Why Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger will be desperate to beat Chelsea
Paul McNamara examines the bitter rivalry that exists between Arsenal's Arsene Wenger and Chelsea's Jose Mourinho
Speaking candidly about his fear of the day when he will no longer be involved in football management, Arsene Wenger recently disclosed details of a convivial chat he had shared with the now retired Sir Alex Ferguson, regarding life beyond the game.
Once quarrelling rivals, it seems that the Frenchman and the former Manchester United boss have cast aside former enmities to develop something of a kinship.
The chances that one day in the future Wenger might be shooting the breeze in comparable fashion with Jose Mourinho, however, are pretty remote. This is an extremely testy relationship, founded on the pair’s starkly contrasting personalities; an association that has been strained since Mourinho rolled into Stamford Bridge in 2004.
It is the two managers’ mutual hostility which lends Sunday’s Community Shield clash an edge that is normally absent from what is traditionally an easy-oasy last run-out before the competitive stuff gets underway; Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner’s 1974 Wembley ruck notwithstanding.
What’s more, with his usual consummate timing, Mourinho has spiced things up further ahead of his team’s Wembley meeting with the Gunners.
Talking while in the USA with Chelsea, the Portuguese served up for the attendant media a rudimentary account of Wenger’s hefty financial outlay in the last ‘three or four years,’ as compared with his own more frugal spending.
Arsenal’s manager, as is customary, couldn’t resist the bait, turning the focus onto the number of players developed on his watch, before counselling against listening ‘too much to what people think or say’.
The evidence down the years, though, suggests that these two don’t miss a beat when it comes to acknowledging their adversary’s jibes. It is a decade since Mourinho responded to Wenger’s questioning of the cautious tactics adopted by the Stamford Bridge club as they wrested the Premier League title away from Arsenal, by calling his new rival a ‘voyeur’. That particular remark upped the ante, expediting the feud which endures today.
Indeed, even as Mourinho undertook his continental ventures with Inter Milan and Real Madrid, the two men couldn’t resist bickering from afar, sporadically trading insults regarding their respective managerial records and philosophies. On one such occasion in 2008, the former Porto manager delivered this put-down: “The English like statistics a lot. Do they know that Arsene Wenger has only 50 per cent of wins in the English league?”
It is another statistic, though, that will bug Wenger, far more than any words directed his way from across the capital. Arsenal’s three-time Premier League winning boss has sent his teams into battle with Mourinho’s sides on 13 separate occasions. He is yet to savour victory, losing seven of those matches.
With his team shouldering an unfamiliar burden of expectation ahead of the forthcoming campaign, this Sunday would be the perfect time for Wenger to shrug off his Mourinho hoodoo. Because, for all his protestations to the contrary, the 65 year-old must be longing to put one over the man 13 years his junior.
There is only one opposing boss that Wenger has physically confronted since he succeeded Bruce Rioch at Arsenal nearly 19 years ago. And, predictably, the recipient for Wenger’s pushing and shoving was Mourinho, the Gunners’ manager reacting in fiery manner to Gary Cahill’s fierce challenge on Alexis Sanchez, in a match won at a canter by Chelsea in October last year. That fall-out at the Bridge came eight months after Mourinho had labelled Wenger a ‘specialist in failure’ – and seven months on from the Blues’ 6-0 walloping of Arsenal in what was the Frenchman’s 1,000th game in charge of the club.
The Emirates Stadium outfit’s joyless recent trips to Stamford Bridge give additional credence to the idea that this weekend’s encounter at the national stadium could have some bearing on what happens over the following nine months, especially if the FA Cup holders can finally overcome the Premier League champions.
For all that they finished last term in storming style, playing some of the best football dished up by a Wenger side since his fabled Invincibles of 2003/2004, this is a group of Arsenal players that has limited experience of being on a winning team against Chelsea.
If they have designs on landing the title this season, then the Gunners will have to find a way of overcoming whatever mental-scarring Mourinho’s men have inflicted on them of late. The eve of the new campaign, then, would be an extremely opportune moment to start the healing process.
Chelsea, for their part, will be anxious to keep their collective boots on Arsenal’s throat.
Mourinho’s teams are renowned for their front-running abilities; flying from the blocks in a league season and never relinquishing their advantage. That is a trait born of a merciless nature, passed on by the manager to his players: It is apparent, once more, in Mourinho’s desire to have Diego Costa and Cahill, who both sustained injuries in the States, available to take on the Gunners.
Both managers’ instincts should tell them not to read too much into this pre-season contest.
A year ago Arsenal brushed aside Manchester City 3-0 to lift the Community Shield. In hindsight, that game offered the first clue towards the stuttering season that City would endure. Correspondingly, though, it did nothing to prevent the north Londoners from making a sluggish start when the real business was underway.
Still, Mourinho might be tempted to think that Sunday’s outcome could influence matters in the months through to next May. He will recall his side dipping to Liverpool in the 2006 edition, a defeat that preceded a season in which Chelsea surrendered to Manchester United the title that they had won in the previous two years.
Twelve months earlier the Blues’ boss had emerged victorious from his first taste of Community Shield action, his team setting the tone for a championship winning season by seeing off Arsenal, who would go on to scrape into a Champions League spot come the 2005/2006 campaign’s end.
If the Gunners 2005 reverse against Chelsea is repeated on Sunday, then Wenger can look back to 2011 for succour. In that year’s curtain-raiser, an aspirational Manchester City, then without an English title in 43 years, went into half-time with a 2-0 lead over Manchester United.
Roberto Mancini’s team couldn’t seal the deal, however, eventually losing 3-2 and seemingly missing an opportunity to shift momentum across their city. Nine months later and Sergio Aguero was scoring one of the most famous goals of the modern era to take the Premier League crown to The Etihad, at United’s direct expense.
This weekend, however, the managers of the Community Shield combatants will be casting aside thoughts of the past and the future. The focus for both men will be on the present. Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho’s shared history dictates that, friendly or not, this is a match both men will be desperate to win.