Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has no regrets about calling Arsene Wenger a “voyeur” at the low point of a relationship where there is now mutual respect.
Early in his second season, after leading Chelsea to a first championship in 50 years by dethroning Arsenal, Mourinho said of Wenger: “There are some guys, who, when they are at home, have this big telescope to see what happens in other families. He must be one of them. Being a voyeur is a sickness.”
The comments stepped over the line, according to Wenger, who considered legal action.
More than eight years on, there has been a reconciliation between the old adversaries ahead of this evening’s Barclays Premier League top-of-the-table clash at the Emirates Stadium. Yet Mourinho stands by the comments he made in October 2005. “No, I don’t regret,” Mourinho said. “He was speaking about Chelsea all the time, always making jibes and criticism, and the money and this and that... it was too much.
“These are football fall-outs, they are not personal fall-outs. Football fall-outs you have today and don’t have tomorrow. For me [it was] nothing.”
During his near six-year absence from the Premier League, hostilities between Mourinho and Wenger have lessened.
“Peacefully, we are living without any kind of problems. I have a good relationship [with Wenger],” said the Portuguese. “I’m not saying ‘friends’, because to be friends you need a close relationship and you need to develop that relationship, but I have lots of respect and no problem at all.”
Arsenal have spent much of this season at the top of the table, and Mourinho was asked to evaluate the Gunners’ title-winning side of 2004 and the current team.
“I don’t like to compare teams and eras and moments, because it’s not fair,” he said. “They have a very good team, but Thierry Henry isn’t there. Tony Adams is not there. The best, Patrick Vieira, is not there. Robert Pires is not there. (Dennis) Bergkamp is not there. It’s not fair.
“It’s the same when people go to my other Chelsea and this Chelsea. There is no way back. I don’t think it’s good to compare. The other guys deserve our respect because they were unbelievable, and these new guys, they also deserve our respect too.
“How can you compare a Chelsea striker with [Didier] Drogba? How can you compare an Arsenal striker with Thierry Henry? Respect the other guys and what they did, and respect these guys and what they can do.”
Mourinho, who has never been beaten by Wenger in nine meetings, downplayed the significance of tonight’s match in relation to the Premier League title race. “I don’t think it makes a big difference,” Mourinho said. “If they lose, they will be one point behind the leaders.
“After the Christmas period – three matches, plus the one on January 1, four matches – after these four matches we can have a feeling. Maybe some gaps will be open, some gaps will close. I don’t think it will make a big difference for them. I think they will feel they are strong contenders, and I respect them as that.”
Following Liverpool’s win over Cardiff and Manchester City’s 4-2 triumph at Fulham on Saturday, Arsenal – who once led the table by five points – are now in third place. Indeed, should Chelsea win tonight, then the Gunners will be down to fourth at Christmas, and just a point ahead of Everton, who won away at Swansea yesterday afternoon.
Nevertheless, Wenger continues to have faith in the squad as they face another stern test of their championship ambitions. “Our [recent] results have been disappointing for us, but I don’t think they have affected the morale,” the Arsenal manager said.
“We have made good results until now because we have a good solidarity level and a good togetherness in the squad, and I don’t see any sign of that dropping.”
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny feels that being dropped last season may have helped him get back on course to cement his place as the club’s No 1 goalkeeper.
The Poland international has kept 11 clean sheets this season for the Gunners, but could not do much as Manchester City romped to a 6-3 win at the Etihad Stadium last weekend.
Szczesny will be out to help Wenger’s side recover what had been the best defensive record in the Barclays Premier League tonight in a match which could see Arsenal return to the top of the table.
The 6ft 5in Pole has certainly produced some consistent displays this season, which has seen calls for Wenger to bring in an experienced goalkeeper fade away. Szczesny, 23, believes being taken out of the firing line by the Arsenal manager for the Champions League last 16 second-leg tie away to Bayern Munich in March helped him regain some focus to return to top form heading into 2014.
“It is hard to tell [because] I don’t know what it would have been like if I wasn’t dropped, but looking at my own performances now it must have been a good decision from the manager because I feel better, I feel sharper and more confident in myself,” Szczesny said.
“That little break away from the pressure meant that I could focus on my training to come back sharper, and so far it has worked out pretty well.
“I think I am very consistent now, I am a little bit more mature and the back four are helping me out as well, so I would say it is the most consistent run of my career – but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
“The experience I have had of playing 130-odd games for one of the biggest clubs in the world gives you that maturity and calmness.”