Cole confident in strong Chelsea
Ashley Cole has warned Arsenal that Chelsea are ready to fire after finally getting all their big guns back ahead of Monday's night's derby clash.
The faltering Premier League champions will be at full strength for the first time in four months at the Emirates Stadium, where they romped to a 3-0 win last season. Chelsea are on their worst run in the league for more than a decade, having won just one of their last seven games and slumping from top to fourth spot.
Injuries to the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien hit them hard but all three are back, with star midfielder Lampard set to start his first game since August. And England left-back Cole is confident the Blues can reignite their title defence with a victory over his former club.
"We've been disappointing in our last six games and it's a big contrast to how we started the season, but we have a lot of big players back to fitness and it's going to give us a boost," he said. "Any team who has their top players out is going to be affected.
"The players who have come in have done a good job but you're always going to miss JT, Lamps and Essien. We seem to play better when they are all in the team; hopefully we can start to push on. They're major players for us and we have missed their personalities, desire, will to win and leadership.
"We have been unlucky in games, even though we haven't been playing well. We have still had a lot of shots and chances. It has not gone our way but, now the big guys are back, hopefully we can turn our season around because it is getting to the important part. We're fourth in the table; we have to get back on track and start winning again."
Manager Carlo Ancelotti yesterday claimed Arsenal were "afraid" of Didier Drogba, who has scored 13 goals in 13 games against them. The Côte d'Ivoire striker has not been in top form this season following a malaria scare and also had to cope with the pressure of the captaincy in Terry's absence. Cole added on Chelsea TV: "It was hard for Didier to get the guys' morale up and focused. But now everyone is back, everyone is going to come together again and push on."
Arsenal are a point better off than Chelsea in the table but this did not stop Manchester United winger Nani dismissing their title chances this week. Ancelotti disagrees with that assessment, saying: "Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham have an opportunity and the skill to fight for the title until the end. It will be a race with balance because a lot of teams have the ability to win, not just United."
And despite Chelsea boasting five wins in their last five meetings with the Gunners, Ancelotti will take nothing for granted on Monday. "Either team can win this game," he said. "It will be an exciting game in this period. I'm happy to play this game because we've moved on from the bad moment and we're able to come back and fight for the title."
Ancelotti yesterday bemoaned a fixture schedule that sees his side play Bolton Wanderers less than 48 hours after Monday night's match. He is understandably reluctant, therefore, to set a points target for the hectic festive period, saying: "It's difficult to think about this. It's easier to think that we have to do our best to win against Arsenal and then against Bolton."