Arsenal and Chelsea have been reduced to also-ran status by Manchester City‘s blistering pace in the title race, but there is still a lot to learn when the London rivals clash at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.
With champions Chelsea lagging 14 points behind City and Arsenal sitting six points outside the top four, there’s clearly plenty of room for improvement in both teams.
Here we look at the problem areas for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Chelsea boss Antonio Conte:
REBELS WITH A CAUSE
After boldly deciding against selling Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil before the start of the season, Wenger has seen his gamble backfire as speculation about Arsenal’s contract rebels has been a constant distraction.
Sanchez and Ozil are out of contract at the end of the season and have refused to sign new deals, raising the possibility that both could be sold in January to avoid losing them for free in June.
Making matters worse, Sanchez, who was frustrated by Wenger’s refusal to let him join Manchester City in August, has pouted his way through the campaign – frustrating players, coaches and fans in the process.
City, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid are all contenders to rid Wenger of the Sanchez problem, but the damage has already been done.
German midfielder Ozil, wanted by Manchester United and Barcelona, has been less overtly troublesome, but his inconsistent performances have hardly suggested complete commitment to the cause.
No wonder former Arsenal star Martin Keown said: “Wenger puts so much trust in his players but Sanchez and Ozil have been overindulged.
“You wonder where they would be had these two been fully committed for the whole season.”
Although Alvaro Morata has been a qualified success in his first season at Chelsea, the former Real Madrid striker has been virtually the sole goal threat for Conte’s men.
Morata has scored 12 times, but only twice in his last seven league games.
With 39 league goals this season, the Blues have scored less than the other teams currently in the top four.
Solving that problem has been impossible for Conte because Belgian forward Michy Batshuayi, the main back up for Morata, has scored only twice in the league and hasn’t netted since October.
Conte is certain to push for a new striker to be signed in the January transfer window, with Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi and Sassuolo’s Domenico Berardi among potential targets.
Having leaked 26 league goals this term – more than any other team in the top seven – Wenger once again finds his failure to fix Arsenal’s leaky defence is undermining his side’s ambitions.
While Wenger has switched formations from a back three to a back four, changed defensive personnel and tried to protect them with different holding midfielders, the root cause of Arsenal’s Achilles heel remains philosophical.
Wenger’s commitment to an attacking game-plan which relies on a smooth-passing style earns plenty of plaudits from the purists.
But the Frenchman’s tactics often leave Arsenal’s full-backs out of position and his midfielders too far forward, while his reliance on diminutive playmakers allows opponents to bully the Gunners.
SEARCH FOR MOTIVATION
Manchester City’s sensational first half of the season has left Conte with the tricky task of keeping his players motivated when it seems they have little to play for in the league.
At times, Chelsea were fatally unfocused when they faced opponents who didn’t immediately inspire respect and the result was lethargic and damaging defeats at lowly Crystal Palace and West Ham.
Conte is a notoriously demanding coach and there has been growing speculation that his players are tired of Italian’s intense training sessions.
Balancing a need to remain in charge of his stars, while also keeping them onside could be a challenge for Conte given the lack of drama in the title race, but he has no intention of changing his style.
“You must always have a great desire to do this job. My wish for myself is to continue to have this desire for many years,” Conte said.
Provided by AFP Sport
Coutinho missed Monday’s Premier League fixture at Turf Moor with a thigh injury amid a backdrop of speculation over a move to the Nou Camp in the January transfer window.
The rumours were fuelled further by pictures – subsequently removed – of a Barcelona shirt with Coutinho’s name appearing on the website of Nike, the Catalan club’s kit manufacturer, over the weekend.
However, Reds boss Klopp claims there was nothing untoward behind the 25-year-old’s absence from Liverpool’s squad at Turf Moor as he responded to questions about the Nike pictures.
“I heard about it. Somebody told me and I thought ‘wow’. But I couldn’t be less interested in anything in the world!” Klopp said.
“Him (Coutinho) and Mohamed (Salah) are injured, not massively but enough for today, no chance and at least a doubt for Everton.”
Despite Coutinho and Salah’s absences, Estonia defender Ragnar Klavan scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner for Liverpool after Johann Berg Gudmundsson had cancelled out Sadio Mane’s opener.
And Klopp was most satisfied with the fortitude shown by his defence on a day when they might have wilted against a dogged Burnley side.
“I am really happy about our attitude and character,” Klopp said.
“You need to win your average games, win with attitude when you are not 100 percent.
“Burnley were an opponent motivated at the highest level. We needed to be ready for the wind, rain.
“It was cold and you need first of all concentration, you need readiness to work really hard, organisation, discipline and a little bit of luck. We deserved the three points.
“We need the wins on the not sunny days. It was a fantastic moment when we scored. I was never in doubt about the character of my boys.”
Provided by AFP Sport
The Old Trafford boss has been angered by recent comments from former United midfielder Scholes claiming record signing Paul Pogba was “just strolling through games”.
Pogba first responded on the pitch by producing an influential second-half display as United won 2-0 at Goodison Park on New Year’s Day.
Mourinho then took his opportunity to hit back at Scholes, who made the remarks in his role as a TV pundit.
Mourinho said: “I think the only thing Paul Scholes does is to criticise. I don’t think he comments, he criticises, which is a different thing.
“Paul tries to do his best all the time and sometimes he plays very well. Sometimes he doesn’t play so well.
“It’s not Paul’s fault that he made much more money than Paul Scholes. It’s not Paul Pogba’s fault. It’s just the way football is.
“But I think Scholes will be in the history (as) a phenomenal player, but not as a pundit. I prefer to look at him as a phenomenal player that gives so much to the club I am proud to represent.
“If one day Paul decides to be a manager, I wish he can be 25 per cent as successful as myself. Fifty per cent is 12-and-a-half silverware, 25 per cent is around six (trophies). If he is 25 per cent, he will be quite happy.”
Asked if he was frustrated by the number of high-profile ex-United players working in the media, Mourinho said: “I think they would love to be here, in the club. That’s a problem that I cannot resolve.”
While describing his side’s performance at Everton, Mourinho also took a verbal swipe at other critics he called “the kings of rock and roll”.
It was not clear who he meant, but it was possibly a reference to Noel Gallagher, the rock star of Oasis fame who is also an outspoken Manchester City fan. Gallagher was a guest TV pundit at last month’s Manchester derby and has given a number of other interviews recently, some critical of Mourinho.
Mourinho said: “The performance was really good, so maybe I’m lucky this time and the kings of the rock and roll that said I was under-performing last match maybe will say this time I performed.”
Pogba came to the fore as United upped the tempo after a dull first half to win with superb strikes from Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard after 57 and 81 minutes respectively. Pogba had a hand in both goals.
Provided by Press Association Sport