LONDON. — Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger does not feel Chelsea’s struggles or their decision to part company with Jose Mourinho will make this weekend’s English Premier League soccer meeting any less important.
Wenger and Mourinho shared a feisty rivalry, which manifested itself both on the touchline and during media conferences, before the Portuguese left Stamford Bridge in December amid a disastrous title defence.
Chelsea sit 14th in the English Premier League while Wenger’s men lead the way, but the Frenchman expects a typically hard-fought contest at the Emirates Stadium.
Asked whether Mourinho’s absence would take any sting out of the fixture, Wenger said: “No. I look at the quality of the players on the pitch and never at who is on the bench.
“You look at the characteristics of the team and the players. We don’t analyse the character of the manager on the other side.
“It will be an intense game as usual because that is what you get in the Premier League. Overall, because of the players on the pitch, it will be an intense battle regardless of who is on the bench.”
Mourinho has never lost a Premier League game against Wenger and previously mocked his fellow manager’s lack of a league title since 2004 when he described the Arsenal boss as a “specialist in failure”.
Interim boss Guus Hiddink has suggested that relegation remains a threat for Chelsea and it was put to Wenger that such a fate would in fact make the Stamford Bridge outfit specialists in failure.
But Wenger joked: “Look, I see where you want to take me, but I am not ready to travel.
“They are not in the title race, no, but they are direct rivals because of the quality of their team and I think this season is exceptional for them.
“They will be back. Nobody can predict (what has happened to Chelsea), but it can happen to anyone.
“Confidence can go quickly. There has been bad luck and the league is more difficult than ever, so once you lack confidence it can happen to anyone.
“I think (Hiddink) has gone a bit overboard. I don’t believe that. If you look purely at maths (then maybe), but the team has too much potential.”
Wenger is also refusing to rule out making another signing this month – but admits it is unlikely he will do so.
Arsenal brought in Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny from Basel last week and the Gunners are also reportedly closing in on a double deal for Nigeria wonderkids Samuel Chukwueze (16) and Kelechi Nwakali (17) who are expected to sign next week but fans hoping for further additions before February 2 are almost certain to be disappointed.
Wenger did say, however, he would be open to spending more money if an “exceptional case” came along.
When asked if he expected the remainder of the January transfer window to be busy, he told reporters: “You will certainly over the next 10 days have some work to do, but not especially with Arsenal.
“We are always open to the exceptional cases. At the moment I expect our last 10 days (of the transfer window) to be quiet.”
Arsenal have been linked with a high-profile move for a striker this month to add competition for target man Olivier Giroud.
But former Gunners striker Alan Smith agrees that Wenger doesn’t need any more arrivals this month due to the imminent return of Danny Welbeck from injury.
The England forward has been out of action since April with a knee problem, but is expected back next week.
Smith told Sky Sports: “Danny Welbeck is apparently only three weeks away and that will help them if he comes back in the kind of form he is capable of.
“Any manager would love to get in a world-class player to give the dressing room a lift but it’s so difficult and I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think they’ve got enough.”
There was some good news for Arsenal fans however, as Wenger revealed his squad is approaching full health ahead of Sunday’s game with Chelsea.
“We have no big problems,” Wenger added. “(Mesut) Ozil will be available.
“(Alexis) Sanchez has the next two days to prove (his fitness) but I think this time he will be available.
“(Francis) Coquelin’s back in full training today (yesterday), ahead of schedule. (Danny) Welbeck will be in full training next week.”
The league leaders have been without the influential Chilean Sanchez, who has scored six league goals this season, since late November after he suffered a hamstring injury. Ozil missed Sunday’s goalless draw away at Stoke City with a minor toe injury.
“The good news is that Ozil certainly will be available, and Sanchez … the next two days will be decisive … but I think this time he will make it to be available for selection,” Wenger told reporters yesterday. — AFP.