'I respect Chelsea, but we can beat them' says Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas

THE first stage of Arsene Wenger s important week was completed with the minimum of fuss on Tuesday evening when Standard Liege were swatted aside to confirm Champions League football after Christmas. Stage two could prove a little trickier. Arsenal kno

THE first stage of Arsene Wenger's "important week" was completed with the minimum of fuss on Tuesday evening when Standard Liege were swatted aside to confirm Champions League football after Christmas.

Stage two could prove a little trickier.

Arsenal know Sunday's visit of Chelsea may not quite be in the 'must-win' category, but three points would certainly keep their title dream alive.

Defeat, however, would give them a mountain to climb in their pursuit of Carlo Ancelotti's seemingly relentless blue machine.

Wenger's men still hold a game in hand on their west London rivals - and will claw the deficit back to five points with victory over the Premier League leaders.

"We have played two more games than Chelsea away from home, and we have a game in hand on them, so it is not as bad as it looks," said Wenger, who this week warned his players to forget next summer's World Cup - and concentrate on the bread and butter of club football.

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"We do not pay players to go to the World Cup - we pay the players to do well for Arsenal," was his firm line after last Saturday's trip to Sunderland, a defeat which left him clearly irate with the below-par performances of several of his players returning from international duty.

His skipper, Cesc Fabregas, agreed: "I can understand the boss's point. He is the manager and wants Arsenal to do well, the national team is secondary.

"Sometimes I don't play for Spain, I am on the bench so definitely I want to play well for Arsenal to start in the World Cup.

"My first priority is to play for Arsenal, to play well and to win titles," said Fabregas, who then turned his attentions to Chelsea, a side who inflicted a demoralising 4-1 defeat on a tired Arsenal at the tail end of last season.

"The Chelsea game is vital," added the Spaniard, who admitted this week he could stay a Gunner for life despite the constant speculation of a move to his childhood heroes, Barcelona.

"We have to win, and we will be ready for it. Chelsea are a great team, one of the best in Europe, they are very strong and have been playing together for a long time. They know each other very well, and you can see that on the pitch.

"I respect them a lot, but I know what we can do as well. If we play like we can at our best, then we can beat them.

"With the game in hand we have as well, we could still be there - it is an important week for us."

Arsenal were boosted this week with the news that Alex Song has extended his stay at the Emirates until 2014, but an over-flowing treatment room will not help their cause against Chelsea.

Kieran Gibbs is the latest casualty to hobble in. Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, Abou Diaby, Gael Clichy and Johan Djourou are all definitely out.

Former Blues defender William Gallas, twice a title winner at Stamford Bridge, is also a doubt after colliding with team-mate Andrei Arshavin against Standard.

He was substituted at half time as a precaution on Tuesday and Wenger said: "Gallas has an ankle problem and a swollen eye. [But] I think he will recover for Sunday."

They will need the France defender's experience.

His old club are in imperious form with 11 wins in their first 13 league matches, including four wins on the trot in which they have scored 14 goals and conceded none.

Their only two defeats have come on the road - at Wigan Athletic (3-1) and Aston Villa (2-1) - and Chelsea captain John Terry said prior to last night's Champions League trip to Porto that opponents are beginning to fear them.

"I really do think we are close to getting back to the invincible feel we had three years ago," he said. "I listened to other players when we were away with England and they are talking about how well we are playing like that now. They are fearing us again.

"They are confident that we are playing well and could go on to do great things again this year.

"The Premier League is throwing up all sorts of difficult situations, difficult away games as we have found already.

"We went to Wigan and lost, away to Villa and lost as well. It's about regrouping and keeping everybody fit.