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English Premier League

‘Don’t let this slip,’ Antonio Conte tells Premier League leaders Chelsea after Arsenal win

Blues remain nine points clear at the top of the table after beating their London rivals 3-1 on Saturday at Stamford Bridge

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 12:54pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 9:25pm

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte promised to keep a close eye on his players’ concentration levels after they tightened their grip on the Premier League title race by beating Arsenal.

Goals from Marcos Alonso, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas gave Chelsea a 3-1 win on Saturday that left them 12 points clear of Arsenal and nine points above second-place Tottenham who recorded a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.

But Conte said his own experiences of home-straight collapses as a player and coach with Juventus means he will not consider the race over until the trophy is in his hands.

“I don’t slip and I don’t want my players to slip,” he said at Stamford Bridge, in an unwitting echo of Steven Gerrard’s words prior to Liverpool’s collapse in the 2013-14 season.

“In my squad I have a lot of players with good experience, because they won a lot in their careers. They know that until now we haven’t won the title.

“And it’s important to know this, to keep our antennae very high, because in my career as a footballer, above all as a footballer, I won a lot, but I lost a lot.

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“And when you lose three finals of the Champions League and you win only one, I think you have a great hunger.

“During my experience as a footballer I won a title with eight points [to make up] four games before the end and another time I lost in the same way.”

The chief talking point from Saturday’s game centred around Chelsea’s 13th minute opener, which was awarded despite Alonso cleaning out Hector Bellerin with his forearm as he leapt to head the ball in.

Bellerin had to go off, to be replaced by Gabriel, and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger felt it was “100 per cent a foul”.

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“In England, in this league, this is always a goal,” said Conte. “This ball, it’s a contest and Alonso jumps more than Bellerin and scores a goal. To hear this in England, I’m surprised. I must be honest. In Italy, maybe [it would have been a foul].”

Hazard scored a stupendous second goal in the 53rd minute after running from the centre circle, shrugging off Francis Coquelin and twice outfoxing Laurent Koscielny before squeezing a shot past Petr Cech.

Watch: Eden Hazard

Conte said Hazard was in “great shape”, but said his defensive efforts off the ball had pleased him more than anything.

Former Arsenal captain Fabregas lobbed in Chelsea’s third after a misplaced kick from Cech before Olivier Giroud replied with a stoppage time header.

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Despite his reservations about Alonso’s opener, Wenger conceded his side’s defensive errors and attacking profligacy had been equally responsible for the outcome of the match.

“We were really naive and not clinical in our defending,” said the Frenchman, who watched powerlessly from the stands as he served the third game of a four match touchline suspension.

“Then Chelsea looked the better side. We took risks and they were well organised and played well on the counter-attack and looked powerful.

“We lost the ball many times. In situations we lacked maturity and experience.”

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Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were conspicuously incapable of giving Arsenal a foothold in the game, but Wenger would not be drawn on individual performances.

“I leave that to you. It’s very difficult for me to comment individually on players after a big disappointment like that,” he said.

“Individually we were not at our best in some positions. But it’s very difficult to speak about that straight after the game.”

Once again Arsenal’s title hopes have faded miles from the finish line, but Wenger refused to look beyond next weekend’s home game with Hull City when asked where defeat at Chelsea left his side’s season.

“It leaves us to focus and prepare to win the next game,” he said. “That’s what football is about.”