The Blues take on Arsenal at Stamford Bridge this lunchtime, with only four points between the sides going into the game, and Jose Mourinho believes the Gunners are benefiting from an adaptation to their preferred style of play.
For so long known as a side capable of producing moments of real quality in attacking areas, this season Arsenal have become a far tougher proposition defensively, right throughout the team.
Mourinho explained how the change in approach has enabled Arsene Wenger’s side to maintain their pursuit of the leaders.
‘They are different in their philosophy,’ he said. ‘It’s one thing to keep their philosophy of nice football, keeping the ball and trying to control the game by having possession, but they are not an attacking team anymore in the way they were before.
‘At this moment they are a very good defensive team, they defend well and they defend quite a lot. You could see against Tottenham they were happy to control the game and defend in the lines, that’s not Arsenal from last year, two years ago or three years ago. They are a completely different side, in my opinion, for the better.
‘They are a good team and that’s why they are where they are. They are in the top four comfortably and with conditions to fight for the title.’
Mourinho’s opposite number celebrates his 1,000th game in charge of our opponents today, with his 500th also coming against the Blues, early in the 2005/06 campaign, when Didier Drogba, so often Arsenal’s scourge, scored the only goal of the game.
The Portuguese praised Wenger’s achievement and, despite a difference of opinion recently regarding comments made in a press conference, insisted he will greet the Frenchman prior to kick-off, as he always does at Stamford Bridge.
‘To honour my club and stadium I always go to the opponents’ manager, always. Sometimes in the tunnel, sometimes when we meet each other leaving the dressing rooms, sometimes on the bench if one of us comes out later than the other one, but never, throughout my career, when I’ve been playing a match at home, have I not gone to say hello to the opponents’ manager, and it will be exactly the same thing today,’ he explained.
‘There are many ways of paying tribute and the best way for me to do it is to say he’s in a position where everybody would like to be. I think that’s the best tribute, without any feelings of envy, that’s not the point. I love my career and the experiences I’ve had in my career.’
The Blues will be without suspended duo Ramires and Willian for today’s game following their red cards at Aston Villa last weekend, but the Blues boss has no concerns regarding his team’s all-round discipline.
‘Only Ramires, with that tackle, couldn’t control his frustration. Apart from that the team behaved in a very good way [last weekend],’ he said. ‘My bench behaved in a very good way, I behaved in a very good way. This week we had the Champions League which helped us forget about the Premier League. We are fine, we are calm and there are no problems.’
Today’s game, with both sides chasing the title, evokes memories of Mourinho’s first season in England, when we finished as the Premier League’s top two.
Arsenal had finished the previous season as champions having not lost a game, and the Chelsea manager explained the difficulty in replicating such achievements.
‘The Arsenal team I met when I came to England in 2004 had everything to be admired, they were a fantastic team,’ the Portuguese said.
‘But there is only one Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell, Robert Pires, and there is only one team with all of those players together.
‘There is only one Chelsea with John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, Claude Makelele, Arjen Robben, William Gallas. There is not a second one, you have to try to build a second one.
‘There are dozens of clubs with special players and special generations.’
– Chelsea TV’s ‘Pre-match at the Bridge’ will be on air 11.45am and is free to view on Sky Digital channel 421.