LONDON, March 21- Arsene Wenger will hope to mark his 1,000th match as Arsenal manager by eating into Chelsea’s four-point lead at the Premier League summit when the London rivals collide on Saturday.
It is nine years since Wenger last lifted a trophy, but Arsenal’s 1-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend took them to within four points of Chelsea, who had slumped to a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa a day earlier.
Arsenal also have a game in hand on Jose Mourinho’s side, meaning that victory at Stamford Bridge would give them the upper hand on their cross-town foes as the title race enters the finishing straight.
With Arsenal also through to the FA Cup semi-finals, where they will play holders Wigan Athletic, Wenger admits he has allowed himself little time for nostalgic thoughts.
“It makes you feel, ‘Where did the time go?’” he told the Arsenal website. “It looks to me like I started yesterday. I can’t believe it is such a long time.
“Why? Because you’re always focused on looking forward to the next game and when you look back you think, ‘I made quite a distance there.’”
Chelsea manager Mourinho faces a Football Association misconduct charge after being sent to the stands during the loss at Villa, but he enjoyed a more memorable outing on Tuesday when his side beat Galatasaray 2-0 to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
Winger Eden Hazard is relishing the return to league action, telling the club website: “The game against Arsenal comes at an important moment because it follows a league defeat.
“We will have a good rest and our great staff will help us recover. We are going to do our best in front of our own supporters in what is a big derby game. There is no better one to win.”
Chelsea’s setback at Villa Park also opened the door for second-place Liverpool and fourth-place Manchester City.
Like Arsenal, Liverpool are four points behind Chelsea with a game in hand, while City are potentially in an even stronger position, two points further back but with three matches in hand.
– Rodgers cools run-in excitement –
Liverpool recorded a fifth consecutive victory with a fine 3-0 win at Manchester United last weekend, but manager Brendan Rodgers has warned his players not to lose focus ahead of Saturday’s trip to second-bottom Cardiff City.
“The run-in for us is the next game, and Cardiff have had some good results at home,” he said.
“We’ve got tough games right the way through. We’ll speak about the run-in when it is finished at the end of the season.”
After a three-week hiatus due to various cup commitments, City returned to league action with a 2-0 victory at Hull City last weekend.
They, too, face a struggling team this weekend, with rock-bottom Fulham the visitors to the Etihad Stadium, and midfielder Fernandinho knows that his side cannot afford to be distracted by thoughts of next week’s derby at United.
“Right now we need to think just about Fulham, to beat them at home and play well, so we can take some confidence into next Tuesday against United,” said the Brazilian.
“Maybe we will start to talk about them on Monday, but now it’s all about Fulham.”
United stormed into the Champions League quarter-finals by overturning a 2-0 deficit with a 3-0 win over Olympiakos on Wednesday, but they remain at risk of getting cut adrift in the battle for a top-four place.
David Moyes’s side could be 15 points below the top four by the time they kick off at West Ham United on Saturday evening and midfielder Michael Carrick knows that they are a long way from salvaging their season.
“I hope this will give us a confidence boost, but I am not getting carried away,” he said.
“Sometimes this year we have taken one step forward and two steps back. We will enjoy this one, but we have Saturday’s game against West Ham to think about, and City as well.”
Third-bottom Sunderland will look to make ground on the teams just above the relegation zone when they visit Norwich City on Saturday, while fourth-bottom Crystal Palace are at Newcastle United.
Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):
Cardiff City v Liverpool, Chelsea v Arsenal (1245 GMT), Everton v Swansea City, Hull City v West Bromwich Albion, Manchester City v Fulham, Newcastle United v Crystal Palace, Norwich City v Sunderland, West Ham United v Manchester United (1730 GMT)
Aston Villa v Stoke City (1600 GMT), Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton (1330 GMT)