Chelsea, Arsenal in battle of the big boys

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> It will be a battle of the big boys at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon when second-place Chelsea takes on third-place Arsenal.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:38 IST
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It will be a battle of the big boys at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon when second-place Chelsea takes on third-place Arsenal, with both clubs trying to avoid falling any farther behind league leaders Manchester United. Pending Saturday's outcome between United and Man City, the Blues could find themselves nine points adrift of the top of the table, an unusual position for the two-time defending champs. That means only a victory will be enough to satisfy demanding manager Jose Mourinho and the team's even more demanding owner, Roman Abramovich. Chelsea have a 10-point advantage over their weekend rivals, but that incredibly still leaves the Gunners only a place behind in the standings. However, Mourinho was quick to add some extra spice to this London derby showdown by suggesting there are now just two teams gunning for the title. "I think our biggest threat to the title is Manchester United," he said. "You only have to look at the League table to see that Arsenal are quite a long way behind us ... and I am sure that is a position they will want to fix. Even though they have lost some games that they should not have done this season, they are still a very strong team who could cause us problems. "We must be at the top of our game to beat them, but we are at home and I am confident that if we play well we can win." For once, however, the build-up to a big game has not centered around the spotlight-hogging manager, whose rivalry with Arsene Wenger is no secret. Instead, the glare of the cameras has fallen on a supposed rift between the Arsenal manager and his star striker, Thierry Henry, who is being rested by Wenger after an ankle problem and is a doubt for Sunday's game. Henry's growing dominance Henry, meanwhile, insists he is fit to play, suggesting Wenger may be growing tired of the dominance the gifted Frenchman has over his young team. "It was disappointing not to have Thierry last weekend," Wenger said. "He is a very good player who would be an asset to any team in the world. But I think to talk about Henry would be to undervalue the contribution of the players that did play, because we put on a very mature and polished performance in the tough atmosphere of a North London derby against Spurs." Despite being 16 points behind United coming into the weekend, the Arsenal boss is still confident his team can make a run. "It is true that we have not been as consistent as we have needed to be this season and that is a problem that we must get right if we want to get back into the title race," he said. "But I do not think we are out of it. We have left ourselves a lot to do over the second half of the season, but as always, we will do everything we can to win the Premier League." Whether that includes playing Henry on Sunday is still to be determined. But one player certain to be absent for Arsenal is Lauren, who has a long-term knee problem, while Philipe Senderos is also struggling. For Chelsea, goalkeeper Petr Cech is still sidelined after undergoing emergency head surgery following a collision at Reading and Claude Makelele is also a doubt. Sunday will mark the 164th competitive meeting between the two clubs, and the Gunners have actually won half of those (14 of 28), which have taken place in the Premiership. Arsenal will be taking part in its third straight derby, following a 3-0 victory over Tottenham last Saturday and a 2-1 loss at Fulham the Wednesday before. Chelsea has been out of action since Nov. 29, when they won at Bolton 1-0. (AP)

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