Arsene Wenger maintains it is vital Arsenal win the head-to-head battles against their Barclays Premier League title rivals this season – starting at Chelsea tomorrow.
The Gunners suffered a shock home defeat to West Brom last weekend, although quickly got that out of their system with a hard-fought 3-1 victory away to Partizan Belgrade in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Another loss at Chelsea – themselves beaten at Manchester City – would leave Arsenal seven points adrift of the leaders, and potentially out of the top four should other results go against them.
Last season, Arsenal were beaten home and away by both Chelsea and Manchester United, with a double over fading Liverpool little consolation.
Their next away match is Manchester City after the international break on October 24.
While Wenger knows nothing will be decided tomorrow, the Arsenal manager concedes the clashes between the leading contenders have taken on extra significance.
“The only team I have seen win the Premier League without winning the big games is Manchester United,” he said.
“It is vitally important to win the big games.”
Wenger added: “It is easier to play Chelsea on Sunday when they have lost two games than two weeks ago, that is for sure.
“Every defeat makes you just a fraction smaller.”
The Gunners head across to west London with a poor record against the Blues since they were the dominant force in English football, recording just two wins from the previous 17 meetings, including defeats in the 2007 Carling Cup final and an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley during April 2009.
Wenger may be without captain Cesc Fabregas because of injury, along with the likes of centre-half Thomas Vermaelen, first-choice keeper Manuel Almunia and forwards Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie, but the Arsenal manager insists his young squad have the talent to combat the power of Chelsea.
“What for you is physical strength? How can you explain Spain winning the World Cup and Barcelona beating Chelsea in the Champions League?” Wenger said.
“Football is not only down to physique. It is down to intelligence, technique, mobility.
“There is not one way. That is what makes it interesting.”
With Vermaelen still sidelined by an Achilles problem picked up during the last international break, new centre-back pairing Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny will aim to shackle Didier Drogba, who has 12 goals in 10 games against the Gunners.
However, Wenger – who scouted the 32-year-old when Drogba was at French club Guingamp – maintained: “I feel we should not make an obsession of one player of Chelsea because they have a few players who can score goals against us.
“What is important is that we had the ball, that we dominate the game and that we are efficient defensively.
“Nothing is for ever, so we can stop it.”