Wilkins and Essien doubt City's stamina for title

The Premier League table shows Manchester City are Chelsea's closest rivals, yet the defending champions do not seem to consider them as genuine challengers, despite their 1-0 defeat at Eastlands 10 days ago.

Chelsea's 2-0 victory over Arsenal put Carlo Ancelotti's team four points clear of City, who lie in second place, but the Double winners still see Manchester United and Arsenal as their most serious rivals.

In the aftermath of their victory over Arsenal, midfielder Michael Essien questioned City's stamina while Ancelotti's assistant, Ray Wilkins, raised doubts over the strength of their team spirit.

"They've made good signings this season," Essien said of City. "They will be up for it. I don't know if they will have the stamina but they've got the players to do the job."

Wilkins also suggested the title race might be beyond City. "It will always be Manchester United, it will always be Arsenal," he said. "They will always be there or thereabouts. Yes, City, as fabulous a group of footballers as they have, have got to gel as a unit. They are getting results and good luck to them as well, but it's never easy when you are just pulling guys together and hoping that it will come together. It's very tough and Roberto [Mancini] is doing a good job for them as well."

One reason behind the champions' dominating form has been the return to fitness of Essien, who has been used in a more attacking role than in previous seasons.

The Ghanaian said he owed the club something exceptional after they gave him a new five-year contract in the summer, even though he missed most of last season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on international duty in January.

"I'm a lucky guy," he said. "I've never seen that before, where a player is given a new contract when he has been out for six months. That means they have good confidence in me, that when I'm fit I can go out and help the team. I was delighted with that and I have to pay the club back with my performances."

The Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski has claimed that Arsenal will recover and make up the seven-point deficit on Chelsea.

"For sure we will be chasing that title and I'm sure we won't give up. I hope we can come back stronger in the next games," he said.

The former Arsenal midfielder Robert Pires, 36, has been back training with the club as he looks for a new employer. The situation is similar to Sol Campbell's last year, when the defender ended up signing a short-term contract with Arsenal.

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, was coy about whether Pires could also be offered terms. "He is sparkling," Wenger told French newspaper Le Parisien. "He's happy on the ball and physically he is fine. He can be of service in Ligue 1 [the French top division]."