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Do-or-die for Gunners in battle of Stamford Bridge

SoccerNews in English Premier League 30 Nov 2008

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Arsenal's fading English Premier League title ambitions face a make-or-break moment on Sunday when they visit leaders Chelsea for a London derby at their Stamford Bridge fortress.

A third straight league defeat could leave the Gunners in freefall and a huge 13 points behind the Blues just 15 games in.

But equally, winning at Stamford Bridge — where Chelsea have been beaten just once in 89 league games — would send an impressive statement to the rest of the top flight that Arsenal are back in the race.

Despite the Gunners' dismal league performances on the pitch and dressing-room dust-ups off it, manager Arsene Wenger is relishing the challenge.

“This season we have played better against the top four,” he insisted.

“We cannot deny that because we lost against the teams who are not maybe favourites to play in the top four. Why? Maybe because they play a different type of football.

“I believe as well that some teams like Manchester City and Aston Villa have strengths and can give a game to anybody.

“We have to go with extreme desire and express our strong points and not hide. We can play and win everywhere in the world. We know Chelsea are a great side with great players but we can beat them if we play at our best.”

And in his hour of crisis, Wenger has received support from the unlikliest of sources going into the Chelsea clash – Blues boss Luiz Felipe Scolari.

“Arsene is a coach who has been there 12 years. He's a man that builds teams. Sells this and that, then puts in other players,” said the Portuguese.

“Arsenal are very good every year. And when you change two or three players in one season, you need time.

“The time, I think, for Arsenal and Arsene is now. They can play very well and win many games.”

Scolari and Wenger are old pals, having crossed paths in Japan in the 1990s, and the Portuguese is often a post-match dinner guest at the Frenchman's London home.

The former Brazil manager said he and Wenger shared the same ideas about football, despite the personality differences between the explosive Scolari and the mild-mannered Gunners chief.

“We are opponents only for 90 minutes,” Scolari insisted.

“Before the game, we'll talk and discuss the game ahead, this or that player.

“After the game at Stamford Bridge, he knows I'll invite him to come and talk, win, draw or lose. We are two friends. But, in the game, we are opponents.”

Stamford Bridge could prove to be a hostile venue for players on both sides and Wenger has appealed for calm.

England left-back Ashley Cole is still reviled for making the switch from Arsenal to the Blues, while France defender William Gallas, who went in the other direction, has recently caused a furore for criticising his own team-mates — an outburst which saw him stripped of the club captaincy.

France striker Nicolas Anelka, the Premier League's top scorer with 12 goals, faces his old club Arsenal, which he left in 1999.

Arsenal will have leading striker Emmanuel Adebayor, attacking midfielder Samir Nasri and right-back Bacary Sagna available again after recent injuries.

Chelsea striker Didier Drogba is banned, while midfielder Joe Cole could miss out after sustaining an ankle injury in the 1-1 draw at Bordeaux on Wednesday.

Chelsea won the last clash between the London sides, two Drogba goals cancelling out Sagna's opener at Stamford Bridge in March.

Last weekend's matches left the Blues top of the table with 33 points and the Gunners 10 points behind them in fifth place.

While the west London side were held to a draw in the Champions League midweek, Arsenal beat Dynamo Kiev 1-0 in a match that will have done much to settle the nerves in north London.

Nonetheless, Arsenal still face an uphill task to earn a first victory at Stamford Bridge in eight attempts — the last win coming in February 2004.

Indeed, Arsenal have won just one of the last 12 meetings with Chelsea in all competitions.

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