Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal can exploit the uncomfortable relationship between Rafael Benitez and Chelsea’s supporters when the Gunners head to Stamford Bridge for today’s crucial London derby.
Chelsea’s interim boss Benitez, already a hates figure at the Bridge following his time with rivals Liverpool, has been unable to win over his club’s fans since arriving as successor to the popular Roberto Di Matteo in November.
Their stormy relationship hit a new low on Wednesday when the Blues squandered a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw against Southampton, a result that continued Chelsea’s miserable form at the Bridge this season.
Wenger hopes Chelsea’s poor form at home makes this the perfect time to travel to west London.
“The confidence of the crowd in the team plays a big part, but let’s not hope on any weakness of Chelsea, let’s just focus on our strength,” said Wenger. “You want to go there and be at your best, that is all you can do because you never know how your opponent will turn up.”
However, Benitez remains convinced he can win over the fans with a more positive run of results at home.
“The atmosphere doesn’t affect the players,” said Benitez. “We are professionals and we concentrate on our job. If we win, I’m sure the fans will be happy. Arsenal are a top team. They won’t be 11 men behind the ball on the edge of the box waiting. It’s a different kind of game.”
Bale no match for Giggs, says Ferguson
Meanwhile, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson believes Tottenham Hotspur’s Gareth Bale still has a long way to go before he can be compared to Ryan Giggs, ahead of today’s encounter between the sides.
“It is all opinions I suppose,” said Ferguson. “The boy is a good player. But Ryan Giggs at 23? I don’t think there was anyone better.”
Now 39, Giggs produced another age-defying display in the mid-week FA Cup win over West Ham United, which saw Wayne Rooney mark his return from injury with a goal before blazing a second-half penalty over the crossbar.
United have now missed five penalties this season, while Rooney’s personal career tally of unsuccessful attempts from 12 yards stands at 10.
Robin van Persie is expected to return to United’s starting line-up at Spurs and with Ferguson refusing to back Rooney to continue taking spot-kicks, the Dutchman could step into the breach.
“I have not made a decision about that. We don’t want to be missing penalties. It is a regular opportunity. But it is not something I want to discuss.”
The two sides are the only teams in the division to have avoided defeat in their last six games, although United will take heart from the fact that they have not lost at White Hart Lane since a 3-1 reverse in May 2001.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2013.