With Arsenal beating Chelsea in this weekend’s Community Shield clash and Arsene Wenger finally getting one over Jose Mourinho, it feels as though we could be on the brink of a special new beginning in the Premier League.
As the Daily Mirror has pointed out, Wenger and Mourinho have been at a war of words over the game already, in what is essentially a hyped up friendly to kick off the start of the English league season – a game to celebrate last year’s champions and FA Cup winners, but not one that has any bearing on how the new campaign will go.
There’s no question about it here, these two managers really don’t get on (the two wouldn’t even shake hands at the game, according to the Daily Mail), and what is evolving here is a rivalry that could replicate the wonderful grudge match between Wenger and another old foe, former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.
For about eight seasons in a row between Wenger’s first full season at Arsenal (1997/98) and the year Mourinho first set foot in Stamford Bridge and changed the shape of the title race (2004/05), these two were constantly at war with each other, both on the pitch and off it. United certainly came out on top in terms of trophies most of the time, but the Gunners made life hard for them with two doubles in ’98 and ’02, as well as their unbeaten season in ’04, and those two clubs were always either first or second, apart from a surprise drop from United to third in Wenger’s second double-winning season.
The idea of football rivalry is usually associated with a rivalry between fans, usually linked to geographical location. Players will try to pretend they understand it, talking in cliches before and after games about how “we know how much this means to the fans” and how “it’s a really special atmosphere”, but without really getting as emotionally involved as supporters ever really could.
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The Arsenal-United rivalry was different, however, as it was a genuine rivalry between the players and the managers themselves. The famous Old Trafford brawl of 2003 was when things reached boiling point (it even has its own Wikipedia page – the Battle of Old Trafford), but there were also other bad-tempered affairs with red cards and controversies galore, not to mention more digs at each other between the two managers off the pitch.
Wenger-Mourinho has had a similar feel to it for a while now, but the key difference has been that Arsenal have not been challenging for the title like they used to. This season, however, Arsenal look a different prospect and could be the team best equipped to take the title off Chelsea. A slow start as new signings took a while to bed in cost them last season, as they finished 2014/15 incredibly strongly, winning a second FA Cup in a row in emphatic fashion, showing that they are back as a force in terms of winning silverware. Now, they will want to go a step further and end their long wait for the title, and with players like Petr Cech, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez all at their peak, it’s hard to imagine they will let people down as they have in the past; they are, for once, strong in every position, with plenty of depth and some suggestion that their injury problems are behind them after a far cleaner bill of health last term.
If this mere distaste for each other’s playing styles can develop into something more – a psycholigical battle to swing a delicately poised title race in their favour, then we could have one of the most intriguing and entertaining sagas seen for a long time in English football.