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EPL 2016/17: Arsene Wenger vs Jose Mourinho - A rivalry born out of spite

Sagnik Kundu
FEATURED COLUMNIST
784   //    17 Nov 2016, 13:43 IST
(FILE PHOTO - EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image Numbers 177996036 (L) and 452339145) In this composite image a comparison has been made between Chelsea Manager Jose Mourinho (L) and Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger. The Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea takes place on December 23, 2013 at the Emirates Stadium, London, England. ***LEFT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: Chelsea Manager Jose Mourinho looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on August 26, 2013 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Manager Arsene Wenger of Arsenal looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Arsenal and Olympique de Marseille at Emirates Stadium on November 26, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Mourinho has never lost to Wenger in the Premier League

When it comes to Jose Mourinho vs Arsene Wenger, it is more than a mere rivalry.

It’s never just a few gestures or a few words exchanged. It’s always something more personal to both. While Mourinho and Wenger have never been friends, the simmering animosity that they have towards each other has often boiled over.

The rivalry, however, is not for nothing. Wenger has never won in the Premier League against Mourinho. 11 games, the Frenchman has faced the Portuguese mastermind, failing to win a single game. Mourinho, who then coached Chelsea, won five of the fixtures while six of them have been draws.

When Mourinho’s Manchester United host Arsenal this Saturday, Wenger would definitely be scrunching up the form book. And, he would not be happy when he is reminded that Arsenal have not won a single League match at Old Trafford since 2006.

It might appear that Wenger is under some curse, such has been Mourinho’s dominance over the 67-year-old has been. In 2004, the Portuguese manager arrived at Chelsea when new owner Roman Abramovich invited him to take over the reins from Claudio Ranieri. And since then the rivalry had sprouted.

The rivalry

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 26:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on as Jose Mourinho manager of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on April 26, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Wenger is a"specialist in failure" according to Mourinho

Mourinho has never been short for words about the Frenchman and has shown obvious antipathy towards his arch nemesis. Wenger believes that football should be played the way it was supposed to be – football should be entertaining and attractive. Mourinho, on the other hand, emphasises on the win-at-all-costs formula.

Arsenal’s manager, who recently celebrated his 20th anniversary at the Emirates, believes that the beautiful game should be played with grace, it should look easy on the eye. In retrospect, over the years, Mourinho’s approach is becoming more and more evident in the team’s he has managed – Inter Milan, Real Madrid, then Chelsea and now at Manchester United.

What disdains Wenger more about Mourinho is this very approach of his. In 2005, Wenger expressed his concerns over Mourinho's tactics at Chelsea when he said, "I know we live in a world where we have only winners and losers, but once a sport encourages teams who refuse to take the initiative, the sport is in danger."

In retaliation, Mourinho branded Arsenal’s boss as a “voyeur”, describing him as a “specialist in failure. The aggressive Mourinho and the graceful Wenger ­– a rivalry made in hell – like fire and water.

Despite the departure of Mourinho in 2007, the Portuguese never really stopped criticising Wenger. Once while speaking about the old-timer’s success rate in the Premier League, Mourinho said, “The English like statistics a lot. Do they know that Arsene Wenger has only 50 per cent of wins in the English league?”

Vocal insults to physical altercations

Wenger has often been vocal on his arch nemesis – one with a streak of cynicism that he resents. He had never reacted physically, at least not in public or in front of his players. However, in 2014, the verbal war that was going on for a decade finally escalated to a physical altercation.

During the match at Stamford Bridge, Wenger shoved Mourinho on the touchline after involving in a heated argument. Chelsea’s Gary Cahill had been guilty of a late challenge on Arsenal frontman Alexis Sanchez and Wenger was quickly on his feet. As Mourinho confronted him, taunting in his usual demeanour, he was pushed aside by the Arsenal boss.

"In hindsight, I think I should not have reacted at all. It's not a way to behave on a football field. Did Mourinho provoke me? That is how I felt. I did not enter Chelsea's technical area," Wenger conceded later on.

In all the years Wenger had come up against his fierce rival, it was the only time that he had come close to snapping.

Mourinho has gone through a lot since then. However, his hatred towards Wenger has not been any less. Speaking about his ambitions at United Mourinho said, "There are some managers, the last time they won a title was 10 years ago, the last time I won was a year ago. If I have something to prove, imagine the others! To finish 4th is not the aim.”

(Video credits: Fox Sports YouTube channel)

Current form

Saturday’s fixture is definitely going to be a blockbuster, given the two managers appalling attitude towards each other.

Arsene Wenger had started with a 3-4 defeat to Liverpool this season. However, his side jumped right back with strong performances, silencing critics who were voicing their opinions before the start of the season.

Although Mesut Ozil is yet to hit top form, Sanchez has been terrorising the opposition defence playing in a different role. Alex Iwobi has also proved Wenger’s faith in him with a string of commendable performances but the surprise revelation has been Theo Walcott’s great run.

While the Gunners are positioned fourth in the Premier League table, two points off the top, United are languishing in the sixth position with a six-point deficit from Arsenal.

United’s new signings Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have not exactly performed exceptionally well, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is out suspended and Eric Bailly is injured. Wayne Rooney is not the same Wayne Rooney as in Arsenal’s 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford in 2011 and the team as a whole is not performing as well as they should.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28:  The scoreboard shows the final score of the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on August 28, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
United's most famous victory over Arsenal

Can Wenger finally break his curse?

It is high time that Wenger buries the ghosts of the past.

If Wenger wants to break the curse, there is no better time than now. Mourinho has not yet settled in at United and he misses key players through injuries and suspension. Arsenal are themselves in top form, unbeaten in ten league games.

It would come as a big surprise if Arsenal let their guard down and ends up as the losers in the match. If anything, the Frenchman definitely does not want to give Mourinho the satisfaction – the premonition that not being able to win against the Portuguese has become a habit for him. And also, a victory on Saturday will also make the journey back to London a much happier one.

Any terseness in the manager’s mutual relationship holds no significance when the two English heavyweights face each other at Old Trafford. Even the managers know this full well and only care about the three points on the table. Will Wenger overcome the curse?

Only time will tell.

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Sagnik Kundu
FEATURED COLUMNIST
I spend every day at office wondering how they got the table through the door.
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