By Alan Baldwin
There may not be many handshakes, offered or accepted, but Jose Mourinho has reason to welcome Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger back to Chelsea in Saturday’s big Premier League lunchtime clash (2.45pm).
The champions are languishing on the brink of the bottom three after their worst start to a Premier League season, while Arsenal are fourth, but Wednesday’s 4-0 Champions League thrashing of Maccabi Tel Aviv has lifted some of the gloom.
The side with the worst defensive record in the Premier League, with 12 goals against in five games, can now turn their attentions to Arsenal and the manager Mourinho most likes to beat.
Former goalkeeper Petr Cech, back at Chelsea for the first time since he moved to North London, will be standing in their way but Chelsea go into the match with a sense that the tide may have turned.
“Obviously it will be new to play against Chelsea but when you start playing the game the only concern you have is ‘can I play my best game and can we win?’” Cech said.
Even if Maccabi were not the toughest of opponents, Chelsea now have their first home win, first clean sheet and face Arsenal as the only English winners in the Champions League group stage.
Not only that, but the ‘Special One’ has showed he is back in business.
“I’m a fantastic manager when I’m not winning matches and I’m a fantastic manager when I am,” he declared after fans chanted his name long and loud on Wednesday night.
“I forgot the feeling. It’s so long since we won, it’s good, good, good,” added the Portuguese.
“I could not imagine waking up tomorrow after a defeat to go to Cobham to train just two days before a derby against Arsenal. How difficult would that have been?”
If Chelsea think Arsenal are arriving at just the right time, then so does Wenger who has had a spring in his step since he finally beat a Mourinho side for the first time in the pre-season Community Shield.
The Frenchman, who declined to shake Mourinho’s hand after that match at Wembley and who is still smarting from losing 6-0 to Chelsea in his 1,000th match as Arsenal manager, has yet to beat the Portuguese in the league but he can see a chance to shake off another hoodoo.
A chastening 2-1 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday was hardly the best preparation, even if Wenger clearly had one eye on Chelsea with six changes to the team that beat Stoke City 2-0 last weekend and Cech on the bench.
“I try to give Petr Cech some rest mentally,” he explained of that decision.
Chelsea will be without Brazil midfielder Willian, who picked up a hamstring injury on Wednesday, and Spain forward Pedro.
In other matches, West Ham United travel to Manchester City on Saturday evening (7.30pm) with the hope of becoming the first team to put a goal past the leaders in the league this season.
High-flying Leicester City, second in the table, are at Stoke City (5pm) while bottom club Newcastle United are at home to Watford (5pm).
Southampton host Manchester United on Sunday (6pm), with midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin making his return to St Mary’s for the first time since moving north, while Liverpool play Norwich City at Anfield (3.30pm).
United will have to tweak their back four, after eight successive matches together, for the match at St Mary’s as a result of former Southampton defender Luke Shaw’s broken leg.