And so it begins again. After six months of ceasefire, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have resumed verbal hostilities in the most robust fashion. Wenger suggested at a press conference that Mourinho’s continued insistence that his team was not in the title race was born of "a fear of failure."
It was the verbal equivalent of flapping a red cloak in the direction of a particularly stroppy bull. Or approaching an angry looking Rottweiler with a sharp stick. Or telling Piers Morgan on Twitter that you were delighted to see him being reeled into the phone hacking inquiry. With the blue touchpaper duly lit, Mourinho exploded. He walked into his press conference ahead of his team's FA Cup tie with Manchester City already clearly inflamed.
"He is a specialist in failure. I'm not," he said. "So if supposing he's right and I'm afraid of failure, it's because I don't fail many times. So maybe he's right. I'm not used to failing. But the reality is he's a specialist because, eight years without a piece of silverware, that's failure. If I did that in Chelsea I'd leave and not come back."
He was not finished there. More than aware that his remarks were, even as he said them, being tweeted and transmitted around the world, Mourinho revisited an analysis of his rival manager that he had first made back in 2005.
"He loves to look at this football club," he said of Wenger. "I thought between 2007 and 2013 was enough time for him to forget this. But it looks like he always likes to look at this. Am I afraid of failure? What is that? I believe at the end of the day I'll be [represented as] the impolite guy, the one who's aggressive in his words. But of course not: he is saying we're not candidates because we're afraid of failure. Failure of what? Not winning a title this year? Or in two years? I have a lot of respect for him. But failure is not winning a title in seven or eight years. That's failure. Am I aggressive in my words? I don't know."
Back in 2006 there was no doubt about the aggression of his words. Back then Mourinho called his London rival a "voyeur," such was his apparent unhealthy obsession with Chelsea. The Portuguese now regrets that use of language. But the inference that Wenger maintains more than a passing interest in all things blue remains. Mourinho thinks the Frenchman cannot help but stare.
It seems unlikely. If Wenger is obsessed – and even his mother would be pushed to deny such an analysis of her son – it is by Arsenal. Finding a way to end the trophy drought has been the principal target of his attention.
And in that, he must be getting increasingly alarmed. After the most promising starts to the season, it is beginning to look horribly like his wait is going to go on.
Arsenal seem to be running out of steam at precisely the wrong moment. Their wider standing is reflected in the performance of Mesut Ozil, a player who was setting the world alight three months ago but now plays as if his boots have been filled with sand and are doubling as flood prevention measures.
Against Manchester United on Wednesday, Arsenal appeared woefully unimaginative and leggy. This was Manchester United, remember, not the champions of old, but the current bunch, a team absolutely there for the taking, a team, moreover, who needed to be dispatched if the title was to be won. But, without the pace of Theo Walcott to make dashes in behind the opposition defence, Arsenal look horribly one-paced. Little they did on Wednesday perturbed the senior citizens that make up United’s back line. Like the Arsenal of old, there seemed to be an absence of penetration, an assumption that possession stats are all that is required to win a match.
Which is why the tie against Liverpool this weekend is so important. And how they need to up their game. In many ways, the FA Cup is there best route to a trophy. With Bayern Munich to play in the Champions League, and their title credentials coming unstuck at every turn, the FA Cup is their best bet for silverware, especially as one of either City or Chelsea will be removed from contention this weekend.
Yet, instead of unleashing his top players in the bid to progress, you suspect Wenger will rest key players ahead of the Champions League tie. You suspect that Liverpool’s jugular will not be assaulted with the necessary vigour. Worst of all for Arsenal fans, you suspect that Mourinho's extended sneer will continue.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jose Mourinho
- Arsene Wenger