Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho is seeking to forget his team’s woeful start to the Premier League season when taking on London rivals Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. The title holders have lost three of their first five Premier League fixtures, including their last two, against Crystal Palace and Everton. Already they sit eight points behind leaders Manchester City.
Few could have predicted the decline exhibited by a squad that last season sauntered to the championship by eight points. Arguably few Chelsea players have done themselves justice so far. The defense, so solid in the second half of last season has struggled badly, with captain John Terry taken off at halftime against Manchester City and Branislav Ivanovic falling well below his previous high standards. Further forward there have been problems, too. Cesc Fabregas has been labored, often leaving the central midfield wide open, and last season’s PFA Player of the Year Eden Hazard has offered little of his usual creative inspiration.
Those difficulties have led to much speculation of that Mourinho has lost faith and even fallen out with key members of his squad. The Portuguese, though, rejected those suggestions ahead of the visit of Arsenal.
“Normally when bad results happen the first thing that comes into your laptops, iPads and pens is to find a dramatic story: 'Somebody punch somebody in the dressing room,' 'The manager doesn't want to speak with this guy,'” he said in his press conference.
“'Diego Costa fought with John Terry and before they start the fight they brought a translator for them to understand each other, because Diego cannot speak English and John cannot speak Spanish. Mourinho doesn’t want to give a new contract to John and Ivanocic. Mourinho instructs the scouts to find a right-back urgently.’
“You [the media] always go in this direction, which is funny. The other direction you don't go is the direction that is real. You lose matches, you are affected, you lose confidence, you don't want the ball.”
Chelsea earned some much needed respite from their Premier League woes when beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-0 in the Champions League in midweek. But Mourinho made several changes to his lineup for the match. And it is unclear how much of that rotation was down to resting players ahead of the weekend and how much of it was a case of players being dropped for their poor performances. Of those left out, Ivanovic may be particularly uneasy about his prospects of getting back into the side. Even Fabregas’ place could be at risk, although the fact that Oscar is now an injury doubt, along with Pedro and Radamel Falcao, means he is likely to be selected to take on his former club.
As for Arsenal, this surely represents manager Arsene Wenger’s best chance yet to finally earn a league victory over Mourinho. In 10 Premier League matches, Wenger has failed to come out on top, with the rivalry between the two becoming increasingly heated. In last season’s match at Stamford Bridge, Wenger even shoved his counterpart on the sideline, while after the Community Shield last month the pair failed to shake hands.
Still, that clash at Wembley represented the first time Wenger had ever beaten a Mourinho side in any competition. And Wenger believes that could provide a significant boost to his squad.
“For me, what is important is that Arsenal wins games,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “But It can sometimes be a mental block for the players or the team when they do not win against certain teams. On that front it was good to win [in the Community Shield], of course.”
Still, Wenger claims he is not paying particular attention to Chelsea’s early season problems.
“For us it’s a big game. Let’s not forget it’s the start of the season and only five games have been played,” he said. “We know our position at the end of the season will depend on how well we do in the big games. I do not consider too much about where Chelsea stand at the moment. I focus more on us performing well, with full power.”
Arsenal have been more solid at the start of the campaign, taking 10 points from their opening five games. Yet, unlike Chelsea, Arsenal went down to defeat in the Champions League, losing 2-1 at Dinamo Zagreb. Wenger also made changes to his lineup in that encounter, but those who dropped out look set to return. That includes Theo Walcott, who was replaced by Olivier Giroud for the match in Croatia. The France striker did his starting prospects for Saturday no favors, failing to take advantages of chances in front of goal and getting himself sent off. Walcott, meanwhile, came off the bench to score late on.
Kickoff time: 7:45 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra