Manchester United vs Arsenal: Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, football's bitter rivalry, in seven episodes

The history between the United and Arsenal managers reads like the script of a soap opera, but it represents a rivalry triggered by spite and professional jealously

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The Independent Football

They are older men, now, aged 55 and 67, as they await the latest chapter in their inveterate rivalry – and perhaps yesterday’s men, too - yet the bitterness will be as internecine as ever at Old Trafford as Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United face Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.

Mourinho’s pre-match press conference on Friday hinted at why, when he observed that he did not command the respect which seems Wenger's divine right. Mourinho is, in so many ways, the malevolent force in management – sniping, quarrelling, dissembling - and is abhorred for it, while Wenger retains his command possession as the supposed supreme intellectual force in the English game.

In his footballing encounters with Wenger across the course of five and a half seasons, however, Mourinho he has done nothing but outperform him. In his five full seasons at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea always finished ahead of Arsenal - and by an average of 13.2 points.

Wenger’s solitary victory in 15 clashes throughout that time came in an encounter the Football Association concede is not classed as a competitive fixture: the 2015 Community Shield. That is where Wenger’s bitterness resides. He has never known how to beat this opponent.

There are newer, fresher faces in the Premier League now but the collision of the old war horses, riven with spite and professional jealousy, still fascinates like none other.

First blood – Sunday December 12, 2004

Wenger was Mourinho’s age now when he first clashed with the 41-year-old and the deadlock - a 2-2 draw at Highbury, which kept Chelsea top and Arsenal third – obscured the early hints of the visceral antipathy would develop. Mourinho was incandescent about a perceived injustice: referee Graham Poll’s decision to instigate the new FA Rule 13, allowing a player – Thierry Henry - to take a quick free kick if the opposition was not 10 yards back. Eidur Gudjohnsen saw what was about to happen and frantically screamed a warning to Petr Cech, who was still on his left hand post organising the wall when Henry duly lollipopped the ball into the empty net.

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Thierry Henry's quick-thinking saw Arsenal and Chelsea draw 2-2 in Wenger and Mourinho's first meeting (Getty)

“To say I'm unhappy would be a nice word. I can't say the word I hear in my head or feel in my heart, I just can't say it,” said Mourinho, whose post-handshake for Wenger was brief before he marching down the tunnel in a black leather jacket. Wenger’s response resided somewhere between a lack of sympathy and supreme pomposity. “Their goalkeeper should know the rules,” he said. “If you stand by the post, you cannot defend a free-kick. The referee told Thierry he could have a go, so he did.” Chelsea would win the league by 12 points from Arsenal.

The 500th Game - Saturday August 21, 2005

This landmark for Wenger is overshadowed by extraordinary events in his 1,000th match at Arsenal’s helm but the second game of the 2005/06 league season underlined the increasing sense that he had the beating of Wenger. Ashley Cole’s courtship with Chelsea seemed to have made him subdued, skipper Thierry Henry was peripheral and Chelsea simply had more quality – Didier Drogba, Michael Essien on debut and Shaun Wright-Phillips, as they won 1-0.

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Didier Drogba managed to score the winner off his shin to secure Chelsea's first win over Arsenal in 10 years (Getty)

The winner came off Drogba’s shin and it was widely seen as Chelsea “winning ugly” but it was the side’s first win over Arsenal in the league since 1995. Arsenal finished the season 4th, 24 points behind champions Chelsea.

Voyeur-gate - Saturday October 29, 2005

By now, Wenger was regularly denigrating Mourinho’s Chelsea as classless arrivistes. Roman Abramovich was buying success and “once a sport encourages teams who refuse to take the initiative, the sport is in danger.”  He’d also said that Chelsea had lost a “little belief” when drawing at Everton and being knocked out of the League Cup by Charlton. But no-one foresaw quite such toxicity in response, six days after the cup tie. Two journalists, David Woods of the Daily Star and Leo Spall of the London Evening Standard, were standing in the tight little tunnel near the Stamford Bridge changing rooms after Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Blackburn Rovers, looking for material for the following Monday’s papers. Woods mentioned Wenger’s name and one of Mourinho’s most legendary pieces of invective came spewing out.

