Arsenal face curse of Mourinho in biggest game of season
Wenger has never beaten the Chelsea manager, but he must avoid defeat tonight as Arsenal stutter
IT WAS the Arsenal Christmas party last week and the theme of the fancy dress shindig was superheroes. Some might claim it was appropriate given that the Gunners have been pretty heroic in the first half of the season. Up until Saturday evening they were leading the Premier League, as well as qualifying from their Champions League 'Group of Death' above Napoli and Marseille. Not a bad transformation considering their disastrous start to the season when Aston Villa trounced them 3-1 at the Emirates.
Recently, however, there have been some worrying signs and the Gunners are without a win in their last three matches. A 1-1 draw with Everton was followed by a lacklustre 2-0 defeat to Napoli and then last Saturday they were given six of the best by Manchester City.
With their rivals all winning on Saturday, Arsenal have slipped from first to third, one point behind new leaders Liverpool and below Man City on goal difference. They remain above Chelsea but defeat tonight to the Blues and the Gunners will find themselves in fourth – with tricky encounters coming up against West Ham on Thursday and Newcastle on Sunday.
The omens aren't good for the Gunners. They've lost their past three meetings with Chelsea in all competitions and Wenger has never beaten a Jose Mourinho side in nine attempts. "It's not a personal battle," Wenger said when asked if that's how he views tonight's evening encounter at the Emirates. "Honestly, we had some big games in the past but what is important for me is that I am completely focused on Arsenal Football Club... what is at stake for us is to get back to winning habits."
If Arsenal do win they'll be back on the top and the recent run of bad results will put down to a December dip. Another defeat, however, and the pressure will increase on Wenger to strengthen the squad in next month's transfer window. His one major summer signing was Mesut Ozil and the former Real Madrid playmaker has shown - for the most part - that he's worth every penny of his £42.5m. Nonetheless, the German international is in need of a rest after four months of continuous football, a point Wenger acknowledged ahead of tonight's game. "He wouldn't be used to playing at this time of year," said the Frenchman. "In Germany, they have a big Christmas break, and also in Spain. At some stage, I will have to give him a break, but not on Monday night."
Arsenal need a big game from Ozil tonight, particularly as they're without the suspended Jack Wilshere and the injured Laurent Koscielny, the big centre-back who has been one of the standout players of the first half of the season.
Asked what he thought of Wilshere's two-match ban for giving the finger to Manchester City fans last week, Wenger replied: "We thought the ban was one game. It is two, we have to accept it and to swallow it. He was wrong in his reaction. We just thought it was a one-game ban and that's why we appealed."
With no Wilshere and no win in three games, Arsenal are facing tonight their biggest challenge so far of this campaign. But Wenger promises his boys won't be found wanting. "We have decided to fight until the last day of the season," he declared. "That attitude will not change. It is a promise we have made and that is where we can show we are really men." ·