Head-To-Head: Antonio Conte vs Arsene Wenger

Chloe Beresford by Chloe Beresford / 13 September 2017, 15:29

This Sunday’s lunchtime kick-off in the Premier League sees one of the most hotly-anticipated matches of the entire calendar as Chelsea host Arsenal.

The fixture will once again see a fascinating battle between the two Coaches as vastly-experienced but often under fire Arsene Wenger battles against the relative new-kid-on-the-block Antonio Conte.

Prior to his arrival at Stamford Bridge, the Italian boss had only ever come up against Claudio Ranieri and Jose Mourinho of the bosses that were then in charge of sides in England’s top division. With a full season under his belt, the former Juventus man revealed his admiration for his accomplished counterpart during pre-season this year.

“I consider Arsène Wenger one of the best Coaches,” the tactician revealed to the Guardian. “I think it’s right. He is a really good Coach. He had a lot of time to build his team and squad. It is the right choice for them. I am not surprised; he is one of the best in the world. Arsenal is one of the best teams in the world.”

That was in reaction to the news the 68-year-old had been offered a new two-year deal by the Gunners, extending his reign to 23 years by the end of the contract. But the high praise would soon turn sour as the Frenchman took a swipe at Conte after the latter had bemoaned the size of the squad at Stamford Bridge.

“I have sympathy for him. But do I feel sorry for Chelsea as they don’t have enough problems? Then no,” said Wenger to the Metro. “Maybe he has the opposite problem [to me]. But if you look at the number of players on loan, they can call a few back.”

Never one to shy away from a battle, Conte didn’t let the senior statesman pull rank on him by firing back the very next day. “My message is that I’m not looking for sympathy from any Coaches for this situation,” he said in a pre-match press conference. “That’s my message. The situation is clear, I’m not looking for sympathy from other coaches. If the club decides to loan out players for their development it is because they’re not ready to play for Chelsea.”

Indeed, his side’s negative record against their London rivals will not do anything to dampen down his pitbull style approach this weekend. Whilst honours were even in the league last term - both sides scoring three against each other in domestic victories - Wenger masterminded defeats against Chelsea in both the FA Cup and the Community Shield that opened the current campaign.

Both sides will have faced midweek European action, Chelsea having demolished Qarabag 6-0 on Tuesday evening in the Champions League with Arsenal in Europa League action against FC Koln on Thursday. The Blues bloss made five changes ahead of the clash with the Azerbaijani side, a choice that he explained after the game.

“To play in the Champions League means the Coach trusts you. My message tonight was this. I trust all my players, not only with words but with facts,” Conte told the club’s official website. “For the first game in the Champions League I decided to start with rotation. Also because we have to start the process to improve our players. If we think we can play with 13 players like last season, we are crazy.”

With this in mind, the boss will likely deploy a different starting lineup for the much sterner test facing Chelsea this weekend, and should stick to his usual 3-4-2-1 formation. Wenger too is a fan of that framework, the Gunners having used the very same tactic in all of their four Premier League outings so far. Despite the similarity however, the pair hold entirely different philosophies when it comes to playing style.

It is well-known that Arsenal continue to deploy their possession-based style, making short, accurate passes to team-mates. That outlook tends to be non-aggressive, looking to keep the play flowing whilst they control the game in the opposition half. The veteran boss has been criticised for allowing their play to become sterile and non-threatening but Conte meanwhile, has got Chelsea playing with his terrier-like pressing, a tactic that he says will always be part of his brand.

Our style of football is always like this, to push from the start to the end,” he continued after the victory over Qarabag. “We are not good at managing a game and for this reason I prefer to continue to press. Against Leicester it was the same.”

Matches such as these between rivals are always too-close-to-call, but Chelsea have the home advantage and Arsenal have 48 hours less rest due to their Thursday night Europa League game. Perhaps this - in addition to Conte’s rugged determination - will see the Blues take the points this coming Sunday.

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