Monday 21 August 2017

Wenger must strike first blow against his arch rival

Losing run dominates narrative for Shield clash

Jose Mourinho, right, and Arsene Wenger, left, clashed on the touchline at Stamford Bridge
Jose Mourinho, right, and Arsene Wenger, left, clashed on the touchline at Stamford Bridge

Sam Wallace

Jose Mourinho could not be sure but he thought that the longest run of defeats he had experienced to one single manager stood at just two games.

The man in question? "Tony," said the Chelsea manager at the club's Cobham training ground.

"Tony Pulis. I think I lost twice against Tony Pulis," he said. "I lost against [Crystal] Palace and against West Bromwich Albion. One game each."

Not that he is counting, of course.

If two straight defeats gnaw away at Mourinho, then what if he had gone 13 games without beating an individual manager?

What if that manager in question was a great rival of his, one with whom he regularly exchanged jibes, rather than "Tony," one of his managerial peers whom he can afford to be generous about?

As long as Arsène Wenger's run of games without a win over Mourinho continues - it stands at 13 so far, two seasons into the latter's Chelsea return - then it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men.

They clash again tomorrow in the Community Shield at Wembley Stadium, officially the most rancorous managerial rivalry in the Premier League, back on for another season.

All told, Wenger v Mourinho is a guilty pleasure. It should not enthral us but it does, nonetheless, and it seems inevitable that it will escalate
All told, Wenger v Mourinho is a guilty pleasure. It should not enthral us but it does, nonetheless, and it seems inevitable that it will escalate

Once again, the rivalry between Wenger and Mourinho promises to sustain us throughout the season, whether we approve or not.

Generally speaking, the rudeness is on Mourinho's side, while Wenger tends towards the lofty put-down.

Fortunate

Wenger was fortunate to escape an English FA charge for his shove on Mourinho on the touchline at Stamford Bridge last season, something the Chelsea manager spent the rest of the season pointing out at every opportunity.

All told, Wenger v Mourinho is a guilty pleasure. It should not enthral us but it does, nonetheless, and it seems inevitable that it will escalate.

However much Wenger may downplay the importance of the record that Mourinho holds over him, it cannot be that easily dismissed.

Mourinho tends not to dwell on it much but then he knows he does not have to do so.

The record looms over them both and will do so again tomorrow. It has assumed a life of its own and, the longer it goes on, the greater the significance it attracts.

What would Mourinho do if he found himself in a similar situation, unable to beat a rival manager?

"I think I would ask myself why. I would try to answer, but not because of a mental block. Because I would want to try to find solutions to help my team to do it.

"Try to find a different way, try to find the reasons why it goes all the time against my team. But just that."

There is, nonetheless, still something that gets to Mourinho about Arsenal.

He was downbeat yesterday but even so he was still careful to qualify his comment that Arsenal were "the same" as they were last season.

"Which means strong," he added, "a very good team!"

That pre-occupation is evident when the two men are in close quarters: the cursory handshake, the air of insouciance, the constant glances across, keeping a wary eye on his opposite number.

Much of the attention tomorrow will be on Petr Cech, facing the club at which he played for over 11 years, but Mourinho was not prepared to be drawn on that either.

"We know why the club agreed (to sell him to Arsenal). We know that in the first phase I completely disagreed (with the decision).

"We know that later on I understood the reasons behind the decision and I changed my position. So nothing more to say about it."

What reception would Mourinho like the Chelsea fans to give Cech?

"I'm not interested. I'm interested in the reception Chelsea fans will give to the Chelsea players."

There is no doubt, however, that Chelsea's transfer market activity this summer has been low-key.

They have signed Radamel Falcao on loan, they have a new second-choice goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic and they will soon upgrade their second-choice left-back.

It is rare for them to have done so little by this stage of the window and this game will be an interesting, but by no means definitive, test of Mourinho's champions against a team that has looked impressive in pre-season.

Diego Costa and Gary Cahill, the two injury doubts, were both participants in the late-afternoon training session at Cobham yesterday. Mourinho may start with his Brazilian striker or he may opt for Loïc Rémy, arguably the fittest of the three.

It is Falcao whose prospects are the most intriguing, in his second consecutive loan season in the Premier League.

"I like him, I like him a lot as a player," Mourinho said of the Colombian striker.

"I think the team plays very well with a striker of his quality. It's not just a guy who can score a goal, he is always a threat and is a guy who contributes a lot to the quality of the game."

Could Falcao be the player he was in the 2012-2013 season? Arguably the best centre-forward in the world?

"At the start, I just worry that he adapts and that he is happy, we are happy with him and he performs and they give us what we want.

"To become again a super scorer, let's see what happens. But for the moment we are happy."

The question that lingers is whether, in Cech, Chelsea have gifted Arsenal a part of the machinery that has made them such a force in English football.

The phrase used was the "winning mentality", something at which Mourinho bridled.

"It's difficult to describe what is a winning mentality. Everybody wants to win, everybody works to win, everybody has ambition to win.

"Not everybody wins, not everybody wins regular and so many times."

He told a story about how, in matches in training, he stops the game if one side falls three goals behind.

"It means that the ones that are losing are not training well. So if you don't train well, you don't train."

It was a punishment of sorts but it was meant to illustrate the importance of winning, of competing.

Like all records he probably knows that one day his unbeaten streak over Wenger will come to an end but he seems to cherish it, nonetheless. (© Independent News Service)

Arsenal v Chelsea, Live, BT Sport 2, tomorrow, 3.00pm

Independent News Service

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