Yet to taste victory over Jose Mourinho in 10 Premier League attempts, if Arsene Wenger can break his duck against his great rival at Stamford Bridge on Saturday it is likely to be particularly sweet. Certainly never has Mourinho’s Chelsea come into a meeting with Wenger’s Arsenal in such a vulnerable position. Having lost three of their first five Premier League fixtures, a fourth could already spell the end of Chelsea’s title hopes and cast further doubt over their coach’s future.
Mourinho is a man who, as he as pointed out on numerous occasions, doesn’t do failure. The Portuguese has directed numerous insults the way of his Arsenal counterpart over the years, but his most pointed was the accusation that Wenger was a “specialist in failure.” Wenger’s more than a decade without a Premier League title is unthinkable to a man who has won eight league titles in his 12 full seasons as a coach at four different clubs.
The two men could not be more different, which explains why their rivalry, which famously became physical last season, has been so heated. While Wenger is beholden to his principals on how the game should be played and puts a focus on developing players, Mourinho is all about winning. And when he doesn’t win, history suggests he does not stick around very long.
Indeed, it is the fact that Chelsea’s woeful start to the season so neatly fits his pattern as a manger that means it is not so easy to write off as a mere blip. This is only the third time that Mourinho has made it to three consecutive seasons at a club. And at both Chelsea, first time around, and at Real Madrid, he failed to deliver a major trophy in his third year and was gone soon after.
When asked about the pattern earlier this week, he called the question “stupid,” and attempted to mount a defense of his record.
“Look, my third season -- in Porto, I didn't have a third season,” he said, reports BBC Sport. “My third season in Inter, I didn't have a third season. My third season at Chelsea the first time, I won the FA Cup and the Carling Cup, and I played the Champions League semi-finals. My third season in Real Madrid, I won the Super Cup, I lost the cup [Copa del Rey] final, and I went to the Champions League semifinals. These are my third seasons.”
While his achievements in those seasons were certainly creditable, they were not up to Mourinho’s standard. And they mask problems behind the scenes. In his initial time at Chelsea, his relationship with owner Roman Abramovich reportedly broke down over transfers, while in Madrid his relationship seemingly broke down with almost everyone at the club and in the media.
And there are signs of friction once again this season. Mourinho has increasingly voiced his frustration with the club’s transfer activity, or lack of it, over the summer, and he has also openly criticized members of his squad. There has been no firm suggestion as yet that the end is in sight, but a first real competitive defeat -- following on from Arsenal’s Community Shield win last month -- to the man he has so routinely mocked could bring him closer to the precipice.
The consequences to Chelsea’s title hopes certainly could be fatal, with it potentially leaving them a massive 14 points behind leaders Manchester City.
Of course, a defeat for Arsenal could also have serious consequences. While their start to the season has been solid, a second defeat in their first six matches would, just like last season, already leave them with significant ground to make up if they are to end that title drought. And results in midweek have shifted the narrative surrounding the two clubs just a little.
While Chelsea got a morale-boosting 4-0 win against an admittedly limited Maccabi Tel Aviv side on Wednesday, Arsenal suffered a 2-1 upset at Dinamo Zagreb. Included in that defeat were familiar failings that have stopped Arsenal from punching their now considerable weight at home and in Europe in recent seasons. Olivier Giroud missed chances and got sent off to only add fuel to those who believe Wenger needed to add a top-class front man over the summer. Meanwhile, Arsenal were punished for over-committing going forward and a lack of presence in the midfield as they were time and again in a famous 6-0 mauling at the hands of Chelsea 18 months ago.
For both Wenger and Mourinho, then, the stakes are high entering the latest meeting between two of the greatest managerial foes the Premier League has seen.
Prediction: Chelsea have been curiously listless so far this season, but Mourinho will be desperate for his miserable start to the season not to be exacerbated by, of all people, Wenger. If he can’t get his players up for this contest then something is seriously wrong at Stamford Bridge. With the likes of Francis Coquelin set to return to the starting lineup, Arsenal won’t be as bad as they were in Zagreb. Yet Chelsea may just be more decisive at both ends of the field in order to pick up a much-needed win.
Predicted score: Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal