Mikel Arteta will attempt to guide Arsenal to their fourth consecutive win at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but the Spanish manager knows it will be a difficult task against a side managed by good friend Mauricio Pochettino.
The two were once teammates as players for Paris St Germain — when Arteta was a teenager and Pochettino was a seasoned veteran — and formed a bond that has continued to this day.
Yet they’ve rarely crossed competitive paths. Saturday’s match will be their first Premier League meeting, with Pochettino having been fired from his previous post at Tottenham Hotspur a month before Arteta’s Arsenal appointment.
At Chelsea (3-2-3, 11 points), Pochettino has been handed a task similar to the challenge that first greeted Arteta: Restore a recently prolific club to greatness after a period of lean years.
The results so far have been mixed, with the Blues losing more matches than their overall chance creation would suggest. But they’ve won two in a row, and Saturday represents an opportunity to prove that improvement.
“I prefer the tough fixtures,” Pochettino said Friday. “I think we need to win tomorrow. We respect Arsenal, they’re a great team and as you know Mikel is part of my family.”
He later added, “It’s going to be tough, but we are also confident to do our best and play a very good game.”
Arteta’s Arsenal (6-2-0, 20 points) may be the team facing more pressure given their recent form at their London Rivals, and recent triumph over Manchester City.
The latter — a 1-0 victory decided by Gabriel Martinelli’s first goal of the season — put the Gunners back into a tie on points atop the league table. And the recent dominance in this series brings a sense of dominance that Arteta knows may not align with reality.
“We are in a good moment and we will try to play better than them and beat them, and that’s it,” Arteta said. “What’s happened in the past doesn’t matter.”
Pochettino indicated Chelsea captain Reece James (hamstring) is still a possibility to make his first appearance since the season opener despite a recent fitness setback. Striker Nicolas Jackson will also have to be evaluated following wrist surgery that caused him to miss international duty.
Arteta said there are not many major injury issues, but a significant portion of his squad is returning from trans-Atlantic travel for international duty, including the Brazilian trio of Martinelli, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel dos Santos, as well as Ghana’s Thomas Partey and Germany’s Kai Havertz.