Chelsea need a 'perfect goal' to beat Cech in Gunners showdown
Published 19/09/2015 | 02:30
There was none of the usual sparring, the usual virulent dose of sound-bite vitriol.
It was because both know the stakes and both fear the consequences. Their teams are on the cusp; their season's prospects - maybe even their own long-term prospects - are in the balance.
The fact that neither Jose Mourinho nor Arsene Wenger wanted to talk about each other spoke to the frost that has re-formed, even in September, as Chelsea host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge at lunchtime today. Neither manager wanted to be a hostage to misfortune.
They know that defeat will lead to inquisition - and that inquisition will be the more painful because of the enmity that exists.
It is a fixture that could re-assert Mourinho's supremacy over Wenger - or signal, finally, a shift in power.
It was not explosive when they both spoke but there is always a whiff of cordite in the air.
Nevertheless there were 'mind games'.
For Wenger there was the claim that winning the Community Shield, as Arsenal did last month, may have finally removed the "mental block" of overcoming Mourinho - a first win in 14 attempts - and a reiteration of his assertion that now that he has Petr Cech, Chelsea will fear they have to score "the perfect goal" to beat their former goalkeeper.
For Mourinho, there was a refusal to discuss Arsenal and a candid admission that his players have suffered a crisis of confidence because of their recent form, which has left them 17th in the Premier League, just one place above the relegation zone, which they could slip into if results conspire against them on Saturday.
Such an admission is unchartered territory for Mourinho. He has never been in this predicament although, he said, he hoped the "happy faces" had returned with the midweek Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv.
"In everything you do in life, you need confidence to be better," Mourinho claimed.
"In football when you lose matches, you are affected. You can say you're not but you are."
There is always cause and effect, of course, with Mourinho taking a swipe over recent reports.
"Normally when bad results happen the first thing that comes into your laptops, iPads and pens is to find a dramatic story.
"Somebody has punched somebody else in the dressing room, the manager doesn't want to speak with this guy, Diego Costa fought with John Terry' - and before they start the fight, they brought a translator for them to understand each other in the fight because Diego cannot speak English and John cannot speak Spanish.
"They organise it like the Wild West duels: 'We are going to fight at this time, bring a translator to help us'.
"Mourinho doesn't want to give new contracts to Terry and [Branislav] Ivanovic.
"Mourinho instructs the scouts to find a new right-back urgently. The direction you don't go in is the direction that's real," Mourinho claimed.
"You lose matches; you are affected. You lose confidence; you don't want the ball. You are afraid of the ball.
"You fear the worst. The ball goes to your box and you think the worst.
"You are in front of the opponents' goalkeeper and you are afraid to shoot. You are affected, unless you are so strong that you cope with it."
So "to taste victory again is important", Mourinho said, and, if the Champions League win formed a bridgehead, then another victory against Arsenal would create something far more substantial.
Ten times he has faced Wenger in the Premier League, in two periods stretched over 11 years, and he is yet to lose. Five wins, five draws.
Since Mourinho returned to Chelsea in 2013 he has faced Wenger in four league matches and not even conceded a goal - with the 6-0 win at Stamford Bridge, in Wenger's 1,000th game in charge of Arsenal, followed by the 2-0 victory last season when they clashed on the touchline.
In August Wenger simply avoided Mourinho and he avoided the question yesterday when he was asked about what happened.
"I don't want to talk about that," Wenger said of the Wembley incident when he did not shake his opponent's hand.
Will he do so today? "I won't tell you more than I just told you," he added.
Does he regret the touchline incident? "I have nothing more to say about this," Wenger concluded adding that the attention on the relationship was unnecessary. "People come to watch football and all the rest is secondary," Wenger said, acknowledging that the Community Shield triumph may hold a greater significance. "For me especially what is important is that Arsenal win the games and that sometimes it can be a mental block not winning against certain teams."
"On that front it was good," Wenger said. "It is the first important step. We want to show now a second one, to go away and do well against them."
The signing of Cech, against Mourinho's wishes - something he stressed again yesterday while diplomatically stating that it may be a good thing to allow such a player to decide his "destiny" - is also something Wenger believes could be significant.
"It can, yes. You know [as a Chelsea player] you have to score the perfect goal in front of him," Wenger added.
Cech will return in goal for Arsenal who could go nine points clear of Chelsea if they win and with Wenger making changes - pre-planned with players such as Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin not even travelling - to the team that lost so disappointingly away to Dynamo Zagreb in the Champions League last Wednesday.
That defeat was followed by a long journey back - including a two-hour coach ride across the border from Croatia to Slovenia to catch a flight - with the Arsenal players not getting to bed until after 5am on Thursday.
Mourinho also has decisions to make. Does he recall Terry, Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic who - along with Diego Costa, who came on a substitute - were not in the starting line-up against Maccabi, as the manager shook things up? The likelihood is all four will play.
But will Mourinho stick with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who impressed in midfield? The chances are he will not although he said the 19-year-old is "mentally" ready. Mourinho will hope all his players are.
"Doesn't matter our fantastic record against Arsenal, doesn't matter they beat us in the Community Shield. It's a match I want to isolate from every context," he said. "It's just Chelsea v Arsenal, and it's a match we want to win." © Daily Telegraph, London.
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