Compared to the ever-humble demeanour of Le Professeur, Mourinho is a dastardly, arrogant and Machiavellian figure; he’s described Wenger as a ‘voyeur’ and ‘a specialist in failure’ in the past, and in truth, Wenger’s eruption of angst could have happened at any point over the last decade. The motivation to do so, amid Mourinho’s persistent public berating of his Arsenal counter-part, has always been there.
But when push comes to shove, as it did on the Stamford Bridge touchline at the weekend, Wenger’s hatred for Mourinho is sourced in his own failings as Arsenal manager. Since the Portuguese first turned up in the Premier League in 2004, it’s as if the Gunners have been frozen in time.
To take you back ten years, Arsenal had just completed perhaps the greatest achievement of any club in Premier League history – their vintage ‘Invincibles’ season, where the north London side went undefeated to claim the English crown.
The Gunners, through their seemingly unstoppable brand of expansive football, looked set to become the Premier League’s new powerhouses. But that all changed in an instance, or rather, within the duration of a single press conference, as Mourinho professed himself to the world as the ‘Special One’ upon being officially appointed Chelsea manager.
His Blues side, funded by fortunes Wenger could only dream of and created around a more attritional, conservative style of play, quickly tore the Premier League, and Arsenal, apart. They may not have been designed specifically to halt the Gunners’ rise, but that’s what Chelsea did and Mourinho has continued to do to an emphatic extent.
During 2004/05, Chelsea’s first ever Premier League title-winning campaign, the Gunners were pushed back to second place, twelve points behind their London rivals. And in the nine seasons since, Arsenal have been trapped between fourth and third.
In Mourinho, Wenger found his nemesis – by definition, an unbeatable opponent. And true to the word, the Frenchman is yet to get the better of the Portuguese in a competitive fixture, a run that now extends to twelve matches. If the two were in a league table of their own, Wenger would have five points, Mourinho would have 26.
Mind-games, a dark art Mourinho unquestionably masters in, have certainly played their part. But in truth, perhaps the greatest counter-attacking manager in world football, the Chelsea gaffer’s philosophy is what Wenger has continually failed to overcome. It perplexed him back in 2004 and a decade later, the Arsenal manager is still searching for a formula, a way for his ideology to outdo Mourinho’s.
In that time, Arsenal haven’t progressed or regressed. Their Champions League status never in doubt but their title credentials eternally limited by Premier League sides of all varieties mimicking the pragmatic performances of Mourinho’s mantra, exposing Arsenal’s fatal flaws. It’s as if the Chelsea manager worked out the cheat codes to defeat Arsenal, before printing them out for every manager in England.
Meanwhile, the Gunners first team has become a dystopian version of its former self; overloaded with technical attacking players, malnourished in physicality and with the exception of the last two summers, dependent on cheap, young players to prove good value for money.
Just as Wenger had done in the mid-to-late 1990s, Mourinho changed much about the Premier League. His inclusion of Claude Makelele in holding midfield completely transformed views on formations and philosophy – previously, virtually every Premier League club worked within the realms of 4-4-2 – and the likes of Michael Essien, Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba brought a whole new level of physicality to the top flight.
In a nutshell, he instigated an enormous change in how English sides organise themselves without possession and on the whole, the Premier League has embraced his principles. Only within the last few years has scoring goals over defensive stability truly come back into fashion; in 2010 Chelsea bagged the most goals scored in a single season (103), in 2012 the title was decided between Manchester City and Manchester United on goal difference alone, and last term, two clubs – City and Liverpool – reached triple figures in the league.
Yet Wenger has continually shied away from them. Within three years of Arsenal’s last Premier League title, he’d sold the club’s most physical midfielders – Giberto Silva, Patrick Vieira and Edu – and with the exception of Alex Song, the Gunners haven’t had a true athlete in the middle of the park since. Resultantly, Arsenal have only become more susceptible to counter-attacking football, more subliminally subservient to Mourinho’s will.
In fairness, we are likely witnessing what will be remembered as an exceptional Chelsea side – one of the least disputed champions in Premier League history. They’re already five points ahead of the pack at the league’s summit and possess the quality and depth to keep their noses in front until May.
But Wenger’s harrowing record against Chelsea epitomises Arsenal’s dormancy, their eternally purgatorial state, over the last decade. The Gunners boss is still clinging onto a philosophy that was ripped apart by Mourinho back in 2004 and the frustrations of its inevitable failing showed on Sunday afternoon.
Last season’s FA Cup triumph at Wembley convinced many Arsene Wenger was still the right man to take Arsenal forward. But if he’ll always be undone by Mourinho, with the proviso that the Chelsea gaffer doesn’t make an abrupt departure in the foreseeable future, will Arsenal ever win another Premier League title under the Frenchman?
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