Mourinho has long been a curse Wenger has failed to shake. Even when the Portuguese was sacked last December after a dismal first couple of months with champions Chelsea, the Blues travelled to the Emirates that following January and managed a 1-0 win.
Even though it was Guus Hiddink standing in the Chelsea technical area, it still felt to me that as the final whistle blew, signalling a brilliant victory over an Arsenal side who had been in very good form, that the ghost of Mourinho somehow remained, spooking Wenger, aiming at the Frenchman one final ha-ha.
Aside from the 2-0 victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield (a half-friendly, half-competitive match if ever there was one) at the beginning of the 15/16 season, Wenger has never managed to beat a Mourinho side. The two come face to face once again this Saturday afternoon, though it will be before the eyes of the Old Trafford crowd where the two will share an inevitably curt pre-match handshake.
Arsenal are unbeaten in the league since the opening day and come into this game with a six-point advantage over their opponents and things are looking very positive indeed. Walcott finally looks as though he’s ready to add more goals to his game. Koscienly and Mustafi in defence have been utterly solid as a centre-back pairing. Mesut Ozil is reminding everybody just how good he is, and Sanchez, Arsenal’s top scorer this season, has been in scintillating form.
But while things might look positive to the outsider, and while all the facts and current form would point to an Arsenal victory, any Gunners fan would be quick to point out the dangerously similar circumstances this bears to when they came to Old Trafford last season and suffered a season-defining loss.
For one, it will yet again be a severely weakened Man United side they’ll face. Ibrahimovic, Smalling, Bailly, Rooney and Valencia are all out, with Luke Shaw and Fellaini being serious doubts. Ibra’s absence through suspension is the most significant I believe, as it will surely give Rashford the chance to start up front, a position which has eluded him since Mourinho’s arrival. He’s been utilised predominantly as a wide man, a position which renders his incredibly adept striker’s instinct and eye for goal useless.
And as Arsenal fans will recall, it was the teenager’s double in this fixture last season which helped United to an unforeseen victory, leaving any glimmer of hope that Wenger had held of claiming the title in the dirt. With Rashford also providing the assist for Herrera to bang in a third, it was the perfect performance from a lad making just his second appearance for United.
So even against a Man United side missing most of their first team players, Wenger and all Arsenal fans certainly won’t be taking anything for granted.
But looking back on United’s recent form under new manager Mourinho, all those who are Arsenal-affiliated probably won’t be shaking in their boots either.
It’s just two league wins in eight games for United, with perennial pot-stirrer Jose Mourinho receiving just the two fines so far, both for basically running his mouth and bringing to life the fears of many United fans when he was announced as Van Gaal’s replacement.
Mourinho’s demeanor has been frequently commented upon since taking charge. In his interviews he’s seemed rather flat, perhaps dare I say even a little disinterested, certainly not as animated as we usually imagine him being when in front of the cameras.
It was only recently when he revealed he was living out of a hotel room away from his family that his subdued nature seemed a little more contextualised. Towards the end of October he described his life in Manchester as a “disaster”, which, to anyone not aware of his current living situation, could easily be misconstrued.
What would no doubt put a large grin back on Mourihno’s face would be to draw another notch in his win column against Wenger.
I honestly don’t know what to expect in this match. To allow myself a cliché, it could go either way. It could be 0-0, could be 5-3. That’s the beauty of the big games, the big clashes between the major teams. They’re so damn hard to predict.
A win for Wenger would put Arsenal top of the pack. A win for Mourinho would put United back in the mix after a poor run of form.
A draw I feel would disappoint both managers. Three points is the prize.
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Written by David Newman.