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

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
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

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

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk