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London derby likely to be another close affair

Jose Mourinho has a much better head-to-head record - but then there's the Drogba factor

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 9:06pm

Arsene Wenger could not have wished for a bigger occasion to mark his 1,000th match as Arsenal manager than Saturday night's Premier League showdown with Chelsea, but he might have wanted an easier opponent than Jose Mourinho, so often his nemesis over the years.

Wenger managed to get the better of Alex Ferguson in some of their crunch encounters, but he has never done so against Mourinho, who remains unbeaten against the long-serving Arsenal manager.

In 10 matches between the pair in all competitions, Mourinho has won five and drawn five, including a win in the League Cup and a draw in the Premier League (both at the Emirates stadium) this season.

The major weakness in Mourinho's current side is that he does not have a destructive striker in the mould of Drogba
Nick Pulford

The high draw rate dispels the notion that Mourinho has cast a spell over Wenger and it is particularly notable that Arsenal lost only one of their three visits to the Stamford Bridge fortress during Mourinho's first stint at Chelsea.

All of the Wenger-Mourinho clashes have been highly competitive, with seven out of 10 having under 2.5 goals and only one being settled by more than a one-goal margin.

In fact, it is arguable that the main difference between the sides was often Didier Drogba, who scored five of Chelsea's 11 goals against Arsenal during Mourinho's first stint. Drogba scored every goal in three of Chelsea's four wins in that period.

The major weakness in Mourinho's current side is that he does not have a destructive striker in the mould of Drogba, although he still has the capability to test Arsenal's defence in the air when the defenders John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill come forward for set pieces.

Mourinho could not find a way through the Arsenal defence in the reverse Premier League meeting, which ended 0-0, although the suspicion is that he has been content to stifle his main title rivals in away games and rely on beating them at home.

The strategy has worked so far, with four wins out of four at Stamford Bridge against the other big-six teams, and three draws and one win on the road.

That leaves Chelsea as the only unbeaten team in big-six clashes, with 18 points from eight games in that category, compared with 11 from eight games for Arsenal.

Chelsea are clear favourites on account of their excellent home form under Mourinho and their superior big-match record.

Whereas Mourinho's side have progressed to the Champions League quarter-finals, Arsenal continue to struggle against higher-class opposition in both the Premier League and the Champions League.

Taking out their two wins against Tottenham, Arsenal have won only one out of six against the other members of the big six this season and they have gone 11 matches without beating Chelsea or one of the two Manchester clubs.

It is also notable that the Gunners have failed to score in their two meetings with Chelsea this season.

Perhaps it will be Wenger who is happy to make sure he is not beaten this time and another close match seems likely. Under 2.5 goals looks the best bet, with a 1-0 Chelsea win a decent option for the correct score.

Liverpool have a great chance to apply more pressure at the top over the next week and they should start with three points at Cardiff tonight.

Fourteen of Liverpool's last 16 wins have been achieved by at least a two-goal margin and they should cover the handicap at Cardiff, who have yet to keep a clean sheet in 10 attempts against big-six teams.

The handicap is less tempting with Manchester City, at home to Fulham, and Manchester United look a better bet as they try to build on their Champions League success with victory away to West Ham.

United have won 13 out of 19 against teams below them in the table and it is clear that their problem is a lack of quality against the best sides, not the ability to beat up the lesser teams.

Under 2.5 goals seems likely in the crunch relegation clash between Norwich and Sunderland. Eleven of Norwich's 15 home games have had under 2.5 goals and two of the exceptions were against top-six sides.

Sunderland initially looked tempting at big odds, but closer inspection showed they have the worst record against bottom-half sides (just two wins out of 13) and have not scored since the League Cup final.

Southampton might be the best bet at big odds, as they look capable of scoring at Tottenham and have lost only one out of nine games in which they have scored in 2014.

Reading, Middlesbrough, Leyton Orient, Napoli.