Manchester United vs Arsenal is a fixture that rarely fails to amaze. Whether it be ferocious tackles, a plethora of goals, the passion on show or just the context that surrounds it, this is a clash that lives up to expectation, more often than not.
Saturday lunchtime should be no different for several reasons. Manchester United go into the game aiming to build on a win at Swansea that arrested a four-game winless run – a slide that has made Jose Mourinho’s men slip eight points from the top.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are faring better with 24 points from eleven games, losing just once this season.
The fact that both teams are competing for the title would make the fixture exciting enough. However, there is an extra spice to this match: the rivalry between Mourinho and Arsene Wenger. It is a feud that has developed for several years and one that may continue to boil once more on Saturday.
And while Mourinho has generally had the better of Wenger on the pitch – The United boss has never lost a league match against his counterpart – the war of words between the two has been a much more back and forth affair.
The incident that lit the flames
The animosity started back in 2005.
After Wenger voiced his disappointment over Chelsea’s style of play, a confused Mourinho – replied, “Wenger has a real problem with us and I think he is what you call in England a voyeur. He is someone who likes to watch other people. There are some guys who, when they are at home, have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. Wenger must be one of them – it is a sickness. He speaks, speaks, speaks about Chelsea.”
Wenger, who seemed to take offense to the Portuguese man’s reply, returned with a damning statement of his own. “He’s out of order, disconnected with reality and disrespectful,” said the Arsenal boss. “When you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid sometimes and not more intelligent.”
Acrimony goes up a notch
Since that altercation, the famous feud between two of the biggest names in football has continued.
A few years later, upon the return of Mourinho to Stamford Bridge for the second time, the acrimony increased once again. Wenger, who narrowly missed out on signing Juan Mata in 2011, was disappointed in Mourinho for selling a player of such class as Mata.
In addition, he complained that Chelsea had an unfair advantage by selling the Spaniard to Man United, which would change the race for the title given that the Blues had already played United twice and Arsenal were yet to play the Red Devils for the second time.
“Chelsea have already played twice against Man United, they could have sold him last week,” said a disgruntled Wenger. “I think if you want to respect the fairness for everybody, this should not happen.”
The response was not the most amicable.
“Wenger complaining is normal because he always does,” said Mourinho. “Normally he should be happy that Chelsea sold a player like Juan Mata, but this is a little bit his nature. I think what is not fair is that his team always has the best days to play.”
If that dispute was a sign of things to come, then February 2014 was when the rivalry started to boil over. After Wenger said that some of his fellow title rivals had a ‘fear to fail’, Mourinho responded controversially.
“Am I afraid of failure? He is a specialist in failure. I’m not,” said the three-time Premier League winner. “So if one supposes he’s right and I’m afraid of failure, it’s because I don’t fail many times. So maybe he’s right. I’m not used to failing. But the reality is he’s a specialist because, eight years without a piece of silverware, that’s failure.”
Mourinho’s reply was perhaps the catalyst behind a physical confrontation between the pair at Stamford Bridge in October 2014. After an argument on the touchline, Wenger proceeded to push Mourinho, leading to officials having to get involved.
And after Wenger refused to shake Mourinho’s hand following the former’s Community Shield victory in 2015 – his first competitive victory over Mourinho – another feisty encounter between Chelsea and Arsenal took place in September that year.
The controversial sending off of Arsenal’s Gabriel, combined with Diego Costa’s antics going relatively unpunished, prompted heavy criticism of referee Mike Dean from Wenger, to which Mourinho once more replied with another jibe at his rival.
“In this country, only one manager is not under pressure. Every other manager is. We cannot be below par. We have to meet the objectives. There is one outside that list, but good for him. You know who. The one who can speak about the referees before the game, after the game, can push people in the technical area, can moan, can cry in the morning in the afternoon, nothing happens. He can not achieve, keep his job, still be the king. In the rule book it says some managers can speak about the referees before and after games. Some others cannot. I am in the list of those who are punished if they speak about the referees.”
Mourinho subsequently departed Stamford Bridge not long after, as his side’s defence of their title waned significantly.
Yet the 53-year-old was to return, this time at Man United, as the verbal battle commenced once again.
After being asked whether or not his poor 2015/16 had damaged his reputation, Mourinho continued his myriad of jibes at Wenger. “There are some managers, the last time they won a title was 10 years ago, the last time I won was a year ago. If I have something to prove, imagine the others! To finish 4th is not the aim.”
However, perhaps Mourinho’s most contentious statement yet was, in fact, his most recent.
In a biography of the former Chelsea boss, Mourinho was quoted as saying, “I’ll break his (Wenger) face.” This followed Wenger’s comments about Juan Mata back in 2014, which clearly irked Mourinho.
It prompted a hostile reaction from fans and pundits.
And so the rivalry continues on Saturday.
The fixture itself provides much excitement, yet the war of words between Mourinho and Wenger that has built up over the years adds the competitive edge that few games will match this season.
The pair lock horns again and it will be compelling viewing.
Written by Sean Wilson
Follow Sean on Twitter @WilsonFC2012
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