Ranieri is confident of Kenyon's full support

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The Independent Football

Claudio Ranieri claimed yesterday he had received assurances from Chelsea's new chief executive, Peter Kenyon, that he would remain the club's head coach until the end of his contract in 2007.

Speaking before tomorrow's fifth-round FA Cup tie against Arsenal, Ranieri said he had talked to Kenyon who, last week, on taking up his post, appeared to ratchet up the intense pressure on the Italian by saying that the season would be a "failure" unless a trophy was delivered.

"I understand very well Peter's words because I met him before the speculation," said Ranieri, who has continually called for patience despite the Roman Abramovich millions. "Me and Peter have the same way. But of course he looks at the end of the project and I look inside the project.

"It's like a good building. He's a good architect and he wants to show it well and I am a strong architect and I want to build it strong. But we are very close together. It's the same way and that, for me, is important. He said you are the coach until 2007 and then I'm happy. And I'm not worried about anything else."

Whether Ranieri's faith has firm foundations is another thing. The whispering campaign has been unrelenting throughout this most astonishing of seasons with the name Sven Goran Eriksson never too far away. Most observers expect the England coach to take the bait in the summer.

Nevertheless, Ranieri's words have been bolstered by comments on Chelsea's television station by Kenyon that his job was not under immediate threat - although he did not give him a three-year guarantee.

Maybe, by then, he will have beaten Arsenal, who have proven the most haunting of bogey teams since Ranieri arrived in September 2000. He has never prevailed. Indeed, since Chelsea last won the FA Cup in the summer of that year, Arsenal are the only team to have beaten them in the competition.

The sequence should have been broken last season when, with Arsenal having just been knocked out of the Champions' League, they met in a fifth-round replay at Stamford Bridge. Arsène Wenger's side was weakened; but Chelsea were out-thought. Ranieri blundered tactically, deploying a three-man back-line, and the game was over inside 35 chaotic minutes. He appeared visibly shaken.

There is extra piquancy in that Arsenal are trying to win the cup three times in a row and now regard Chelsea as a real threat. No players will be rested for this one. "If we played a weaker side and lost, it might have an influence on our entire season," said Wenger, who, like Ranieri, has half an eye on the League meeting between the sides next Saturday.

There will be no gifting of a psychological advantage. Both men know the Premiership race is not over. "We play Chelsea again ... and we know it will give us an advantage mentally to go into that game having beaten them in the FA Cup and ended their run in this competition again," Wenger said.

"We have a good record against Chelsea. We have shown that we can beat them. It's a boost psychologically when you know you can win because that gives you a good belief."

To add yet more ingredients, the Arsenal defender Ashley Cole appeared to suggest that Ranieri would be out of a job if he lost the forthcoming games. Cole's ill-judged words were not meant to be as harsh as they sounded, since he also said it would be an unfair consequence. But Ranieri, naturally, bridled. "I don't speak to my players about myself. Maybe they are happy. Maybe some of my players spoke to Ashley Cole."

One Arsenal player Ranieri was happy to talk about was Thierry Henry whom, he said, he had tried to sign. But not this season. "I watched him a long time ago when I was manager of Fiorentina," Ranieri said.

"I told my chairman, 'Henry is the Muhammad Ali of the football pitch because he has such elegance, such speed'. Henry has also scored against Chelsea in their last three meetings.

In a similar spirit, Wenger was also singling out the main threat and that, he said, was Frank Lampard, whom he described as "absolutely outstanding".

"I always thought he was a good player but he has improved in every aspect of his game this season," Wenger said. "If you look at Chelsea's results, he gets them goals when it is needed." He has had to, it could be argued, because of the uncertainty of his team's forwards.

Ranieri would have none of that. He is adamant that the gap between the sides - after the £111m spent last summer and the recent £10m spent on Scott Parker, who is not cup-tied - is closing. "They [Arsenal] have a strong mentality but we have improved a lot," he said. "We know them very, very well and also they are worried about us. And that is normal between two big teams."

Wenger concurred. "Nothing is ever certain in matches between us," he said. "Chelsea look very solid right now and they are not giving goals away. The players are highly focused."

The last word should - for now - go to Ranieri. "I'm a positive man," he said when asked about the consequences of defeat. "Why would I think that we will lose the match? You don't think that in one hour you are going to be dead, do you? You don't think you are going to go over the road and be hit by a bus. But then you wouldn't see the match anyway." And that, of course, is undeniable.

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