'Do not push me' - Arsene Wenger pleads for peace as Jose Mourinho urges Man United fans to show respect
Outgoing Arsenal boss pleads for peace as Mourinho urges United fans to show respect
Arsene Wenger has claimed that he wants a "peaceful" ending tomorrow to one of the Premier League's most intense feuds when he goes up against Jose Mourinho for the last time as Arsenal manager.
Their rivalry has spanned three managerial jobs for Mourinho but the lingering presence of Wenger - and the plaudits he has received - has seemed always to irritate the Manchester United manager and there have been spectacular verbal clashes.
It even got physical at Stamford Bridge four years ago when Wenger shoved Mourinho, but the Portuguese delivered an unexpectedly warm tribute following the news that Wenger was leaving Arsenal.
"If he respects me even 50pc of what I respect him, we can even be friends in the future," he said.
Wenger looked bemused when asked yesterday if he could be friends with Mourinho, eventually saying "it depends", but was also far more willing than usual to praise his rival's achievements.
"I respect him a lot," said Wenger. "You should give me a little bit of peace for my final weeks, don't push me into a final confrontation. I want to go peacefully. Mourinho is a great manager."
Few stadiums have been more significant to Wenger than Old Trafford.
He led Arsenal to the double there in 2002 but it was also the stage for the 'Battle of the Buffet' in 2004 when he and Alex Ferguson were part of a bust-up.
"If I get a good reception, I will take it," said Wenger. "There have been some great battles. Man United is a massive club with fantastic players. When I go back, I realise what a great team they were."
Wenger again confirmed that he turned down the opportunity to manage United after meeting Martin Edwards, the then chairman, ahead of Ferguson's first planned retirement in 2002.
"I've turned many, many clubs down," he added.
He also said that Henrikh Mkhitaryan could return against his former club ahead of Arsenal's Europa League semi-final second leg with Atletico Madrid on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Mourinho has admitted he harbours regrets about his past treatment of Wenger.
Mourinho, who maintained yesterday that United would not sell goalkeeper David de Gea to Real Madrid this summer, and Wenger have endured one of the stormiest relationships of any rival Premier League managers.
The United manager described Wenger as "a specialist in failure" during his second spell in charge of Chelsea.
Mourinho also branded Wenger a "voyeur" after accusing the Frenchman of being obsessed with Chelsea, to which Wenger responded by calling his counterpart "out of order, disconnected with reality and disrespectful".
Their verbal warfare almost spilt over into fisticuffs in 2014 when Wenger and Mourinho clashed during Chelsea's 2-0 win over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.
But Mourinho has sought a belated rapprochement with Wenger and encouraged United fans, who have directed many ugly chants at Wenger in the past owing to his fierce rivalry with Ferguson, to show the Arsenal manager respect.
"When I arrived in England in 2004, Arsenal was the champion and was the famous champion of Invincibles, and I arrive and for the next couple of years it was with them.
"(Dennis) Bergkamp, Thierry (Henry), (Sol) Campbell - amazing team, so, again, thank you very much for that. They pushed us to the limits."
Mourinho added: “The two matches we played at their amazing old stadium (Highbury) were unforgettable.
“We had big matches, big fights, so thank you so much for that.
“Regret? Little negative episodes, yes I do, and probably he also does.
“I always feel the biggest rivals are our biggest friends because they’re the ones that pushed us to the limit,” added Mourinho.
“I think Manchester United fans know that until 2004, for about a decade, that was between Manchester United and Arsenal, between Sir Alex and Mr Wenger.
“I think that these great teams Arsenal had, and the fight shoulder to shoulder with Manchester United, made United better and better.
“I hope he (Wenger) has a good reaction – if not good, not bad at all – and from us as a club he is going to feel the respect we have.”
Alexis Sanchez will face Arsenal for the first time since quitting the club to join United in January.
The Chile striker has endured a difficult start but he scored in United’s 2-1 FA Cup semi-final win over Spurs last weekend and Mourinho believes fans will see a greatly improved player next term.
“Next season after pre-season, after being comfortable and adapted, he’s going to be great for us,” Mourinho said.
Real Madrid are again being linked with a summer move for star man De Gea but Mourinho said there was “no chance” of the Spain goalkeeper leaving Old Trafford this summer.
De Gea, who originally hails from the Spanish capital, came close to swapping Old Trafford for the Santiago Bernabeu in 2015, only for the transfer to collapse at the 11th hour.
The Spain international subsequently signed a new four-year contract with United but that deal is due to expire at the end of next season and several high-profile errors by Keylor Navas have led to speculation of a revived bid.
Meanwhile, Mourinho has insisted he deserves credit for bringing Mohamed Salah, who has scored 43 goals for Liverpool this season, to Stamford Bridge and that it was Chelsea that decided to sell the Egyptian after he was sacked. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
- Manchester United v Arsenal, Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports, 4.30