Arsene Wenger takes swipe at Jose Mourinho over his playing style
Arsène Wenger has challenged Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United to join Arsenal in making Saturday’s lunchtime clash a global showcase for the Premier League and warned that people will turn away from the English game if expectations are not met.
It follows the drab goalless draw between Mourinho’s United and Liverpool earlier this season and, while Wenger was not specific in mentioning the tactics of his nemesis, the wider subtext was obvious.
Wenger’s mantra has always been that football is about delivering quality entertainment as well as results but he has a terrible head-to-head record against Mourinho, with his team failing to register even a single goal in their six most recent Premier League matches.
“Today, the audience is demanding,” said Wenger, the Arsenal manager. “Even if it is Manchester United v Arsenal, if the game is not good after 20 minutes they move somewhere else. That has changed. The audience test the game and the quality of what they see and, if it is not good, they go somewhere else because they have five games a day. Sky pays a lot of money for football but it is not [about] the controversy before the game.
“W e have seen a few games which didn’t respond completely to the expectation level. Before a big game like this, it is ‘Mourinho v Wenger’ but it is not that which is most important. It will be watched all over the world and, for the reputation of the Premier League, it’s important that the quality of the game is good.”
There is certainly competition across Europe today. In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich will face Borussia Dortmund while, in La Liga, it also is the Madrid derby between Atlético and Real. The 12.30pm kick-off, however, will ensure that the United v Arsenal match is screened at some point between breakfast and night-time in virtually all of the 190 countries which have Premier League television rights. The global “household reach” is put at 901 million.
Although Wenger’s remarks are consistent with his philosophy they could also be seen as a subtle dig at Mourinho. The most obvious example of a game this season that disappointed the neutral was when Mourinho’s United successfully negated Liverpool.
In his last two Premier League matches at the Emirates, Mourinho has also overseen goalless draws but responded spikily at Arsenal fans chanting that his team are “boring”. Mourinho said “boring is waiting 10 years to win a title”. When Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 under Mourinho in April 2015, Wenger responded to that result with a knowing smile. “The usual,” he said.
Although Arsenal are six points ahead of United, they have not won in the Premier League at Old Trafford for more than 10 years and Wenger has never beaten Mourinho in league competition.
Wenger also attempted to defend his wider record – which includes just one solitary win in last year’s Community Shield – against Mourinho and United. “We didn’t lose always,” he said. “We have beaten them and there were many draws as well. We have beaten Man United 3-0 at home last season. Leicester won the league last year; we won at Leicester. And where did Man United finish last year? We have lost one [league] away game in 2016.”
Wenger did confirm the impression he has virtually no relationship with Mourinho but denied ever being distracted by his touchline presence or pre-match remarks. “I don’t know him very well,” he said. “In life, everybody is responsible for what he says, and what he does. I would have loved to have a life without any mistakes. But unfortunately I am not even sure Jesus did that.”
The big selection decision for Wenger is whether to start with Alexis Sánchez leading his attack. Sánchez played for Chile on Tuesday night despite suffering a small hamstring strain the previous week and completed a full training session on Friday. Wenger is tempted to name him as a substitute and start with Olivier Giroud. Carl Jenkinson is likely to replace the injured Héctor Bellerín at right-back.