It was always that dark cloud hanging over the match up. Since the arrival of the bombastic José Mourinho to the Premier League, and during two return spells, Arsène Wenger was just never able to win a league match.
It didn’t help that his arrival saw the heavily financed Chelsea win their first title in 50 years, breaking up the dominance Arsenal and Manchester United had over the league for the past decade. Directly on the heels of The Invincibles, Jose directed Chelsea to the most points by a team in the League (95) while allowing the fewest ever goals (15). It felt like an immediate response to answer.
That season, Arsenal drew Chelsea twice. It got worse later on. Poor results and Didier Drogba fueled the frustrations at Highbury and then The Emirates, as Mourinho’s Chelsea built on their ascendancy in London. Jose added a healthy dose of gossip with his non-stop fiddle playing for the media. Snide insults, arguments, talk of voyeurism (later apologized for in a Christmas card of all places), led to a very acrimonious relationship. It was rare for the two men to shake hands or look each other in the eye. Even at their worse, Wenger had respect for Sir Alex Ferguson.
It go even worse during Mourinho’s second go around, resulting in Arsenal’s heaviest defeat at the hands of Chelsea, who again went on to win the league. And while most games were draws, the losses without a win to answer made it harder to ignore. The biggest pushback ended up having to come from the manager himself:
And when Arsenal did get the better of Mourinho, albeit in the Community Shield, they managed this beauty:
Chelsea’s would soon spiral into the abyss which diminished any hope of Arsenal slaying the dragon that way, but another chance would come.
Yet, something changed when José Mourinho took the fabled (and perhaps cursed by the ghost of SAF) managerial spot and Manchester United. It really wasn’t all about Wenger anymore. Indeed, the war of words died off even though the November meeting ended 1-1, extending the dominant stretch. Whether it be a poor start from Man Utd or the arrivals of Antonio Conte, Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, filling the pond with big fish to focus on, or a sudden maturity in José’s later years. (NAH) Whatever the case, this winter Wenger and Mourinho appear to be burying the hatchets.
Talk of respect, that the rivalry had mellowed and a better relationship going forward dominated the pregame press routine. It was as if a measly four hour drive was enough to make the two miss each other. Or maybe that both teams are out of the top four, take your pick.
But then it happened.
Going into yesterday’s game, Manchester United hadn’t lost in 19 league matches, though 10 were ties, but also coming off a busy week with Europa semis on the horizon. That showed as Arsenal finally took the 3-4-3 formation and used it effectively. They looked like the only team that was going to score, aside from a Rob Holding disaster, but one never really could shake that dark cloud. Some good saves from De Gea and 0-0 felt likely.
Then Granit Xhaka scored off a fortunate deflection and Danny Welbeck popped his old team once more. 2-0, easy as you like. The dark cloud was gone; Wenger finally got his win over Mourinho. A fitting way for a rivalry to die.
“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, they were crying, walking the streets with heads low.
Today they leave waving their scarves. It’s a big club. You think I enjoy a big club like Arsenal not winning trophies? I don’t enjoy.”
José, you cheeky little... have I mentioned you’ve never actually won at the Emirates in the league? Just saying.