Manchester United v Arsenal in numbers

“I think he is one of those people who is a voyeur,” he said of Wenger. “He 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… He is always speaking about other families. It is a sickness. Being a voyeur is a sickness." This was self-evidently pre-planned because the journalists did not even need to put supplementary questions in The Star’s headline the following Monday: ‘Weng’s a real sicko.’

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Mourinho's accusation that Wenger was a 'voyuer' was one of his most controversial statements (Getty)

The implication of some form of perversion was vile, and such was Wenger’s fury that he could hardly speak when he next appeared before reporters. That briefing took a strange turn when The Guardian’s Matt Scott asked Wenger three times whether he did, actually own a telescope. Eventually, he summoned words. “When you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid sometimes and not intelligent.”

Christmas card affair– December 2005

It started out as an attempt to defuse things and ended up as a diplomatic incident. Mourinho sent cards to all the Premier League managers that Christmas but wrote a personal message on Wenger’s to apologise for the “voyeur” comment. It is understood the message was:  “The words I used about you were not intended to harm you personally. I hope you can believe that. If they did harm you I am sorry, but that was never my intention."

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Mourinho refused to shake hands with Wenger after his Christmas card gesture was questioned (Getty)

But a member of Arsenal’s staff tried to establish if the card was genuine, Mourinho was informed of this by Chelsea staff and he scented a discourtesy – refusing to shake Wenger’s hand when the clubs met just on December 18. Mourinho had been waiting to offer a hand at Highbury’s home dug-out. Chelsea won 2-0.

The temporary thaw - 2007

Relations became tolerable when the two were not facing each other, after Mourinho’s departure from Chelsea in 2007. They met at Uefa coaching meetings where there was civility and Mourinho even claimed they’d had dinner on one occasion. “He’s a nice guy,”Mourinho said of Wenger when he arrived at Stamford Bridge for a second time. “When you are not playing against each other it is easier to get to know people, go deeper, it is easy to speak about football.” Wenger did not know that senior executive staff at Chelsea had persuaded Mourinho that his image would be enhanced by avoiding a “cycle of negativity” in which an opposition manager (typically Wenger) says something negative, journalists put it to Mourinho and Mourinho hit back. It was calculated civility.

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2007 saw the bickering between the two managers ease, but it didn't last long (Getty)

The 1,000th game - February 14, 2014

The détente lasted precisely eight months and Mourinho will say Wenger unilaterally ended it, by claiming managers – by implying that he and Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers had a “fear to fail” by playing down their title chances. Mourinho responded by pronouncing Wenger a “specialist in failure.” There were hallmarks of ‘voyeurgate’ in the instantaneous way he launched a Cobham press conference with venom, to say this.

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Wenger's 1,000th game ended in a humiliating 6-0 defeat (Getty)

It was the prelude to his side’s 6-0 evisceration of Arsenal in Wenger’s 1,000th game. Beyond the cameras, Rui Faria’s wild touchline celebrations and a private belief that Mourinho had expressed delight in the personal humiliation of the ruined landmark were what Wenger took away. Wenger wanted to get into the press conference room rapidly but was left pacing the tunnel outside while Mourinho held court. In the end, he claimed his bus driver could wait no longer and left the stadium before Mourinho had finished.

Smash and Grab – Saturday September 19, 2015

Finally, it seemed that Wenger must have the beating of his bête noire. Chelsea were fourth bottom of the Premier League and Arsenal four off the top when the Frenchman brought his players to west London and the team started well in autumnal sunshine. But Diego Costa insinuated his way into Gabriel Paulista's head and provoked him into being sent off.

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Gabriel Paulista was sent-off in September 2015 after clashing with Diego Costa (Getty)

Santi Cazorla was also dismissed, for bringing down Cesc Fabregas. Wenger raged against Costa. Mourinho smirked when journalists also questioned the forward’s conduct. “You must have played badminton at school,” he replied. 2-0 for Chelsea.

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