The Chelsea manager gives his views on what is needed to beat Arsenal this weekend, where our opponents’ biggest threat lies, and whether there is any value on spying on teams ahead of a game…
It will take a fully focused and balanced performance from Chelsea to win tomorrow’s derby away at Arsenal according to Maurizio Sarri, but the manager calls the match in north London a great opportunity.
That is because victory would take the fourth-placed Blues nine points clear of the Gunners who currently sit a position below us, and although Sarri insists both they and Manchester United will be in the fight for the Champions League places right to the end, he knows such a gap could prove important.
‘This match is for us a risk and an opportunity,’ Sarri says. ‘It is a risk of course because Arsenal are doing well at home so it is a very difficult and dangerous for us, and it is also a great opportunity for us.
‘The match is very important but very difficult because they are a very good team, and in the offensive phase they are one the best teams in the Premier League.’
Sarri is only missing Ruben Loftus-Cheek from his squad. The midfielder is still out with a back injury. Having recently opted to play Eden Hazard as the central attacker, the boss is not yet revealing whether that is to continue, or whether Olivier Giroud might be deployed against his former club.
‘I have to decide,’ he said, ‘but Giroud for the first six months played very often. Then it is normal that I can choose something different. Tomorrow will be a very difficult match for the offensive phase so we need our team to be balanced.’
Arsenal are one of only two sides to have found the net at Stamford Bridge more than once in the league as a visiting side this season, emphasising why Sarri is paying a lot of attention to their attacking threat.
‘In August [against Arsenal], it was a different match,’ he explained. ‘They have changed it in the last seven or eight matches but we learned that they have really very dangerous movements in the offensive phase without the ball, especially when our full-back is out of the line to cover the ball, so we have to be careful and we worked on this during the week.
‘I think we can be dangerous against this opponent but we have to defend with a very high level of application and attention for 95 minutes.’
Of course Sarri’s views on the game are informed by studies of Arsenal made by him and by Chelsea’s analysis staff, and in the wake of the controversy over spying on opposition training linked to Leeds United and their manager Marcelo Bielsa, Sarri was asked directly if he was aware of such behaviour in the past. While confirming it is not something he has ever done, he added:
‘In Italy it happens, but not a lot. I prefer to study my opponents by video and I think it is very difficult to have a lot of information in the last two days [before a game]. Of course every coach tries to have information about the opponents, but I don’t like this way.’
Away from on-pitch matters, there is news today that a collection of Chelsea fan groups have decided to come together to launch ‘Chelsea Together’ to combat racism and discrimination at games.
‘I think that the fans can help the club,’ is Sarri’s reaction.
‘In 99 per cent of cases, our fans are really wonderful. Then, as in every community there are some stupid ones and we have to penalise only the stupid ones, not the other fans.’