LONDON: Antonio Conte says Chelsea must seize the chance to move a step closer to winning the Premier League when the leaders face Arsenal in Saturday’s crucial summit meeting.
Conte’s side are nine points clear at the top with 15 games remaining and victory over title rivals Arsenal at Stamford Bridge would be a significant moment in the race to replace Leicester as English champions.
Beating the third-placed Gunners would move Chelsea 12 points clear of Arsene Wenger’s side, as well as sending a message to the chasing pack that the Blues are determined to hold onto their lead.
Conte would dearly love to see off Arsenal after the north Londoners’ 3-0 victory at the Emirates Stadium in their previous meeting this season.
That was the most chastening moment of Conte’s first season at Chelsea but the Italian, whose side have lost only one of their last 17 league games, said his side had grown a lot since then.
“It was a bad defeat, 3-0 after the first half. And in my mind it’s present, it’s always present, this defeat,” the 47-year-old former Juventus handler said Friday.
“I hope (it is) also in the mind of my players. I think it’s important to remember the first game against Arsenal.
“A lot of things changed now. For sure we are a team. We want to have a good game tomorrow (Saturday).”
With Chelsea held to a 1-1 draw at Liverpool on Tuesday, Arsenal squandered an opportunity to close the gap as they crashed to a shock 2-1 home defeat against Watford.
Wenger’s side haven’t won at the Bridge since 2011 and they must end that barren run to remain in the title hunt — they will have to do without Welsh midfield star Aaron Ramsey who is due to be on the sidelines for three weeks with a calf injury.
Wenger, who has not won the title since 2004, says he is looking for his side to bounce back from the Watford reverse.
“I believe what’s most important is that we turn up with a positive performance,” said Wenger.
“We have shown in the first game that we can beat Chelsea so let’s turn up with the same quality and show a straight response.
“What is at stake is how well we respond, in a united way and in a determined way, to get there and play our game.”
– Foul mood –
Second-placed Tottenham host Middlesbrough as they try to regain ground on Chelsea after drawing their last two matches.
Spurs Argentinian manager Mauricio Pochettino has called on his players to keep the pressure on Chelsea by winning and hoping their London rivals suffer a loss of form.
“We have to be ready. It is up to us. All that we can do is be there if the possibility exists,” said Pochettino.
“If not, okay. But if Chelsea drop their performance and their results, we need to be ready to take their place,” added the 44-year-old Argentinian, whose side lost runners-up spot to Arsenal on the final day of last season.
At the King Power Stadium both managers will be in the spotlight as troubled Leicester and spluttering Manchester United clash.
United manager Jose Mourinho was in a foul mood after Hull held on for a goalless draw in midweek that left his team four points adrift of the top four.
Ranting about decisions by the officials and a perceived lack of fair treatment by football authorities, Mourinho cut a paranoid figure.
The Portuguese has demanded other players supply goals as there is an over-reliance on Swedish veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has scored 14 of their 33 Premier League goals.
“We don’t score enough goals and some of our players from these attacking, creative positions, they could –- they should –- score more goals,” said Mourinho, whose side go into the game unbeaten in 14 Premier League matches.
Leicester’s fairytale title triumph already seems like a distant memory as Claudio Ranieri’s team find themselves just two points above the relegation zone after three successive defeats.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola likened the early success of Gabriel Jesus to opening a tasty watermelon following the teenage Brazilian forward’s goal in the 4-0 win at West Ham in midweek.
With City 10 points behind Chelsea, Guardiola will hope his decision to select Jesus just weeks after his arrival from Palmeiras bears more fruit against an improving Swansea.
Guardiola, though, is at pains to stress Jesus’s immediate impact will not see Sergio Aguero departing.
“Sergio remains the most — or one of the most — important players in our squad. Without him it will not be possible,” said Guardiola.
Fourth-placed Liverpool travel to second-bottom Hull aiming to end a four-game winless run in the league.
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
Chelsea v Arsenal (1230 GMT), Crystal Palace v Sunderland, Everton v Bournemouth, Hull v Liverpool, Southampton v West Ham, Tottenham v Middlesbrough (1730 GMT), Watford v Burnley, West Brom v Stoke