of stress."
Taking into account their costly 2-0 defeat to Napoli in the Champions League, which led to an unenviable last-16 matchup with champions Bayern Munich, it is now three matches without a win. Arsenal have suffered a further blow with Wenger saying that there is only a slim chance that key central defender Laurent Koscielny will have recovered to take on Chelsea after suffering a laceration on his knee during the defeat to City.
Jack Wilshere will definitely miss out, having received a two-match suspension for making an offensive gesture at the Etihad. Better news comes in the form of Lukas Podolski being available after recovering from a hamstring tear suffered in August. The German is set to be named among the substitutes.
Not only do Arsenal have to overcome their recent blip, but they must also correct a poor record against the Premier League’s top teams dating back to last season. That psychological barrier may well be enhanced with Wenger never having gotten the better of a team coached by his opposite number on Monday evening, Jose Mourinho.
The Chelsea boss has his own concerns heading into the contest, however. After returning to Stamford Bridge this summer, the Portuguese is still struggling to find the right formula for success from what is a less balanced, less experienced and less physical squad than he had at his disposal first time around. Yet, while rarely being at their best, especially in recent weeks when they has been a league defeat to Stoke City and a League Cup defeat to Sunderland last time out, Chelsea will move above Arsenal and into second place were they to claim victory at the Emirates.
Speaking ahead of the Arsenal match, Mourinho has said that the project at Stamford Bridge is very different this time around from both his first stint in charge of the club and his previous managerial jobs.
“I've had teams where I needed to be successful immediately,” he explained, according to Chelsea’s official website. “I had Real Madrid, and I left there because I wanted to, not because the club wanted me to. There were clubs in other countries where it would have been easy for me to go to and find an easy job.
“I'm here because I love this club and I love the pressure. It's a different project for me and that's why I'm here.
“Realistically I have a four-year contract and I hope at the end of the four years we sit down, analyze the situation and we are both happy for me either to carry on or happy to separate. My desire and my feeling is to work for these four years and after that analyze the situation.”
Mourinho has confirmed that one of those stalwarts remaining at the club from his first spell, Ashley Cole, will again be left out in a Premier League match as he keeps faith in Cesar Azpilicueta. Michael Essien, who started when Chelsea got the better of Arsenal in the Capital One Cup earlier this season, is ruled out due to suspension.
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs
M: Flamini, Ramsey
Walcott, Ozil, Cazorla
D: Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta
M: Ramires, Mikel
Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.