Exclusive: Arsenal must conquer ‘mental block’ to beat Mourinho’s Chelsea, says Gunners legend
PUBLISHED: 06:20 20 March 2014 | UPDATED: 16:45 20 March 2014
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Former Arsenal striker Alan Smith says his old club must win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to banish their “mental block” against the big sides and fuel their title challenge.
The Gunners are just four points behind Chelsea after their 1-0 win over north London rivals Tottenham and they have a game in hand on Jose Mourinho’s men ahead of Saturday’s early kick-off.
Arsenal’s recent record against their closest rivals is patchy, however, and they have not beaten the Blues in five attempts since their 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge in October 2011.
With the visit of Manchester City to follow next week, Smith – who scored 115 goals in 347 appearances for Arsenal between 1987 and 1995 – believes the Gunners must bury their big game anxiety by plundering three points in west London.
“I think they really need to beat one of the big teams – Chelsea or Man City,” Smith told London24.
“That’s something Arsenal haven’t been able to do for a number of years. Even this season up at Old Trafford against an average [Manchester] United team, they couldn’t beat them.
“It’s almost a mental block. If they can get over that hurdle and beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, then it would suddenly infuse them with a bit more self-belief that they can go the distance. Now we’re coming to crunch time.”
Smith admits he didn’t expect Arsenal to mount a serious title challenge this season and the 51-year-old believes the defensive resilience and team spirit they showed at White Hart Lane on Sunday has been the difference.
He said: “It’s been a good season for the most part. They’re riding high near the top of the table and that wasn’t something I was expecting at the start of the year.
“They’ve done really well. What’s changed is I think the team spirit has got better over the last 12 to 18 months. They’ve got a lot more resilience, certainly in defence, and that’s been the basis for their progress.”
Aaron Ramsey could make his long-awaited return against Chelsea – but the injury-hit Gunners will certainly be without his fellow midfielders Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil.
“It doesn’t make it any easier for them, but that is an area of the pitch where the lads should be able to make provisions,” added Smith, who was speaking at the Football Legends Awards in aid of Willow Foundation.
“Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has come back and is looking good and strong. Ramsey’s not too far away and then you think of Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta.
“That’s what squad football is all about. Winning the league is all about coping without some of your best players.”