Arsene Wenger vs Tony Pulis: A brief history of the Premier League's ultimate philosophical rivalry

Charlie Eccleshare
Arsene Wenger vs Tony Pulis: A brief history of the Premier League's ultimate philosophical rivalry - 2016 The Arsenal Football Club Plc

There are few things that offend Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as much as 'anti-football'.

An arch-aesthete and philosopher of the game, Wenger deplores teams who try to make the sport a physical battle and engage in what he sees as intimidating skullduggery. 

Step forward Tony Pulis, an uncompromising Welshman who has forged a reputation for making up for his team's technical deficiencies with power and organisation. Unflinchingly unconventional, Pulis gives his press conferences standing up, has been known to laugh manically in interviews and allegedly once headbutted James Beattie while wearing nothing more than a snarl (as well as spectacles and baseball cap presumably). 

The rivalry between Wenger and Pulis has been reinforced by the difficulties both managers have had facing the other away from home.

Arsenal's record away at Pulis teams is dreadful - played seven, won one, lost four - as if the micro-climate of Pulis-land is too inhospitable for Wenger's delicate sensibilities. 

Pulis meanwhile has lost all 10 of his matches away at Arsenal - the bruising strength of his teams seemingly dulled by the bright lights of London. 

Wenger and Pulis in 2012

Unlike previous Wenger nemesis Sam Allardyce, who the Frenchman has a good record against in recent years, Pulis's teams have continued to intimidate and frustrate Arsenal. While Allardyce's style has evolved over the last 10 years, Pulis has remained resolutely direct. 

In fact the only manager who has remained as evangelically tied to his principles in that time is Wenger. Like squabbling siblings, the more one of them refuses to compromise, the more the other digs his heels in and seethes at the other's approach. 

Wenger and Pulis's antipathy may have mellowed in the last couple of years, but the pair are reunited at the Hawthorns on Saturday. Here is how their enjoyable rivalry has evolved: 

Playground bullying

In November 2008 Arsenal were at their most brittle. A young side, captained by Cesc Fabregas and featuring Denilson and Abou Diaby, travelled to the swirling winds of the Potteries to face Pulis's brutal Stoke team starring Abdoulaye Faye and Ricardo Fuller. 

Inspired by Rory Delap, Stoke scored twice from long throws as Arsenal lost three players to injury and had Robin van Persie sent off for a petulant barge on Stoke's keeper Martin Sorensen. Reports that Theo Walcott had his head flushed down the toilet and Gael Clichy had his lunch money stolen by Danny Higginbotham were never confirmed.

In the immediate aftermath Wenger was unusually magnanimous. After a couple of days, he was fuming: "I read that my team were not brave. All I can say is they are brave and, for me, you need to have more courage to play football when you know that someone is tackling you from behind without any intention to play the ball.

Theo Walcott of Arsenal is stretchered off injured at the Britannia Stadium in 2008 

"It happened at the weekend. Do you think Delap tried to play the ball when he tackled Walcott? Or that Shawcross tried to play the ball when he tackled Adebayor off the pitch? All the players have been injured deliberately. I am not ready to listen to things that are completely untrue and make people who are cowards, for me, look brave."

Wenger is moaning like a drain

Tony Pulis, 2008

Pulis shot back: "He commended my team's organisation, my team's commitment and confessed that on the day Stoke City thoroughly deserved to win the game. Very open and very honest.

"In London 48 hours later and 150 miles away from Stoke-on-Trent, Mr Wenger changed tack and has tried to rewrite history. Remember there was only one red card on Saturday and the last time I watched the game it certainly was not a Stoke City player who received it.

"As for Rory Delap's challenges on Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna, Rory is as honest and committed as they come. They were free-kicks, but Rory would never purposely go out to injure a fellow professional, it's just not in Rory's nature. Further, as I recall the game, Emmanuel Adebayor was booked for a chest-high challenge on Ryan Shawcross."

Rory Delap takes a long throw into the box leading to a goal for Seyi Olofinjana nine years ago

Just over a year later, Pulis was asked about Wenger's complaints of fixture congestion. He responded: "Wenger is moaning like a drain because it doesn't suit Arsenal."

Wenger accusing Pulis's team of deliberately going out to hurt his side; Pulis saying they were not those kind of players.

The template had been set. 

Two worlds colliding

The pair's mutual dislike ramped up several notches in February 2010 when Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey was the victim of a leg-breaking tackle by Stoke defender and Pulis favourite Ryan Shawcross

Wenger said: "The tackle from Shawcross was horrendous. Spare me how nice he is. Did you see where the injury is? It is not acceptable. That is not football for me and I refuse to live with it. The FA have to act."

Pulis responded by saying: "I know Shawcross, he has no bad blood in him whatsoever. It is a desperately sad day for football, for Aaron and for Arsenal. I accept that."

