LONDON, England, September 28 – Arsene Wenger believes the clash against Chelsea at the Emirates this Saturday could offer an indication of whether Arsenal will challenge for the Premier League title.
The immediate build-up to the game between the London rivals will inevitably be dominated by the fall-out from Chelsea captain John Terry being found guilty of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand by the FA.
Terry has been punished with a four-game ban and £220,000 fine, suspended pending the outcome of an appeal process that leaves the central defender free to face the Gunners.
However, Arsenal manager Wenger insisted his side must ignore Chelsea’s problems and focus instead on securing victory against one of their main rivals.
The Frenchman has identified his side’s home games against the traditional Premier League heavyweights as a key factor in keeping pace at the top.
Wenger’s team drew at Manchester City last weekend and won at Liverpool earlier in the campaign but meeting Roberto di Matteo’s side is their first major test on home soil this term.
“We have played one big game this season where we got some belief against Man City,” Wenger, whose team are four points behind early leaders Chelsea, said.
“This is another one but a different one as we are at home. We have played five games, three away from home — Stoke, Liverpool and Man City — and doing well at home against the big teams will have a big impact on our chances in the league.
“We have a big task ahead of us and hope, of course, but it is down to consistency and being efficient in big games like this.”
The Gunners have Thomas Vermaelen back from illness and have been encouraged by Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere returning to full training.
Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski are injured for the Chelsea game, along with Tomas Rosicky, who is two weeks away from returning.
Wilshere will play in an Under-21 game against West Brom on Monday, Wenger confirmed. It will be his first game since recovering from knee and ankle injuries.
“He will play for maybe an hour,” Wenger said. “He’s not played for 14 months so we have to be patient. It’s fantastic for him.”
Meanwhile Saturday’s match will see European champions Chelsea without striker Didier Drogba, who had a fine record against Arsenal before moving to Shanghai Shenhua at the end of last season.
“I don’t know if they (Chelsea) miss him, but we don’t miss him,” Wenger said. “He did a lot of damage against. Last season he had an average season in the Premier League but in the cups he was absolutely decisive and influential.
“He played a big part of their success in the FA Cup and Champions League, he was massive and had that quality that on a bad day he didn’t give up and kept focused with his desire to be efficient. He was an exceptional player.”
Chelsea’s victory over Stoke ensured they retained their place at the head of the Premier League table after a brief dip in form before Tuesday’s 6-0 thrashing of Wolves in the League Cup.
That victory featured a first Chelsea goal for the club for Victor Moses who moved to Stamford Bridge in a £9 million pre-season move from Wigan.
Moses operated mainly on the wing for his former club but he believes he can fill the central striker role and challenge Fernando Torres for the position.
Torres was also on the mark against second-tier Wolves but has struggled to maintain his promising early season form in recent weeks.
And Moses said: “Changing position just comes naturally to me. I don’t really mind where I play — left, right, up front on my own or with another striker.
“I’m just versatile like that and I don’t mind playing anywhere in attack.”
Frank Lampard is expected to return for Chelsea after struggling with an ankle injury but Daniel Sturridge’s hamstring problem is expected to keep the England forward sidelined.