It’s the last chance for Arsenal under Arsene Wenger to battle with Manchester United and his old nemesis, Jose Mourinho. One suspects it will be a diluted affair compared to the real battles of the Ferguson era when Arsenal had the undeniable superiority in terms of exotic football.
In the time Mourinho has been in charge at Old Trafford, Arsenal have been in decline, a shadow of the competitive force that saw them neck and neck, slugging it out with the Mancunians for the title.
Mourinho has had the upper hand on the Frenchman for some time and isn’t bothered if his United side win pretty or ugly for that matter. He is only concerned by the result, which justifies his selections and tactics and nothing much has changed in that respect.
Ferguson won 13 titles, Wenger just 3 but in terms of football class and style, from 1996 to 2004, Arsenal were the epitome of style and class, something that the Scot could only dream of. Those days have gone and Arsenal have been taught various lessons at the hands of their old rivals, which has seen them spanked and embarrassed more recently.
Yet, in truth, neither side are what they were and even if the North London club afford Wenger a win, it will not make up for their current position in the League or the last three or four seasons of ineptitude. The result is really meaningless for United and is no more than points in the bag for Arsenal to increase the gap between sixth and seventh position.
Wenger will probably rest players with the 2nd leg of the Europa league against Atletico just around the corner, and this will play into Mourinho’s hands. I doubt there will be a repeat of the touch line exchanges between the two which included trading insults and the odd shove, because there is no need as Wenger and Arsenal are no longer a threat.
As Mourinho plots for next season safe in the knowledge that he has another attempt to close the gap against their Manchester rivals, Wenger may be on a beach somewhere or given the opportunity to find fresh challenges and battles elsewhere. Once this match was considered a highlight of a season between two of the best sides in the Premiership but it has far less importance these days.
Fans from both sides were eager to claim the bragging rights and we were all treated to so many memorable encounters, that it felt more like a war, than a football match. Viera and Keane could be relied on to provide tension, aggression and spice to the proceedings on the field, whilst Ferguson and Wenger would both take aim at each other in their respective press conferences.
These were the types of tit for tat exchanges that Mourinho and Wenger used to undertake but it’s gradually subsided coinciding with Arsenal’s decline.
It’s even slightly annoying that Mourinho, who once despised Wenger so passionately, has taken to the praise bandwagon but just stopped short of being complimentary. The Portuguese doesn’t really deal in niceties and it seems forced and sickening when he attempts it, but he can hardly rain on the Frenchman’s parade when so many others have shown their gratitude and admiration.
So before the music stops and they stop dancing for the last time in the Premiership, no doubt ending proceedings with a disingenuous handshake, they will try to upend each other for no good reason. I expect a United win but hope that both sides will show glimpses of the past. An exciting, fully committed affair would be a fitting end to this particular feud.
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