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Chelsea not Arsenal's rivals: Hiddink

LONDON • Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger might still consider Chelsea "direct rivals" but the Blues' interim manager Guus Hiddink thinks otherwise.

The Dutchman conceded the English Premier League champions cannot be deemed as the Gunners' adversaries ahead of their meeting at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow.

Chelsea, 14th, are 19 points adrift of leaders Arsenal despite being unbeaten in the league under Hiddink.

When asked at his press conference yesterday if Chelsea are still Arsenal's rivals, he replied: "Not at this moment. Arsenal are challenging for the title."

The Blues are also 14 points adrift of another London club, Tottenham, who occupy fourth place, while they are just four points clear of the relegation zone.

"Everyone knows where we were in December. So far we are unbeaten but we cannot be fully satisfied with results," added Hiddink, who masterminded a 4-1 victory over Arsenal in his first spell in charge back in 2009.

"We don't talk much about that (relegation) but if you see statistics, then you are closer to that line than you are closer to the line where you are in Champions League position. That's the fact.

"I'm not a person who likes to deny facts. It doesn't mean we are looking down, we have to look up regarding the standard of this club."

Chelsea have at least been boosted by the news that forward Eden Hazard and striker Diego Costa are fit and available for selection.

Costa, who suffered a bruised shin against Everton last Saturday, is expected to lead the line but Hiddink will make a late call on whether the Belgium international starts tomorrow. "I'm not sure he can play a full 90 minutes yet," Hiddink said of Hazard.

"We have to see if it's better to start or come in.

"It depends on the game and the toughness and intensity of the game. We will decide on game day."

Defender Branislav Ivanovic is likely to mark his new contract extension by playing from the start.

The 31-year-old Serb, made vice-captain at the start of the current season, signed a new one-year deal with the club this week much to Hiddink's delight.

"He's important, one of the main characters in this team," said the Dutchman. "He has become one of the key members of the first team and the squad."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Chelsea not Arsenal's rivals: Hiddink'. Print Edition | Subscribe