Belfast Telegraph

Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger come face to face again as Premier giants do battle

By Sam Wallace

After one last skirmish tomorrow, the battle between Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger will be decided for another year, a preface, no doubt, to one last argument over their competing ideologies until the bell rings on the season for the final time on May 24.

The Premier League title race is almost over but it is just getting warm between Mourinho and Wenger.

Shots have been fired, although they will be nothing to the righteous indignation that could consume Mourinho if his club are crowned champions in the course of the next five days.

Equally, if Wenger scores his first win tomorrow over his counterpart in 13 games, then he knows that even the gentlest prod could start the proverbial riot.

The mutual contempt is as strong as it has ever been in these last few weeks of the season, when Arsenal, with 24 wins from their last 29 games, have left their run too late once again.

It is just that so far it has not manifested itself in one of those colossal attacks from Mourinho, one of those "voyeur" or "specialist in failure" moments that end up printed on a new line of merchandise by the unofficial T-shirt vendors down on Fulham Broadway.

But it looms, nevertheless. In his defence of Manuel Pellegrini last week, Mourinho mentioned how, in contrast to the Manchester City manager's struggles, "some managers cannot win and life goes on".

Wenger inquired after Chelsea's result at his post-match press conference last weekend after the Gunners' FA Cup semi-final victory over Reading and, on being told the news, replied "1-0? The usual!".

On Thursday he was back on the subject of Mourinho's Chelsea and trying his hardest to sound like he was being polite.

Asked whether he felt that Mourinho was the great pragmatist, Wenger replied: "Our job is to win football games and that's what they've done in recent games. Is there anything to see in that? I leave you to assess that.

"But what's important for me is to do what it takes to win the game [against Chelsea]. It's easy to defend, if we have to defend then we will defend."

When that line about it being "easy to defend" was put to Mourinho yesterday, he finally cracked.

He had tried his best - laughed his way through a question about being pushed by the Arsenal manager, in the literal sense - but his threshold tolerance for Wengerisms is low.

"It [defending] is not easy," Mourinho said, "not easy. If it was easy, he wouldn't lose 3-1 at home to Monaco. If he defends well he draws 0-0 against Monaco and wins in Monte Carlo. It's not easy to defend."

It is along these fault-lines that one might expect the argument to open over the next few weeks, especially if Wenger's side delay the eighth league title of Mourinho's career with a victory at the Emirates tomorrow.

On one side, Mourinho's shock troops whom even he had to concede had adopted the "strategic" approach over the "artistic" in recent weeks; on the other Wenger, with an FA Cup final to play for, and the potential to pick holes in Chelsea's impending triumph in the league.

Mourinho was at pains to explain what had caused him to scale down the ambitions of his team after the turn of the year, as if readying himself for the debate over the quality of the league season which has grown as the title race has wound down.

"Injuries and suspensions," he said by some way of explanation. "We lost progressively the balance of our team.

"In the first part of the season... everyone knew the Chelsea team.

"From a certain moment: Diego Costa injured, [then] suspended; [Nemanja] Matic suspended, [then] injured; [Cesc] Fabregas injured, suspended; Diego injured again," he added.

"When you lose crucial pieces, the team loses certain qualities.

"I hope to start next season the way we started this. This is the way we want to play, the way we try to play, and the team we enjoy more.

"But it's very enjoyable to deal with a difficult moment, to deal in a strategic way.

For the players to have a great feeling that this is very important."

Asked whether there would be a clash of styles between the two teams, Wenger replied that, "Maybe you will discover the Chelsea team are completely offensive and we are defensive for 90 minutes."

It was meant as a joke, except that Mourinho finds it very hard to laugh along when it comes to the Arsenal manager, unless it is one of those mirthless snorts of disbelief.

"He's not my rival. I don't feel that. He's a manager of a big club in the same city where I work and live," Mourinho said of Wenger.

And for the first and only time that afternoon you knew that not even he believed what he was saying.

Belfast Telegraph


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