Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has admitted that Arsenal are challengers for the title ahead of Sunday’s derby between the two London giants.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference on Friday, via Sky Sports, the Italian said: “Arsenal are a big rival for the title. If you see their squad you can understand that – they have a lot of top players.”
“I don’t understand why they can’t fight for the title. They have lost only one player, [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain, and they have kept all of their players. They have many top players.”
Conte’s praise may have come as a surprise to a few, considering the Gunners’ disappointing start to the season, but the Italian did not hold back with his complimenting of Arsene Wenger’s men.
“I think Arsenal is one of the six top teams in England they will they have a really good squad to fight for something important, the title for sure.”
Chelsea go into Sunday’s game with a three-point cushion over their rivals, having recovered from an opening day defeat to win their last three league matches. Yet, Conte is expecting a tough test against the Gunners.
“That’s the reason why I think this is a massive game for us. When you play against Arsenal it is always a massive game.”
“It’s the same when you play against (Manchester) City, Liverpool, (Manchester) United or Tottenham, there are six top teams in England. Anything can happen and for this reason, we must pay great attention. We must fight.”
The Blues have won their last seven home matches against Arsenal, but will be cautious of an upset following their two recent Wembley losses to their North London rivals.
Meanwhile, Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger has preferred to focus on Arsenal’s recent FA Cup and Community Shield triumphs over Antonio Conte’s men.
“Basically, in recent years, Chelsea have always had a great team,” Wenger told reporters after the Europa League win over Cologne.
“It was always difficult to win [at Stamford Bridge] but our record against Chelsea recently has been good.
“We won the FA Cup final, we won on penalties in the Charity Shield, so let us just continue to focus on the quality of our game and not too much on where we play.
“I do not really believe in [home-ground advantage], I believe the pitch is 105 metres long and 68 metres wide everywhere and never in my life could I accept or understand that it is different away from home.
“It is just a question of how much you want it, no matter where you play. That is football. So it is a good opportunity to show that we have that quality.”
Wenger rested Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey against Cologne, but believes the pair “should be alright” for the trip to Chelsea.
Fellow midfielder Jack Wilshire could also be involved after making his first appearance for the club since August 2016 in the 3-0 victory.
“It is good for him. It will give him more confidence. You could see that he still needs competition,” the Gunners boss said.