Chelsea's Italian head coach Antonio Conte / AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL /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 and the Italian, whose side have lost only one of their last 17 league games, said: “There are 15 games remaining and 45 points. Now we must focus on Arsenal.
“They are a great team who can fight for the title. Don’t forget we lost 3-0 away.
“This could be a good chance for us to show that the second part of the season we are a totally different team if you compare us to the previous game.
“It is a good chance for us. We play at home, which is very important, but it will be a really tough game.”
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.
Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech, who won four league titles during his time at Chelsea, said of the Watford defeat: “It was a huge setback because we wanted to put ourselves in a better position going into the weekend.
“I always say that at this level you cannot play 80 minutes, or 85. You have to play 90 minutes with full concentration and everybody on top of their game.”
– Foul mood –
Second-placed Tottenham host Middlesbrough as they try to regain ground on Chelsea after drawing their last two matches.
“With the mentality we have here, we would be upset to finish in the same position as last season,” said Tottenham’s Eric Dier, whose team lost out to Leicester in the title battle last term.
“We want to be better and we want to show it. Everyone wants to reach the very top.”
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.
United defender Phil Jones admitted the atmosphere among the United players was at a low ebb.
“We said before the game that this was our chance to put some pressure on the teams above us. We knew that teams around us would slip up and they have done, but we couldn’t capitalise on it,” he said.
“We’re bitterly disappointed. The lads are down in the dressing room, as you’d expect.”
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 lowly Swansea.
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
Leicester v Manchester United (1600 GMT), Manchester City v Swansea (1330 GMT)