LONDON: Arsenal New Year’s Day match against London title rivals Chelsea at Highbury today is a “massive game” according to Gunners’ boss Arsene Wenger.
Champions and leaders Arsenal go into the match five points clear of second-placed Chelsea following a 1-1 draw at home to fellow title rivals Liverpool.
“It’s a massive game for us,” Wenger told Monday’s edition of the London Evening Standard.
“I expect Chelsea to attack us more than Liverpool did.
“It will be a more open game and after just losing two points it’s a match we want to win,” the Frenchman added.
But while defeat may signal the end of Chelsea’s push for a first top flight title since the 1954-55 season, Wenger knows that victory will not guarantee Arsenal another Premiership crown.
“We still have 17 games to play. It’s a long way and I think there’s still a lot for us to do.”
Meanwhile his Chelsea counterpart Claudio Ranieri has urged the Blues to put the memory of Saturday’s 2-0 defeat by Leeds behind them and simply concentrate on their own game.
“Our battle is not against Arsenal but against ourselves. Everyone likes to put Arsenal and Chelsea together, but we’re only concerned with our own performance.
“The points difference now is not important. Chelsea is Chelsea and we shouldn’t be thinking about Arsenal, Manchester United or Liverpool,” the Italian insisted.
Sweden midfielder Fredrik Ljungberg, who missed the Liverpool match with a cold, could return to the Arsenal line-up while Dennis Bergkamp, a second-half substitute, could start.
However none of the injured trio of Ray Parlour, Pascal Cygan and Edu are expected to return.
Arsenal goalkeeeper Stuart Taylor is set to stay as back-up to David Seaman even though for the Liverpool game he sat on the bench with a broken finger.
But with Rami Shaaban out for the season with a broken leg, Wenger will hope Seaman stays fit as he has no desire to risk teenage keeper Craig Holloway in the Premiership.
Ranieri made seven changes to his side for the Leeds game following Chelsea’s Boxing Day goalless draw with Southampton having said his days of constantly altering the line-up were over.
He admitted that was a mistake and while fewer changes are expected for Wednesday’s game, striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink could be recalled to the starting line-up with Emmanuel Petit returning against his old club.
Manchester United are also five points behind Arsenal but could be without leading scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy when they take on Sunderland at Old Trafford.
The Dutch striker is still struggling with the infected toe which meant he missed last weekend’s win against Birmingham.
Liverpool (sixth), who have not won in nine league games, travel to in-form Newcastle United (fourth) who go into the game on the back of a 2-1 win against Tottenham.
But Newcastle striker and former England captain Alan Shearer has warned his team to expect a rejuvenated Liverpool at St James’ Park.
“Their run can’t continue because they have too many good players at the club,” Shearer said.
In Liverpool, two Chinese players will be in opposition to one another when Everton’s Lie Tie lines up against Manchester City’s Sun Jihai.
On the South Coast, fans of high-flying Southampton are sure to give Tottenham boss Glenn Hoddle a warm welcome after the ex-England coach controversially walked out on the Saints to take charge at Spurs.
It will also serve as a dress rehearsal for Saturday’s FA Cup third round clash between the two sides.
At the other end of the table, bottom of the pile West Ham travel to improving Charlton with Hammers manager Glenn Roeder aiming to boost his squad when the transfer window re-opens in January.