By Richard Clarke
“I don’t believe in history because if history was predominant things would never change,” mused Arsène Wenger ahead of the trip to Chelsea on Sunday.
“Spain had never won the World Cup until 2012 but, when they had a good team, they won it.
“For me success starts with good players, it’s not the history that dictates the results. History dictates preconceived ideas and you can only lose games with preconceived ideas.
“We have to show we are good enough to win this game. We have to make our own history now. And you have to make your history by turning up with good performances.”
There you have it.
The Arsenal manager clearly fancies the job at Stamford Bridge this weekend.
Yes, he has spoken with similar confidence and eloquence before only to be disappointed. And, on Sunday, he is not only battling recent history but a clutch of injuries to senior players. Yet, despite all that, you still can’t help but be pulled along by the tide.
Chelsea’s bubble of invincibility was pricked last Saturday at Manchester City. However Arsenal failed to capitalise because they turned in a ragged performance themselves against West Brom later the same day.
Both sides had rejuvenating wins in Europe during midweek so Wenger argues they are in a similar state of mind going into a game that, perhaps surprisingly, he suggests is the litmus paper for Arsenal’s title chances it has been hyped up to be.
However Chelsea’s record – that history he wants to re-write – is hard to ignore. The Frenchman celebrated 14 years in charge on Friday and for the first decade was virtually unblemished against the Stamford Bridge side.
But that has all changed in recent times.
Arsenal have won only two of the last 17 League and Cup meetings. Chelsea won each of the past four games. They will be without Frank Lampard (groin) on Sunday but then he was never the only problem anyway.
“Chelsea have all kinds of strengths,” admitted Wenger.
“But you have the form on the day, the desire on the day, the sharpness on the day and you have our collective quality - all that can give us an advantage.
“It will be decided on very little things like every game at this level.
“Nobody can hide. I know approximately what we want to do and I’m confident we will turn up with a great performance.”
Cesc Fabregas (hamstring) and Manuel Almunia (elbow) were ruled out on Friday. Robin van Persie (ankle), Nicklas Bendtner (groin) and Theo Walcott (ankle) are still out but Abou Diaby has recovered enough from his ankle injury to make the squad. Whether he makes the starting XI is a different matter.
Injuries mean the strength of Arsenal’s season has already been resting on the shoulders of their young squad. If Chelsea have similar problems they will do likewise. You can argue that Carlo Ancelotti’s first XI is better than Wenger’s if you like but, these days, the Frenchman certainly has a greater depth of experience. Chelsea are now bolstering their bench with younger players.
“They announced they wanted to balance their accounts,” said Wenger, “so they go as well for a youth policy.
“It’s the first time I have seen some of their young players in their squad. They have become sensible, they have become like us. Manchester United as well. That’s good news because it levels the competition.
“But it’s not easy to do because you pay the education of young players with points.”
It was an ironic topic to bring up this weekend because, for the last couple of seasons, Arsenal have been accused of being too young and too weak to stand up to the experience and strength of Chelsea. For example, at Friday’s press conference, Wenger had to field specific questions on how he might stop the might of Michael Essien and Didier Drogba.
The influence of the Ivorian is understandable. In the 15 Arsenal v Chelsea games since he joined, Wenger’s record is W0 D3 L9 when he has played and W2 D1 L0 when he has not. Statistically he is the closest thing you will find to a footballing nemesis but, speaking to the media, Wenger cautioned against ‘obsessing’.
The striker hogged the headlines by bagging both goals in last season’s fixture by the midway point of the first half however Wenger saw the game differently.
“Last year, when we lost 2-0 at Chelsea, we had 60 per cent of the possession but we were caught twice on the break in the first 20 minutes,” he said.
“We conceded from the corner – we had a misunderstanding - and after that we got caught again. We had a lot of the ball but we couldn’t score.”
This is most important fixture so far this season in the mini-League that so often determines the title. The battle of the ‘Big Four’ has tended to be, in effect, the battle for the title.
The only major exception was in 2006/07 when Arsenal took 14 points from their games with Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool yet finished fourth with an overall tally of 68 points. Manchester United won the title with 86 points, of which only 11 had come against their big-name rivals.
"The only team I've seen win the Premier League without winning the big games is Man United,” said Wenger. “For me it is vitally important to win the big games.
“There is frustration that we have been close every year [to the title]. I am completely confident in the attitude of the team, I don’t question that. But first of all we must acknowledge that we play in a top-level environment.
“We were hugely frustrated on Saturday night [after losing to West Brom] but we responded quickly and in a strong way. Sunday will be a big game to show we can compete at that top level.
“We’ll grow in belief even if it’s a draw and if we play well. But we want to win.”Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source