Arsene Wenger: Now is the time to finally beat Jose Mourinho

The Arsenal manager feels his team are back on a level playing field as he looks for that first win against the Portuguese boss when Chelsea visit The Emirates

It was the one moment on Friday when Arsène Wenger's face turned serious, when he wasn't preaching the same positivity from last weekend's 6-3 defeat to Manchester City.

The Arsenal manager was inevitably asked about his relationship with Jose Mourinho, and some of the insults the Portuguese inflicted during his first stint at Chelsea between 2004 and 2007.

"I do not want to speak too much about that," Wenger dignifiedly responded. "What is important on the day of the game is the players, and that the managers sit back."

The problem with letting events on the pitch speak for themselves is that they didn't make the best reading for Arsenal during that period either. Mourinho is one of very few managers to enjoy a superior record against the Arsenal boss. In fact, he has never lost to Wenger. Over nine meetings, Mourinho has drawn four and won five, with the most recent victory coming in October's Capital One Cup tie.

If that 2-0 Chelsea win was skewed by weakened teams, however, Wenger feels their previous meetings were similarly swung by external issues. Most notably, expenditure.

"Let's not forget that when we won the championship in 2004, Chelsea finished second and we had an unbeaten season. At the time, [Claudio] Ranieri was manager. Mourinho came in and they bought [Didier] Drogba, [Ricardo] Carvalho and they were even stronger.

"I think it is more of a level playing field. We had restricted financial resources for years [after the construction of the Emirates Stadium]. Everybody knows that. It's simple."

That does seem a rather simplistic reading of the record. Around the same period, Alex Ferguson started to develop an edge over Arsenal too, and he is the only other high-profile Premier League manager to enjoy a better head-to-head against Wenger. Ferguson won nine of their last 12 duels, revealing why in his recent autobiography.

"In later years, we learned more about Arsène's thinking," Ferguson explained. "Arsène had a template of how he sees his players and the way they play. We didn't need to win the ball against Arsenal, we needed to intercept it... then we counter-attacked quickly."

In other words, Wenger will never radically alter his possession-based attacking game, and places an awful lot of trust in his players to out-football any opposition. That faith is a cornerstone of his philosophy. Ferguson did add that Wenger teams tend to be more conservative away from home, but it's not like he will ever do anything truly left-field to make sure of victory. Mourinho almost always will.

The Chelsea manager seems more prepared to try something different if his team are below their best. Wenger is more of a slave to how slickly or sluggishly his side are playing, something the Arsenal manager effectively acknowledged on Friday. "I always built my teams in the style I want to play," he said.

This was arguably confirmed by the Manchester City match. Despite Manuel Pellegrini's team possessing such a magnificent scoring record and looking the best attack in the League, Wenger decided to go toe-to-toe with them. In that context, the ludicrous 6-3 outcome was somewhat inevitable.

That very result lends an even more interesting context to tomorrow's match at the Emirates. For one, there's the manner it further congested the top of the table. Secondly, the fact it's still so difficult to tell which team are best equipped to stay at the top by the end of the season.

Chelsea remain so close to the summit despite never convincing for a full 90 minutes, but that poses the question of whether it is Mourinho instilling his resolve until a new side clicks, or the manager's durability merely delaying an incomplete squad slipping away. This will further reveal their true standard.

Arsenal have been in more consistent form and have enjoyed their finest football since that 2003-04 team, but a run of three difficult fixtures without a win has raised doubts over whether that is something of an illusion. This is the perfect game to prove otherwise.

Because, thirdly, it's difficult to determine who has the upper hand right now. Arsenal need to arrest this run, but while they have enjoyed a welcome nine-day break, Chelsea endured another negative with League Cup elimination to Sunderland.

It is an inconsistency you would not normally associate with Mourinho. The Portuguese may need to offer a little more than pragmatism tomorrow; Wenger insists his players are "focused to respond".

Either way, it feels like this giddy title race is starting to get serious.

Mourinho – Wenger's nemesis

The Chelsea manager remains undefeated in nine meetings between the two, since their first encounter when Arsenal were defending champions.

Arsenal 2 Chelsea 2 Premier League, December 12, 2004

Chelsea 0 Arsenal 0 Premier League, April 20, 2005

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 2 Community Shield, August 7, 2005

Chelsea 1 Arsenal 0 Premier League, August 21, 2005

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 2 Premier League, December 18, 2005

Chelsea 1 Arsenal 1 Premier League, December 10, 2006

Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1 League Cup final, February 25, 2007

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 1 Premier League, May 6, 2007

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 2 League Cup, October 29, 2013

Arsenal v Chelsea is on Sky Sports 1 tomorrow, ko 8pm

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss