Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has warned Arsenal it would be a huge mistake to part ways with Arsene Wenger if he doesn’t deliver a major trophy this season.
Wenger has marked the 20th anniversary of his arrival at Arsenal this week ahead of Saturday’s clash with Chelsea, but the Gunners boss has found himself under increasingly heavy fire from fans unhappy with his failure to win the Premier League since 2004.
The Frenchman, who went nine years without a trophy until a 2014 FA Cup triumph, has been subjected to stinging verbal abuse and mounting calls for his sacking over the last 18 months, raising the possibility he might quit if the criticism continues.
Yet Conte is adamant Arsenal would regret allowing Wenger to be hounded out of the Emirates Stadium because his value to the club can’t be measured only in results on the field.
“I think Wenger is doing a good job. It’s fantastic for someone to stay for 20 years in the same club,” Conte told reporters on Friday.
“Sometimes I think it’s important for a manager not only to win, a good manager must show his value with his work during the week.
“If you see a coach works very well and during the season you don’t win, you must still value him for his work.
“Sometimes if you judge only on the wins, you make a big mistake and you pay for this in the future.”
While Conte was happy to provide a case for Wenger’s defence, the Italian hopes to give him another headache at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Wenger has won only five of his last 31 meetings against Chelsea, but Conte doesn’t believe that woeful record will be any advantage for his side as the Blues look to bounce back from a defeat against Liverpool in their last league game.
“This is a big game between two big rivals, it’s important to play a good game after our defeat against Liverpool,” Conte said.
“We know we face a good team. I’m sure Arsenal will fight until the end to win the title.
“They are a very good team, young players with great technique, young players with good potential. They play good football.”
One player desperate to feature for Chelsea on Saturday is Cesc Fabregas and Conte hinted the Spain midfielder, who spent eight years with Arsenal, could have played his way back into the starting line-up.
Fabregas has yet to start a league game this season as Conte preferred N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic in the holding midfield roles, but a virtuoso display, featuring two goals, in Chelsea’s 4-2 League Cup win at Leicester in midweek has given the Blues boss food for thought.
“For Cesc this is a special game for him, but the most important thing is he is Chelsea’s player and he’s playing very well,” Conte said.
“Im seeing him very focused and concentrated. He played a good game in the cup.
“There can be the possibility that he can start. I have another day to make the decision.”
After leaking six goals in their last three matches and keeping just one clean-sheet since Conte took charge, Chelsea look vulnerable at the back, making it frustration for the Italian that John Terry remains sidelined for another few days at least with an ankle ligament injury.
“John is working but he didn’t recover for the game against Arsenal,” Conte said.
“When we conceded a goal, all the team conceded, not only the defenders.
“It means we must improve together to improve the defensive situation.
“This problem was already there last season. We must work a lot on this aspect. If you want to think of the championship you must not concede many goals.”