Arsene Wenger: Arsenal face tough Chelsea task even without Mourinho

LONDON -- Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has said Chelsea will pose the same tough challenge to his side even without manager Jose Mourinho.

Mourinho left the club at the end of last year with the Blues struggling badly in their defence of the Premier League crown.

And although they are currently 14th in the table, Wenger said beating them at the Emirates on Sunday would be a big sign that Arsenal were ready to win the title.

The Frenchman -- whose only victory over Mourinho came in the Community Shield last year -- told a news conference: "More than the manager it's the characteristics of the players that is dominant, and those are the same players.

"I look at the quality of the players on the football pitch and never at who sits on the bench.

"Because of the quality of the players who are on the pitch, and because of what's at stake for both teams, it will be a very intense battle -- no matter who sits on the bench."

Arsenal have already beaten both Manchester clubs at home this season and are top on goal difference from surprise challengers Leicester.

But they have not beaten Chelsea in the league since 2011, and Wenger said: "Yes, it is another one where we can show that we have moved forward.

"Even if Chelsea are not in the best position, it's a big game because of the quality of the players on the pitch. It has big importance to us as well, because we play at the Emirates and we know how important it will be to win these games."

The Gunners boss said "nobody could have predicted" Chelsea's struggles this season but warned: "They are not in the title race, but they are direct rivals because of the quality of their team."

He suggested that interim Stamford Bridge manager Guus Hiddink had "gone a bit overboard" by suggesting that Chelsea were involved in the relegation battle and added: "I don't believe that. If you look purely at the mathematics [relegation is possible], but the team has too much potential."

Asked whether being relegated would make Chelsea "specialists in failure" -- as Mourinho once called Wenger -- he refused to bite.

"I see where you want to take me, but honestly I'm not ready to travel," he said.

Arsenal hope to have Alexis Sanchez back, while Chelsea striker Diego Costa is a doubt because of a bruised shin.

Costa was key to Chelsea's 2-0 win over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in September after defender Gabriel was sent off following an altercation with the striker, and Wenger said the team would have to be disciplined even if he did not play.

"We are convinced that our points and our record are certainly linked to our discipline," he said. "On the day [at Chelsea], we suffered because I think we were a bit unlucky with the decision of the referee.

"But overall I believe we have a very strong record on discipline in the Premier League and we want to maintain it."