Wenger, Mourinho Bury Differences Ahead of Top-Four Quest


Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho have never hidden their disdain for each other and with their clash on Sunday in a game the outcome would shape their Champions League qualification, with Manchester United and Arsenal lying fifth and sixth respectively on the Premier League table. However, the two gladiators have expressed their willingness to put their rivalry behind and extend hands of fellowship

It is a sign of the times that these two great rivals once fighting for supremacy at the summit of English football reconvene at Emirates Stadium on Sunday in a desperate scrap for fourth place.

A scramble for the final Champions League qualification berth is a far cry from the blood and thunder battles Arsenal and Manchester United contested either side of the Millennium; an era embodied by the brutal physical and verbal confrontations between Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane.

The ferocious intensity of these encounters has subsided somewhat as firstly, the Gunners and subsequently United have both found themselves struggling to sustain a title challenge.

This weekend’s encounter is likely to be attritional for the wrong reasons; Arsenal are badly out of form and low on confidence while United are fatigued and depleted from a brutal run of fixtures, the latest of which had them travelling back from Spain late on Thursday after a 1-0 win over Celta Vigo in their Europa League semi-final, first leg.

Although the two clubs have spent considerable sums in recent times, the quality of their current squads suggest they live firmly in the shadow of their respective former greats: Francis Coquelin versus Ander Herrera somehow does not quite have the same ring to it.

Aaron Ramsey is, however, well versed in the history of this fixture. “They were exciting games,” he reflected. “A few more tackles were let go in those days. Everyone was looking forward to that battle and there was normally a red card to show for it.

“They showed how passionate they were to try and win this game and how much it meant to them and the team to get a result. They wanted to get one over on each other so that’s what made it so exciting.

“Man Utd against Arsenal is a massive game no matter what the circumstances. It just shows how tight the Premier League is now with more teams fighting for the championship. Even though we are still off that a little bit with United, it is still a massive game.”

With Granit Xhaka set to miss out due to an ankle injury, Ramsey is expected to line-up in central midfield alongside Coquelin or perhaps Mohamed Elneny against United.

The Welshman was part of the team that thrashed United courtesy of a devastating first-half blitz in this fixture last season and he also scored the winner on the previous occasion Arsenal emerged on top in 2011.

In recent times Arsenal have been guilty of underperforming in big games for some time. Last month’s FA Cup semi-final success over Manchester City was an anomaly and Wenger has come under mounting pressure to walk away from the club during a run of eight defeats in 16 matches across all competitions.

Meanwhile, Wenger has claimed he is prepared to bury the hatchet with long-term adversary, Mourinho, ahead of tomorrow’s clash. The pair has been embroiled in a long-running feud ever since Mourinho first arrived in English football to take charge of Chelsea in 2004.

Mourinho has previously labelled Wenger a “voyeur” and a “specialist in failure” while Wenger made their rivalry physical in October 2014 when the Frenchman pushed his counterpart on the touchline during a league game at Stamford Bridge.

Wenger had a similarly tempestuous relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson for years before age seemingly mellowed their rivalry.

When asked by Standard Sport whether something similar could soon happen with Mourinho, the 67-year-old replied: “I am open always in life for everything, you know, for peace. But what is important when you are a competitor is that you give absolutely everything to win the next game.

“We (Ferguson and Wenger) have respect. I think I try to respect everybody and I do not want to make a case of any person. I think it is important that I focus on my own team, the performance of my team and forget all the rest.” Both Arsenal and United require victory at Emirates Stadium to sustain their hopes of a top-four finish, with Wenger demanding a response from his team following last weekend’s insipid 2-0 defeat at north London rivals Tottenham.

However, Mourinho says there were already no hard feelings as far as he was concerned ahead of the Emirates Stadium clash. “He doesn’t need to make peace. He doesn’t need to because there are no problems,” he told a pre-match press conference. “In the last match at Old Trafford we shook hands before, after. I remember that I still met him in the corridor for the press conferences, we shook hands again. He doesn’t need to make peace. “When there is peace, I don’t have a problem. I am a big boy, I am in football all my life, and I know that a problem on the pitch is not a problem anymore the next day. So for me, no problem at all, and I think he will be very pleased that I am going to change my team to play against Arsenal, so I think he will be very happy with me.”