LONDON, September 18- The old maxim that a week is a long time in football rings true for both teams ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday.
Arsenal won 2-0 against Stoke City last weekend to move into the top four for the first time this season, while Chelsea’s 3-1 loss at Everton — their third defeat in four games — left the defending champions a huge 11 points below leaders Manchester City in 17th place.
But while Chelsea were beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-0 in the Champions League on Wednesday, Arsenal were crashing to an embarrassing 2-1 defeat at Dinamo Zagreb, realigning — albeit subtly — their respective trajectories.
“We come with a different feeling. We can wake up with a different state of mind,” Jose Mourinho told Chelsea TV after his side’s mid-week win at Stamford Bridge.
“Saturday is a big match; it’s a great rival. This result can put us in a better situation.”
While the significance of Chelsea’s victory must be weighed against the relative weakness of their opponents, there were encouraging signs to be drawn from their performance.
Diego Costa scored, Cesc Fabregas rediscovered his powers of influence and the rejigged defence kept a first clean sheet since the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on May 3 that clinched last season’s title.
Short of a woeful early penalty from Eden Hazard, who is still to recapture the heights of last season, there was little to concern Mourinho, who saw Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 19, turn in an assured display in central midfield.
It was also an opportunity for the Portuguese to dispatch warnings to some of his most conspicuously under-performing players.
Branislav Ivanovic, captain John Terry and Nemanja Matic all watched the match from the bench and will be expected to return to the fray with the bit between their teeth on Saturday — if, indeed, they return at all.
– ‘Move on’ –
If Wednesday’s Group G victory demonstrated the strength in depth that Chelsea possess, the opposite was true in Zagreb, where Arsene Wenger’s decision to make six changes blew up in his face.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored an own goal and Olivier Giroud was sent off on a chastening night for Arsenal, who had appeared to be finding their feet following their shock 2-0 loss at home to West Ham United on the season’s opening weekend.
“We need to move on now,” said Theo Walcott, who rose from the bench to score Arsenal’s goal at the Maksimir Stadium. “We have got a big, important game at the weekend.
“Everyone will be very disappointed, but the manager will make sure that it’s put to bed in the changing room and that it will stay there.”
Walcott will hope that his goal-scoring turn in the Croatian capital will enable him to reclaim his place at the tip of the attack from Giroud, who continues to divide Arsenal’s fans.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech is also due a recall, on his return to a club where he made 486 appearances over 11 richly successful years, along with Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin.
Chelsea are set to be without Willian, who injured his hamstring against Maccabi, and Pedro Rodriguez, while Oscar is a doubt with a knee complaint.
It will be a long time before Arsenal can visit Stamford Bridge without thinking about the humiliating 6-0 defeat that befell them there in March 2014 on the occasion of Wenger’s 1,000th game at the helm.
However, the Frenchman beat Mourinho at the 14th attempt when the teams last met in the Community Shield at Wembley, where a smart first-half strike by Oxlade-Chamberlain settled matters.
The longstanding ill will between the managers resurfaced after the game when Wenger swerved an opportunity to shake Mourinho’s hand, but while further signs of antipathy are to be expected this weekend, neither man will approach the game with confidence fully intact.