LONDON – Two managers under immense pressure clash tomorrow when Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal travel to face Rafael Benitez’s Chelsea.
Report by Reuters
Though it almost comes with the territory now, the return of the chorus of boos will bother Benitez no end after he saw his side surrender a scarcely deserved 2-0 half-time lead to a plucky Southampton side on Wednesday.
The draw leaves Chelsea with only one win in their past six Premier League games at home with Stamford Bridge resembling little of the fortress it once was under Jose Mourinho some seasons ago.
New signing Demba Ba provided the solitary positive against Saints with his third goal in as many games since his move from Newcastle, and may just have dislodged much-maligned Spaniard Fernando Torres, who was also booed when he came on for the final 10 minutes.
But Chelsea’s title hopes, like Arsenal’s appear to have been well and truly dashed.
The Blues are now 13 points behind leaders Manchester United, who entertain Champions League rivals Tottenham tomorrow, while the Gunners are 21 adrift.
John Terry should return to the defence to calm the nerves, but interim boss Benitez already looks to be as good as out of a job at the end of the season, if the fans’ sentiments count for anything.
Even with former Barcelona architect Pep Guardiola’s decision to sign on to manage Bayern Munich, Benitez’s position does not appear to be any safer.
“Guardiola has gone there and it’s good for him. We will try to be ready for our next game,” Benitez said after the Southampton draw.
“I have to concentrate on the game. You say that we have some problems at home, so I will try to concentrate on the game. That is my job,” he said when pressed on his future at the club.
Wenger is in a similarly precarious position with the Gunners in the midst of their worst-ever points haul during his tenure.
Arsenal’s problems lie deep with winger-cum-striker Theo Walcott yet to sign a new deal while demanding to be played as a striker, plus the significant hurdle the club must overcome if they are to qualify for the Champions League from sixth.
Oriol Romeu and Victor Moses are Benitez’s only absentees heading into the game while Wenger has defender Laurent Koscielny back after serving a one-match ban for a red card.
Midfielder Mikel Arteta is set to miss with an injury he suffered in training and Abou Diaby could provide further options in midfield if he is declared fit.
Meanwhile, Tottenham will look to complete an illustrious double over Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson’s side visits White Hart Lane tomorrow.
A win against the league leaders would be significant for a number of reasons; it would significantly bolster Spurs’ Champions League ambitions, dent United’s seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League and further endear Andre Villas-Boas to the Tottenham fans.