Wednesday 21 March 2018

Players, not manager, altered London power base - Wenger

Diego Costa has been a thorn in the side of Arsenal both in terms of goals and incidents which have seen Arsenal players sent off (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Diego Costa has been a thorn in the side of Arsenal both in terms of goals and incidents which have seen Arsenal players sent off (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Jeremy Wilson

Arsene Wenger has dismissed the suggestion that Chelsea's recent dominance over Arsenal was down to Jose Mourinho and instead claimed that the strength of their players was decisive.

Mourinho was alleged in a new book to have told the author Rob Beasley he would one day "break" Wenger's face but, while adamant yesterday that he was never bothered by any personal animosity, the Arsenal manager did noticeably downplay his rival's on-field influence. "I haven't read the book and I certainly won't read it," said Wenger. "I'm not in a destructive mode, ever. I'm more constructive."

When it was put to him that the balance of power shifted following the arrival of Mourinho in 2004, Wenger said: "They had strong teams. They had top teams. When they started to beat us they had Robben, Drogba, Lampard, Terry. Exceptional players. It's always down to the quality of the players.


They were physically strong, stronger than us, yes. They had Essien, Ashley Cole who joined them, and a young Petr Cech."

The matches between Chelsea and Arsenal, however, were especially one-sided when Mourinho was in the dugout. Wenger's only win was in the Community Shield last year, with eight defeats and six draws in the other matches.

Antonio Conte will be the 12th Chelsea manager Wenger has faced and he is adamant that Arsenal are now in a position where they can compete. "For me it was always just a big game and an important game and the personal rivalry that you suggest existed stronger before was never, in my head, a concern," said Wenger. "Chelsea in the last 10 years had very, very strong teams. Before that period, we were always beating them, after they were always the stronger team for a few years. Now, it looks like it's a new era where it's a bit more balanced again and we feel we are progressing at the moment so we have a good opportunity to grab and to change what I call 'the inconvenient facts' of the recent years."

Wenger also suggested that he will give his side of the often bitter rivalry with Mourinho when he retires from management. "I have no personal problem with anybody, I respect everybody in our game and I don't feel I comment a lot on other teams," he said. "Sometimes I just say what I think, but that is part of the way I am. I will maybe make a book one day but I am not ready for that yet."

Wenger also admitted that he would have rivalled Chelsea for the £32m signing of Diego Costa in 2014 if he had known about the striker's availability and has warned his Arsenal players that they must be "cold-blooded" today amid any provocation.

In only three Premier League games against Arsenal, Costa has already scored two goals and Wenger also felt that the outcome of his team's two defeats last season were decided by how Gabriel and Per Mertesacker were sent off after first-half clashes with the 27-year-old.

There is a theory that Costa's influence would be diluted without his on-field aggression but Wenger claimed last night that his threat has increased this season with a calmer approach.

"He looks since the start of the season to have cleaned up his act, that he behaves more focused on the game and that makes him more dangerous," said Wenger, who rejected the notion that Costa risked losing an edge.

"You want full commitment. Commitment is different from this kind of overreactions. He is a fighter and you respect that." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Arsenal v Chelsea, Live, BT Sport 1, 5.30pm

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