The tackle from Shawcross was horrendous. Spare me how nice he is

Arsene Wenger, 2010

Six months after the Ramsey incident, Wenger was in no mood to let the incident go and publically questioned Stoke's tactics.

Wenger said of Pulis's approach to a match against Tottenham: “You cannot say it is football any more.

“It is more rugby on the goalkeepers than football. When you see the way Shawcross kicked Heurelho Gomes, how Robert Huth pushed Gomes in the goal, you cannot say that is football anymore.”

An unimpressed Pulis shot back: “What he has said about Ryan is very, very poor.”

Glenn Whelan consoles Aaron Ramsey in 2010

In October 2010 Pulis attempted to hit Wenger where it hurt: “Wenger is ­perceived to be a genius, but he hasn’t delivered a trophy in six years [it was actually five years].

“I don’t think we need foreign ­managers running the national sides.

“I’ve got nothing against foreign ­managers, they are very nice people.

"Apart from Arsene Wenger."

The rugby age

The Stoke vs Arsenal matches in 2011 and 2012 brought more woe for Wenger as the home supporters delighted in teasing him with the chant '2-0 to the rugby team' and an airing of 'Swing low sweet chariot'. 

A 3-1 defeat in May 2011 was a sickener for Arsenal, but Wenger was even more downbeat after a 1-1 draw in April 2012 when Ramsey was taunted about the injury he suffered two years earlier. 

After the match, Wenger said: "I think one day football will have to tackle that. It's easy to sit in the stand and insult people. It's the easiest sport in the world.

I was more concerned about Arsenal supporters booing Shawcross

Tony Pulis, 2012

"I focus on what I love in my job, which is football and the way my players behave on the pitch. I'm not responsible for the way people behave in the stands. If you want to stop that, it's easy to stop. You can isolate every single face.

"I think sometimes when I go out on the pitch at the end of the game, and people are angry or hateful, I would like a little picture to send home for them to show their son or daughter, and then come back next week and see if they will do it again, see if they are proud of you."

Regarding the treatment of Ramsey, Pulis responded with typical bullishness: "I was more concerned about the Arsenal supporters booing Shawcross so I didn't hear the ones on Ramsey."

Arsene Wengers Arsenal seasons ranked

Four months later Pulis said: “I don’t particularly care whether he has a glass of wine with me afterwards or not. It doesn’t make any difference to me. I’m out there to win a game of football on Sunday, as is Wenger. It’s people who are competitive and if he wants to do whatever he wants to do then I respect that.

"People talk about us being a dirty team, yet we haven't had as many red cards or I haven't had as many red cards as a manager as Arsene Wenger has had as a manager.

I’ve got nothing against foreign ­managers, they are very nice people. Apart from Arsene Wenger

Tony Pulis, 2010

"People always talk about me and Stoke City. Nobody ever talks about the situation with Wenger."

Pulis may have had a point on the easy ride occasionally given to Wenger. He seemed on a one-man mission to ensure that was no longer the case. 

Détente

Pulis and Wenger next met at the Emirates in February 2013 in an ill-tempered match that saw Mikel Arteta and Michael Owen clash after a strong Shawcross challenge on Laurent Koscielny

After watching his side win the game 1-0, Wenger said: "It looked to me [like it should have been a red card] but I have to look at it again as I am maybe not completely objective when it comes to Ryan Shawcross. That is why I will be a bit cautious with my statement."

Pulis responded: "I think Arteta's challenge was a poor challenge, but Michael should not do that." 

Here at last was a degree of diplomacy between the two managers, a shift in the relationship as both reached a détente.  

After Pulis left Stoke at the end of the 2012-13 season, the mutual loathing between him and Wenger largely dissipated. 

And yet Arsenal still cannot win away at a Pulis side. On their sole visit to Pulisville since he left Stoke, Arsenal contrived to lose a match 2-1 at West Brom despite having 73 per cent possession and 11 efforts on goal. 

“It was a very bad afternoon for us,” Wenger said after the match. “We had 70 per cent possession, scored an own goal, missed a penalty, gave away a goal on a set piece and missed open goal chances – that’s perfect to make the afternoon a nightmare.”

Pick your Arsenal team to face West Brom

Prior to the most recent Wenger and Pulis meeting, at the Emirates last December for a 1-0 Arsenal win, the West Brom manager was asked again about sharing a post-match drink with his opposite number. 

He replied: “That is down to him - it is all according to what wine he will produce.”

As with most of his rivalries (Mourinho aside) Wenger's stance has softened towards Pulis and vice versa, but there's a low boiling point with these two.

The Hawthorns on Saturday could be the final installment of an intriguing rivalry.  One last highly-principled confrontation, for old time's sake?

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