Chelsea captain John Terry has been under the spotlight all week and there will be no change when the Premier League leaders play Arsenal on Saturday, the European champions’ first big game of the season according to team mate Branislav Ivanovic.
Terry shocked English football on Sunday when he retired from international football ahead of this week’s FA tribunal into allegations that he racially abused Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand last season.
The 31-year-old, acquitted in a law court in July of racial abuse, said his position in the England set-up was “untenable” because the FA were pressing ahead with the hearing.
He shrugged off the extra attention when he featured in Chelsea’s 6-0 League Cup romp on Tuesday against Wolverhampton Wanderers, but London rivals Arsenal will provide a bigger test of the defender’s resolve.
Terry will need to be at his most focused if Chelsea’s unbeaten start remains intact against Arsenal, one of three other top-flight teams yet to lose five games into the season.
“This is the first actual big game for us this season. Our performances and quality - we know how it is. But we have to show everyone and we have to show it every game,” said Serbian defender Ivanovic.
Chelsea have yet to play a title rival and have made the most of an inviting start to the Premier League season, racking up wins against Wigan Athletic, Reading, Newcastle United and Stoke City as well as drawing with QPR.
They were not totally convincing in a 2-2 Champions League draw at home to Juventus and Arsenal offer a similar threat after an impressive showing in a 1-1 draw at champions Manchester City last weekend.
“This is the biggest challenge. I think Arsenal will be a great challenge for us, and we have to really be ready for that,” added Ivanovic.
Terry had a woeful time against Arsenal in last season’s first league encounter between the pair, slipping to gift Robin Van Persie a late goal and the lead from which Chelsea never recovered in the 5-3 rollercoaster ride.
Assistant manager Eddie Newton said the robust defender was in a good frame of mind despite spending a chunk of his week at the FA hearing at Wembley Stadium.
“We’ve been talking to John to see what his mindset is and he’s been very positive and upbeat. He’s been dealing with the situation at hand,” Newton told reporters on Tuesday.
While Chelsea are buzzing following their promising start to the season and their League Cup confidence boost, champions Manchester City stumbled out of the same competition on Tuesday.
City are also unbeaten in the league but three draws from their opening five games and some defensive lapses have left manager Roberto Mancini with a furrowed brow.
They travel to Chelsea’s in-form neighbours Fulham on Saturday (1400) hoping to rediscover the winning habit after the 4-2 extra time defeat in the League Cup by Aston Villa.
“The second year after winning a championship is always difficult and I hope we start to win in our next league game, because we need a win. But we need to improve if we are to do that,” said City manager Roberto Mancini.
Manchester United have also failed to hit the heights but have moved into second place behind Chelsea with slowly improving Tottenham Hotspur the visitors to Old Trafford for Saturday’s late kickoff.
United received a boost on Wednesday when Wayne Rooney made an impressive return to action in the 2-1 League Cup victory over Newcastle United after being out for four weeks with a badly gashed thigh.
Tottenham, who eased into the last 16 of the League Cup with a 3-0 win at Carlisle United, are unbeaten since the opening day of the season but have not won at Old Trafford since 1989.
Struggling Norwich City and Liverpool will be both be seeking their first league wins when they clash on Saturday, while third-placed Everton will be confident of another three points at home to promoted Southampton, who have shipped 15 goals so far this season -- the most in the division.
Sunderland, whose own unbeaten run comprises of four consecutive draws, welcome Wigan Athletic on Saturday.