Saturday 21 April 2018

Arsene Wenger: Fans want a quality match not a rivalry between managers

Arsene Wenger, left, and Jose Mourinho, right, go head-to-head again this weekend
Arsene Wenger, left, and Jose Mourinho, right, go head-to-head again this weekend

Arsene Wenger insists his long-term rivalry with Jose Mourinho is not what will pull in the audience when his Arsenal side travel to face Manchester United on Saturday.

The Frenchman has struggled against Mourinho down the years, winning just one of the 15 previous head-to-heads with the current United boss.

The pair have had touchline spats since Mourinho's early days at Chelsea, with the Portuguese often using barbed comments aimed at Wenger.

Mourinho has since moved on to Old Trafford, a ground where Arsenal have not won in the Premier League for a decade, and all the elements are in place for another combustible afternoon.

Speaking on the eve of the contest, Mourinho said the pair boast the best record of any current top-flight managers and Wenger is keen to keep focus on the pitch - with a rare victory at United enough to take the Gunners top.

Wenger confirmed he would offer to shake Mourinho's hand, a traditional which has not always been upheld by the rivals, and believes audiences will only be tuning in to see two teams fighting out for three crucial points.

"I think, before a big game like that it is 'Mourinho v Wenger' but it is not that what is most important, what is important is the quality of the game when it starts," he said.

"When you watch Real Madrid v Barcelona you want to see a football game and you are never disappointed because you see the quality of the game.

"Today, football has changed and even if it is Manchester Untied v Arsenal, if the game is not good after 20 minutes they move somewhere else, that is what has changed in the modern game.

"The audience is demanding, (Television) pays a lot of money for football but it is not the controversy before the game, that can attract a few hundred more, but it is not that what creates the audience.

"Some thing that has changed in the last five years is that the audience test the game and the quality of what they see and if it is not good they go somewhere else because they have five games a day."

A Marcus Rashford-inspired Manchester United beat Arsenal 3-2 in the corresponding fixture last year during a damaging run of results which all-but put paid to Wenger's ambitions of a first title since 2004.

But that reverse back in February remains Arsenal's only away defeat in the league in the calender year, and Wenger is not pinning too much on the performance that day.

"When you say we haven't lost a game away form home in 2016, that game was an exception," he added.

"We had other big games, we played at Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea, everywhere.

"On that day we didn't turn up with a performance so that does not mean it is the normality it is the exception of the year. We have to show on Saturday that is was the exception and we have to turn up.

"We have beaten Man United 3-0 at home in the same season. What is today happening, you fail one time 'oh, they failed, they will fail again.' Life is not like that. If you turn up 25 times and you lose one game, people take that one game as a normality. No. You have to turn up the 25 times before, believe me."

After denying he would be distracted by the build-up to the game surrounding his relationship with Mourinho, Wenger was philosophical about their history.

"In life, everybody is responsible for what he says, and what he does," the 67-year-old added.

"So I am responsible for what I say and what I do. Not what other people say or what they do. So I cannot respond to responsibility for what other people say about me or about themselves. I stand up for what I have said and what I do.

"I make mistakes in my life, and I regret every one I make, believe me. I would have loved to have a life without any mistakes. But unfortunately I am not even sure that Jesus did that."

Wenger will assess the fitness of forward Alexis Sanchez ahead of the game after he returned from international duty with Chile on Friday morning.

Press Association

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