By Christian Radnedge
LONDON (Reuters) – Arsenal’s clash with Chelsea a year ago marked the turning point in a season that finished with the Premier League title heading to Antonio Conte’s side at Stamford Bridge.
Arsene Wenger’s team inflicted a 3-0 defeat on their rivals at The Emirates that day but Conte used the experience to change his formation and Chelsea went on a 13-match winning league run.
For Arsenal, it was to be their only victory all season against any of the teams who finished in the top four.
The north London club came fifth, missing out on the Champions League for the first time in 20 years, and thus go into Sunday’s showdown at Stamford Bridge off the back of a Thursday night match against Cologne in the Europa League.
Chelsea, meanwhile, will have had a four-day break following their Champions League mauling of Qarabag on Tuesday.
Although the circumstances are very different from this time last year, when Arsenal were in the Champions League and Chelsea were not even in Europe, it is business as usual for Wenger.
“Wednesday night or Thursday night is no different for us, apart from the fact that it’s a different competition, but when you play Wednesday-Saturday it’s similar to Thursday-Sunday,” the Frenchman said this week.
The pressure will be on Arsenal to avoid a third successive league defeat on the road having already come unstuck at Stoke City and Liverpool, where they were thrashed 4-0.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have once again learned from their mistakes to put together a three-match winning run following a shock opening-day home defeat by Burnley.
After their 6-0 victory at home to woeful Azeri side Qarabag on Tuesday, Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said they were relishing the prospect of facing the Gunners.
“Sometimes it is good to face a big team early,” he said. “Last year it didn’t work out against Liverpool and Arsenal, but this season we have already won at Tottenham. It is good to face Arsenal now.
“We are doing well. After the bad first half against Burnley, I think all our performances have been good. We have shown good spirit, good football and good wins most importantly of all.”
A blockbuster of a Sunday does not end in London, with the late kick-off featuring Wayne Rooney’s return to Old Trafford as Everton take on league leaders Manchester United.
The 31-year-old former England captain is sure to get a warm reception from the club where he became record goalscorer in January this year before returning to his boyhood team in July.
Last month Rooney retired from international football to concentrate on prolonging his club career and he has scored twice in four league appearances for the Toffees.
Ronald Koeman’s side are looking to bounce back from a chastening 3-0 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur, while Jose Mourinho’s new-look United have yet to drop a point at home.
United’s winning start to the season was halted at Stoke last week in a 2-2 draw, meaning they top the table on 10 points ahead of rivals Manchester City on goal difference.
Pep Guardiola’s City side travel to Watford on Saturday, with Marco Silva’s team unbeaten in the first four matches of a top-flight season for the first time.
Saturday’s action begins with former England manager Roy Hodgson taking charge of Crystal Palace for the first time in their early kick-off at home to Southampton.
Hodgson replaced sacked Dutchman Frank de Boer on Tuesday after the Eagles made a miserable start to the season, losing all four matches and failing to score.
(Reporting by Christian Radnedge; editing by Ken Ferris, Neville Dalton)
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