Arsène Wenger says Chelsea remain a direct rival despite their position in the Premier League table.

The champions have had a disappointing season so far, and lie in 14th place heading into Sunday’s clash at Emirates Stadium.

Wenger has been surprised by Chelsea's results, but insists they will not be drawn into a relegation battle.

The confidence can go quickly and for them the bad luck is that the league is more difficult for everybody. Once you lack a bit of confidence it can happen to anyone

Arsène Wenger

“If you are looking purely at the mathematics [they could] but the team has too much potential,” the Arsenal manager said.

“Nobody can predict this. The confidence can go quickly and for them the bad luck is that the league is more difficult for everybody. Once you lack a bit of confidence it can happen to anyone.

“The lack of confidence is linked with one or two unexpected bad results. The confidence in our job goes quickly, maybe quicker than ever because the pressure from the environment and the media is bigger than ever so you suffer a bit quicker than before.

“They are not in this title race but [look at] the quality of their team. I think this season there have been exceptional circumstances for them and they will be back - I consider them direct rivals.”

Guus Hiddink has replaced Jose Mourinho as Chelsea manager, but Wenger expects the game to be as fiercely contested as always.

“It will be an intense game, as usual what you get in the Premier League,” he said. “Overall I think, because of the quality of the players on the pitch and because of what is at stake for both teams, it will be a very intense battle, no matter who sits on the bench.

“I rate [Hiddink] highly as a very strong manager with an exceptional career. He alternated between club and country but he’s one of the leading managers who represented the Dutch philosophy and exported it across Europe.”

Copyright 2016 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
Rob Kelly 21 Jan 2016