Wenger hopes to add to Chelsea's home sickness

LONDON (AFP) - Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal can exploit the uncomfortable relationship between Rafael Benitez and Chelsea's supporters when the Gunners head to Stamford Bridge for Sunday's crucial London derby.

Chelsea interim boss Benitez, already a hate figure at the Bridge following his time with rivals Liverpool, has been unable to win over his club's fans since arriving as successor to the popular Roberto Di Matteo in November.

Their stormy relationship hit a new low on Wednesday when the Blues squandered a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw against Southampton, a result that continued Chelsea's miserable form at the Bridge this season.

Chelsea have won just one of their last seven home league matches. That sole success was an 8-0 win over Aston Villa under Benitez's guidance, but the Spaniard has also overseen embarrassing defeats against QPR and Swansea.


In constrast, the Blues have chalked up six wins on the road during Benitez's reign, a pattern that suggests the pressure of playing in the current toxic atmosphere at the Bridge is affecting Chelsea's players.

And Wenger hopes Chelsea's home sickness makes this the perfect time to travel to west London.

With Arsenal six points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, who host Manchester United on Sunday, and eight adrift of third-placed Chelsea, a victory would be a major boost to Wenger's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.

"The confidence of the crowd in the team plays a big part, but let's not hope on any weakness of Chelsea, let's just focus on our strength," Wenger said.

"You want to go there and be at your best, that is all you can do because you never know how your opponent will turn up." However, Benitez remains convinced he can win over the fans with a more positive run of results at home.

He insists the negative atmosphere hasn't distracted his players and instead blames Chelsea's problems on the defensive approach of recent opponents.

"The atmosphere doesn't affect the players. We are professionals and we concentrate on our job," Benitez said. "If we win, I'm sure the fans will be happy.

"It's a question of the tactics of other teams, if they're deep or not.

"Arsenal are a top team. They won't be 11 men behind the ball on the edge of the box waiting. It's a different kind of game." Meanwhile, Benitez's hopes of retaining the Chelsea job beyond the end of the season were seemingly handed a boost in midweek when Pep Guardiola, a long-time target for Blues owner Roman Abramovich, agreed to take charge at Bayern Munich.

But Benitez would not be drawn on the effect Guardiola's appointment would have on his long-term future and insisted talk about who will manage the Blues next season is not affecting him.

"It's fine," Benitez said when asked about the speculation. "The only way to do your job properly is to carry on analysing the game, talking to people, and being up to date every day." Benitez's cause could be helped on Sunday by the return of John Terry, who has not started a game since suffering knee ligament damage in November.

Terry came off the bench at Stoke last weekend and the Chelsea captain could start against Arsenal.

While Chelsea remain mired in uncertainty, Arsenal have had a slightly more uplifting week thanks to a 1-0 win over Swansea in an FA Cup third round replay and Theo Walcott's decison to agree a new contract after months of speculation over the England forward's future.

Now Wenger is determined to get his side firing again in the Premier League following last weekend's disappointing 2-0 home defeat by Manchester City.

"We failed to capitalise on the potential big game. We go into a period now where that will be very important," Wenger said.

"At Chelsea is another opportunity, and it is important for the team that we know we can win these games."

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