LONDON: There is no love lost between Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger. Not even grudging respect. The animosity goes back a long way. It will not be dispelled even though Chelsea deserved the 2-0 victory established them even more firmly at the top of the Premier League and as favourites to reclaim the title.
The genesis of their disaffection trails back to Mourinho’s initial spell at Stamford Bridge when Wenger described their extravagant transfer spending as ‘financial doping.’ Mourinho took vicious revenge last season by describing Wenger as a “serial loser.”
Worse for the Arsenal manager, his 1,000th match was then marked by a 6-0 thrashing at Chelsea which he recalled, ahead of the Gunners’s return, as “a horrendous result.”
Inbetween the tension had been maintained during the summer when Arsenal decided not to activate their option on Cesc Fabregas who returned to the Premier League – slightly to his own surprise – with Chelsea.
Six assists and one goal later and he lined up against Arsenal in a game delayed 15 minutes because of crowd control problems outside the ‘away end’ of the ground after a flare was thrown among arriving Arsenal fans.
The teams thus had two warm-ups and it was Chelsea, not Arsenal, who benefited by taking a 27th-minute lead through a penalty converted by Eden Hazard after he had been tripped by Laurent Koscielny.
That goal also raised temperatures between the benches. Mourinho and Wenger had already had one brief confrontation earlier when Gary Cahill clattered into Alexis Sanchez. Chelsea anger was sustained after keeper Thibaut Courtois had to be substituted after being caught on the side of the head by Alexis Sanchez.
The problem raised by the goal was that, the longer time ran on, the more Arsenal would now have to come out and chase the game. That threatened to play into the hands of a Chelsea side whose preference – even at home – is to play on the counter-attack.
Missing in midfield
Arsenal’s attack remained becalmed, even heading into the second half. Mesut Ozil, playing wide when he might have been switched into the centre of midfield to upset Chelsea’s marking, was again a peripheral figure after impressing against Galatasaray in midweek. He and Santi Cazorla were largely muscled out of the game.
At least Ozil gets to play consistently which is more than can be said for Lukas Podolski who was handed the dead-end role of late substitute for Sanchez in a team already bound for defeat. If Podolski wants regular football then he will need to head for the exit in January unless Wenger has a technical and tactical change of heart – which is highly unlikely.
Arsenal might have had a penalty for hands and Callum Chambers thundered one long-range shot over Petr Cech’s crossbar but th decisive blow was struck by Diego Costa at the other end, his ninth goal of his debut season in England.
To rub salt into Arsenal’s wounds, the superb through pass which split them open was delivered perfectly by Fabregas: another crucial assist. At the final whistle Chelsea fans chanted: “Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay!”
There was no handshake between the managers.
Later Mourinho said: “It was a difficult game. They started better than us but Eden gave us the penalty and the first goal and the game could have finished there if it had been a red card.
“Arsenal could have finished with eight men, Koscielny could have a straight red, a double yellow for Chambers in the first half and a red for Danny Welbeck.”
On his touchline clash with Wenger, Mourinho said: “There are two technical areas not one. He was coming to my space. If it was to give an instruction to a player I say OK, but to press the referee to give a red card to an opponent is not fair. I don’t think that is the image of Arsene Wenger as an advocate of fair play.”