By Martyn Herman
Arsene Wenger has the chance to ram Jose Mourinho’s words down his throat on Saturday when his Arsenal side travel to Stamford Bridge looking to snatch control of the Premier League title race from Chelsea.
There would be no better way for Wenger to mark his 1,000th game in charge of Arsenal than to ruin Mourinho’s unblemished home league record as Chelsea boss after the Portuguese dismissed him as a “specialist in failure” last month.
The mind games in this season’s engrossing Premier League title battle have been simmering in the background but it is on the pitch where points are won and lost and the outcome of this Saturday’s lunchtime derby could prove pivotal come May 11.
Chelsea appeared to have taken a vice-like grip in the title race until last weekend’s controversial 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa and wins for chasers Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City squeezed things up at the top of the table.
Mourinho’s side still have a four-point lead over Arsenal and Liverpool, although they both have a game more to play, while fourth-placed City are six points back with three games in hand of Chelsea.
City are at home to bottom club Fulham on Saturday while surging Liverpool will be looking for a sixth consecutive victory when they go to a Cardiff City side fighting for survival.
Wenger branded Mourinho’s comments “silly” and “disrespectful” last month after the Portuguese coach had mocked the Frenchman’s eight-season trophy drought.
“Am I afraid of failure? He is a specialist in failure. I’m not. So if one supposes he’s right and I’m afraid of failure, it’s because I don’t fail many times,” Mourinho said.
Wenger had sparked the exchange when he questioned Mourinho’s motives for saying his Chelsea side were “a little horse” in the title race with Manchester City a “jaguar”.
Arsenal appeared to be slipping out of contention after back-to-back away league defeats, but a grinding 1-0 win at north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur last weekend put them back in the mix for their first title since 2004 – the year Mourinho arrived in London calling himself the Special One.
Victory at Stamford Bridge, where Mourinho has never lost a league game, would put them within a point of the summit with a game in hand which would be an impressive feat given injuries to Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil.
Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky, whose thunderbolt sealed the points against Spurs, said the result at Chelsea would not necessarily be key to Arsenal’s hopes.
“It will be a vital game against Chelsea but still there are so many games to go so we don’t know what will happen after that,” he told Arsenal’s website (www.arsenal.com).
“It can change very, very quickly in two games and, of course, you talk about Chelsea and Man City but you have to talk about Liverpool as well.
“There are four teams there and it is absolutely exciting.”
Liverpool are still on a high after their 3-0 victory at outgoing champions Manchester United last week and will be expected to breeze past a Cardiff side that looks like being relegated after only one season in the top flight.
Former defender Jamie Carragher believes his old club Liverpool have as good a chance as any of the teams in the top four to lift the title.
“They certainly have the momentum with them and the biggest compliment you can give (manager) Brendan (Rodgers) is that he has manoeuvred the club into a position to challenge for the title so quickly; Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez, for instance, took four seasons to get there,” he said.
“Will they do it? They definitely have the right weapons.
“Liverpool look strong whereas you can question their rivals: will Chelsea pay for the lack of a top-class striker? Is Manchester City’s defence strong enough? Do Arsenal have the players to produce when it matters?”
City’s defence, even without suspended captain Vincent Kompany, should be able to deal with a Fulham side running out of time to escape the relegation zone.
With the top four looking locked down, the teams below them such as Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United are vying for the fifth and sixth places which would mean Europa League commitments next season.
Everton can jump above Tottenham into fifth spot with victory over relegation-threatened Swansea Cityon Saturday.
Seventh-placed Manchester United will hope to shake off their humbling loss to Liverpool at West Ham United, although they should be buoyed by the 3-0 Champions League win over Olympiakos on Wednesday which sent them into the quarter-finals.
Tottenham, who have an almost impossible job against Benfica in Lisbon on Thursday in trying to overturn a 3-1 Europa League last-16 deficit, host Southampton on Sunday.