Arsene Wenger has claimed that he would be willing one day to make “peace” with arch-enemy Jose Mourinho but has told the Manchester United manager that his squad can deal with April’s fixture demands.
Mourinho has repeatedly referenced his club’s schedule following nine matches in April and potentially another seven in May but Wenger says that top teams should want additional games at this stage of the season.
He is also not accepting Mourinho’s suggestion that United could be weakened against Arsenal on Sunday by prioritising their Europa League semi-final with Celta Vigo.
“We know that they have a massive squad with quality players,” said Wenger. “Normally a hectic schedule is what you want. That shows you are in the competitions. If you have no big injuries we are all equipped now in the Premier League to deal with that. What has changed in the Premier League, if you look at the benches between the teams that are between 10th and 20th, there are still top players on the bench at every single club.
“The only advantage we can give ourselves is to focus on ourselves and not speculate on any weakness of Manchester United. No matter who plays, they will have a strong team out.”
Wenger has still never defeated Mourinho in their previous 15 meetings in competitive matches and, as well as memorable verbal exchanges through the media, there has often been no handshake at their end of past fixtures.
There was also an incident that ended with Wenger shoving Mourinho at Stamford Bridge a few years ago. Wenger’s relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson was once similarly fractious, but that did ultimately mellow.
“We have respect,” said Wenger. I think I try to respect everybody and I do not want to make a case of any person.”
And so could his relationship with Mourinho also ultimately thaw? “I am open always in life for everything,” said Wenger. “You know, for peace. But what is important when you are a competitor is that you give absolutely everything to win the next game.”
Wenger had said that a decision on his own future would be confirmed in “March or April” but he is now preparing to wait until the end of the season before revealing whether he will sign a new two-year contract. He denied, however, that Arsenal could risk declining in the same way as Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson departed in 2013.
“It can as well go better from when I leave one day,” said Wenger. “When you are such a long time at a club like I am, like Ferguson was, it is a little bit like when you have children. You want them to be happy. Even when you are not there anymore, you want them to be happy.
“I am not in a position to judge what happened to Man Utd. I am sure they will come back and fight for the Premier League again. They are in a rebuilding phase and they have quality inside the club and the resources to come back to fight for the Premier League.”
Arsenal will be without Granit Xhaka from their central midfield on Sunday after he suffered a swollen ankle during Sunday’s 2-0 defeat against Tottenham, but Shkodran Mustafi is likely to return to the squad.