London (AFP) – Antonio Conte has warned his Chelsea stars to keep their cool as they bid to avoid more red card misery against Arsenal on Sunday.
Conte’s side have lost their past two meetings with Arsenal in the FA Cup final and the Community Shield after having a player sent off in each encounter.
Victor Moses was dismissed in the 2-1 FA Cup final defeat last season after the Chelsea wing-back earned a second booking for diving.
Blues winger Pedro saw red in the Community Shield in August after a lunge on Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny and Chelsea were eventually beaten on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
Conte disagreed with both decisions but he knows the red cards had a significant influence on Chelsea’s defeats against their London rivals.
Keen to avoid another damaging dismissal at Stamford Bridge this weekend, the Chelsea boss told his players to focus on keeping their emotions in check, while also placing the spotlight on referee Michael Oliver.
“I hope to finish the game with 11 players — in the last two games, the FA Cup final and the Community Shield, we finished with 10 men — then during the game the best team will win,” Conte told reporters on Friday.
“For sure when you start the game, you try to keep always the right discipline. But in both situations you have to see very well if there was a red card or not.”
Chelsea go into the derby showdown in good spirits after three successive league wins and a 6-0 Champions League demolition of Qarabag in midweek.
Arsenal have endured a more turbulent start to the season, with defeats at Stoke and Liverpool piling pressure on Gunners boss Arsene Wenger.
Victories over Bournemouth and Cologne have done little to silence the fans, who claim Wenger is no longer the man for the job after 13 years without a league title.
Conte sees it differently and expects Arsenal to mount a title challenge after the disappointment of last season’s fifth-place finish.
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“I think Arsenal is one of the six top teams in England. They have a really good squad to fight for the title in England for sure,” Conte said.
“For this reason it is a massive game for us. When we play Arsenal it is always a massive game, the same as when we play City, United and Liverpool.”
Arsenal played their Europa League tie on Thursday, giving Chelsea a potential advantage as they have been able to rest since their fixture on Tuesday.
But Conte said: “I watched the game. Wenger rotated a lot of players, a lot of players are rested for the game against us. I don’t think it’s an advantage.”
Conte will be without Danny Drinkwater after the England midfielder, a deadline-day signing from Leicester City, was ruled out for several weeks with a calf muscle injury.
“It is very difficult to see him (returning) before the international break. He needs time to recover,” Conte said.
“It’s a pity because he was starting to work and adapt himself to our idea of football.”