Jose Mourinho makes a series of swipes at Arsenal and writes off top-four hopes in extraordinary post-match interview
In an extraordinary post-match press conference Mourinho said it was 'impossible' for United to finish in the top-four and attacked Arsenal on a number of different fronts
His record against Arsene Wenger might have changed, but it seems Jose Mourinho himself never will. The Manchester United manager at least gave a world-class Mourinho media appearance, after his side had been anything but world class in a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.
Having said it is now “impossible” for United to finish in the top four, he also praised 19-year-old Axel Tanzuebe, in what was generally a restrained and respectful post-game interview – despite then oddly claiming that it was actually Arsenal who had been the more defensive side.
Mourinho was then finally set off right at the end by a question about suffering his first ever competitive defeat to Wenger. The Portuguese proceeded to offer up a series of drive-by digs in the space of a few minutes, saying he ‘doesn’t enjoy’ a “big club” like Arsenal “not winning trophies”, stating that he was happy for their fans that they finally leave a game against him and are “happy” and even criticising Wenger for putting “too much pressure on the fourth official every time”.
“Arsenal?” Mourinho began, when asked about how their fans prized finally beating him.
“I don’t think they think about it. I don’t think they’re desperate. Arsenal fans are happy and I’m happy for them. It’s the first time I leave and they’re happy. I leave Highbury, they were crying. I leave the Emirates, and they were crying, walking the streets with heads low. Today they leave with their scarves.
“It’s a big club. You think I enjoy a big club like Arsenal not winning trophies? I don’t enjoy it… but today I tried to win. Arsene Wenger is not a small manager. He’s a big manager, to have that record of winning so many matches is not normal. ‘Normal’ is win, lose, draw.
“I really don’t care about it today. No problems. We shook hands and during the game I don’t like what I never like: he puts too much pressure on the fourth official every time.”
If it is remarkable cheek from Mourinho to chide another manager for pressurising officials, it wasn’t as much cheek as his attempt to spin the idea that it was Arsenal who had been defensive.
“We didn’t deserve to lose,”the United boss said. “The game was under control. First half they had a couple of chances, we had a couple but ours were the big chances of the match.
“I’m very happy with the players. They surprised me in a positive way. I thought [Phil] Jones, [Chris] Smalling, [Juan] Mata couldn’t cope with 90 minutes after their injuries. The kid [Tanzuabe] was brilliant. The guys accumulating matches tried their best, despite playing 90 minutes two days ago [against Celta Vigo].
“Much better than against Man City [the 0-0 draw] for example, much better, but I think the first goal [by Granit Xhaka] put us in a difficult situation, then I think Arsenal brought the block low, defended, coped with our attacking football, and did it to their advantage.”
If Arsenal’s block was “low”, how would United’s be described? There were so many moments of the game when they seemed to have 10 men around their box - something we’ve seen so many times in matches away to the rest of the top six this season.
The Europa League is a fitting home for Arsenal and Manchester United and this is the real rub of the issue.
When Mourinho says things like this, it’s usually claimed to be typical deflection to avoid people talking about why defeats. That’s possible but then, in this instance, it’s just as possible that he merely did it to amuse himself or because he was genuinely stung by this first defeat to Wenger that he had to strike back in other more passive-aggressive ways.
Either way, it actually ends up reflecting on his failings more sharply. Put bluntly, why can’t his teams show the same kind of spike and creativity on the pitch as he does in his press conferences?
It was all highly amusing and, in many ways,such a sense of mischief is quite endearing but, for all he talks, he can’t talk around the increasingly serious issue for his side that they have not scored a single goal in matches away to the rest of the top six this season.
That is not because of Europa League commitments, injuries, missed chances, not treating this game so seriously or anything else he uses to dress up the fact his side are likely to finish sixth and behind all of their main rivals in what has genuinely been an underwhelming league season that represents underperformance.
It is down to his negative approach, in a football world that has seen increasingly positive football at the really elite level. This is actually why it is now "impossible" for United to finish top four - because they seem to find it impossible to score a goal away to a rival.
Same old Mourinho, in so many ways, and not all as entertaining as his press conference.
Independent News Service