London: Chelsea play the latest match in a season-defining run of seven games in 21 days on Saturday against Arsenal, a team almost as desperate for a Premier League victory as the Blues. Chelsea want to avenge a 5-3 loss earlier this season to boost their chances of finishing fourth, clinching a spot in the playoffs for next season's Champions League.
Arsenal want three points for pretty much the same reason — to strengthen their grip on third place and automatic qualification for the Champions League. And with fourth-place Tottenham at Queens Park Rangers in another of Saturday's seven matches, victory could put Arsenal eight points clear of Spurs with three games remaining. But Chelsea could move ahead of Tottenham and Newcastle into fourth if they win and the pair immediately above them lose.
"We want to be among the top three," Arsenal striker Gervinho said. "The whole group is very motivated and we are already happy to be where we are. We can still do better with the four matches coming. We are fighting only for [the] third place; we don't think about [the] fourth spot. Everybody is determined to fight until the end, from the players and the manager to the fans, to maintain [the] third place. If we manage to keep it, then everybody should be proud because we fought very hard for it."
Chelsea and Arsenal were both in danger of missing out on the top four and Champions League qualification before remarkable turnarounds. The Gunners overturned a 10-point deficit within a month to take the third spot off Tottenham and Chelsea have lost just one of 13 matches since Roberto Di Matteo replaced Andre Villas-Boas as manager last month.
"We learnt a lot from the negative start we had," Gervinho said. "It has made us stronger today. We have learnt from our mistakes. We learnt a lot during that struggle. In life, you will always be criticised. We had to prove to the people who didn't believe in us that we were able to come back by playing well on the pitch. The result is here today. Our progression during the season speaks for itself on the pitch."
Di Matteo is likely to rest Didier Drogba after the veteran striker scored the winning goal in Wednesday's 1-0 win over Barcelona, keeping him fresh for next week's second leg.
In Saturday's other games, Newcastle host Stoke, Wigan are at Fulham, Swansea are at Bolton, Norwich are at Blackburn and Sunderland are at Aston Villa. Leaders Manchester United host Everton on Sunday, with their opponents winless in 19 visits to Old Trafford — a run stretching back to the inaugural Premier League season.
Everton will be without England left-back Leighton Baines because of a hamstring injury. Baines started 99 consecutive Premier League matches before being rested against Sunderland on April 9 and getting hurt in last weekend's FA Cup semifinal loss to Liverpool.
Liverpool aim to arrest the deterioration in their league form against West Bromwich Albion and the former Reds manager Roy Hodgson, while second-place Manchester City are at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Southampton can clinch the second promotion spot from the second-tier League Championship irrespective of their result at Middlesbrough on Saturday. The Saints will join leader Reading in being promoted to the Premier League if they beats Boro, but will go up anyway on Monday if third-place West Ham fail to beat Leicester.