The next chapter in one of the Premier League’s most volatile managerial rivalries will be written this weekend when Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal visit Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.
Sparks often fly when the pair are obliged to share a touchline, typified by a notorious shoving match during a Chelsea-Arsenal fixture at Stamford Bridge two years ago.
Wenger has never beaten Mourinho in the league and has been branded a “specialist in failure” by his Portuguese nemesis, but with Arsenal six points above United, he currently has the upper hand.
“You know, we didn’t lose always,” Wenger said when asked about his record against Mourinho on Thursday.
“We have beaten them and there were many draws as well. I think I have won against every manager in the world during my 20 years here and I do not make of this game a competition between two managers.
“It’s between two clubs and two teams. I can understand that people want to create controversy, but it’s not that that makes the audience.
“I think it’s important that it’s a top-level game because that will be watched all over the world and for the reputation of the Premier League, it’s important that the quality of the game is good.”
Wenger intends to make a late check on the fitness of Alexis Sanchez, who is not due to report back from international duty with Chile until Friday.
Sanchez scored twice for Chile in a 3-1 World Cup qualifying win over Uruguay on Tuesday, despite Wenger warning beforehand it would be “suicidal” for him to play due to a hamstring problem.
Arsenal will be definitely be without right-back Hector Bellerin and central midfielder Santi Cazorla, who have ankle and Achilles problems respectively.
But Wenger’s selection problems pale by comparison beside Mourinho’s, amid reports the United manager could be without up to seven first-team players.
Centre-backs Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling will miss the game through injury, along with suspended top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
There also fitness doubts over captain Wayne Rooney, midfielder Marouane Fellaini and full-backs Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw.
With Saturday’s game taking place at lunchtime, victory for Arsenal would lift Wenger’s side to the top of the standings and leave United a yawning nine points off the pace.
– City slump stumps Sagna –
Liverpool, the current leaders, will look to pick up where they left off prior to the international break when they visit Southampton later on Saturday.
Jurgen Klopp’s crowd-pleasing side have won seven and drawn two of their last nine league games, culminating in a 6-1 demolition of Watford last time out.
Adam Lallana is likely to miss out for Liverpool after sustaining a groin injury during England’s 2-2 friendly draw with Spain on Tuesday, in which he scored.
But Klopp is hopeful Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino will both be able to feature after jetting back from international duty with Brazil.
“The Brazilian guys came back last night,” Klopp said on Thursday.
“We tried everything to make it as comfortable as possible to bring them back, but I haven’t seen them or spoken to them because I hope they slept immediately and all that stuff. We will see.”
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, a point behind Liverpool in second place, visit Middlesbrough on Sunday, while Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, a point further back in third, travel to Crystal Palace.
City have won only one of their last five league games and conceded top spot prior to the international break after a 1-1 draw at home to Middlesbrough.
Right-back Bacary Sagna, fit again after a hamstring tear, concedes it has been a frustrating time.
“The team did well. If you look back to the way we played, it was amazing,” the France international told the City website.
“We were just not clinical enough to win the games. Like against Middlesbrough. I still don’t understand how we didn’t win the game.”
Six points from safety, Sunderland and Swansea City are already in danger of being cut off at the foot of the table.
Bottom club Sunderland host third-bottom Hull City on Saturday in an early relegation six-pointer, while Swansea’s new head coach Bob Bradley goes in search of his first win at Everton.
Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated)
Crystal Palace v Manchester City, Manchester United v Arsenal (1230), Southampton v Liverpool, Tottenham v West Ham (1730), Watford v Leicester, Everton v Swansea, Stoke v Bournemouth, Sunderland v Hull
Sunday (1600 GMT)
Middlesbrough v Chelsea
Monday (2000 GMT)
West Brom v Burnley