Wenger comes unstuck against astute Mourinho

Posted by James McNicholas

Arsene Wenger cannot find a way to beat Jose Mourinho.

Wenger has now faced Mourinho 10 times without securing a single victory. This is arguably the strongest Arsenal side Mourinho has faced in his two spells in England, but on this occasion his Chelsea team ensured the Gunners fired a blank.

- Report: Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea
- Lythell: Draw at Arsenal leaves mixed emotions

It's an enduring battle between a philosopher and an engineer. Unfortunately for Arsenal, the engineer consistently comes out on top. Wenger invariably sends his teams out to play the same way. His players and his system are relatively interchangeable, but the style remains constant. It is based on swift passing, intelligent movement and imagination.

Mourinho is different. He is a more reactive animal. He tinkers under the bonnet of his team, honing the XI for each distinct occasion and opposition. In fairness to Wenger, Mourinho has a greater variety of tools at his disposal. He is blessed with a Swiss Army knife of a squad, capable of adapting to any given situation. In this instance, the Portuguese made a series of bold tactical choices designed to stifle Arsenal.

Mourinho spent much of the prematch buildup lauding the talents of Mesut Ozil. Speaking to SkySports on the eve of the game, he said:

"I know his strong points. Not the weaknesses.

"I think I know how to try to stop him to be in the game [for] 90 minutes, with 90 minutes of direct influence.

"But it's impossible to stop him for 90 minutes, because these kind of players they will have always a moment or a couple of moments where you cannot stop them and they end up showing why they are so good."

It should therefore have come as no surprise that he set up his team specifically to deny the German space. The deep-lying pair of Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel pressed Ozil and Arsenal relentlessly. They were aided by Ramires, who regularly dropped into a deeper, central position from his starting berth on the right wing.

Mourinho also showed his intention to keep the game tight by selecting the hardworking Willian ahead of either of the mercurial pair of Oscar and Juan Mata. In defence, Mourinho left out David Luiz, opting for the physical partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill to nullify the aerial threat of Olivier Giroud.

His plan was effective. The first half was characterised by Chelsea's tactical discipline, particularly in midfield. Arsenal struggled for space, time and fluency. Chelsea played in a classic Mourinho fashion, snatching the ball away and launching raking counterattacks from deep. One such counterattack brought about the best chance of the half. A lofted pass from Eden Hazard found Lampard, but his side-footed volley crashed off the crossbar.

For all of Chelsea's discipline, they almost undid their efforts with two moments of recklessness: an ugly challenge by Mikel and a blatant trip on Theo Walcott by Willian. However, both went unpunished by the referee. Wenger was apoplectic; Mourinho relieved.

In the second half, Arsenal increased the tempo and the pressure exerted on the Chelsea goal. The Gunners even created the two most presentable opportunities of the second period. Both fell to Giroud. First, he met an Aaron Ramsey pass with a volley that skewed wide of the near post. Then, his attempt to convert a Kieran Gibbs cross was blocked by the combined efforts of Terry and Petr Cech.

Giroud is now without a goal in his past six games. Arsenal fans could be forgiven for feeling that a more clinical striker might have converted one of those chances -- the first, dropping on his preferred left foot, was particularly inviting. Perhaps we ought not to be surprised that this game failed to produce a goal. Giroud is short of form, and no Chelsea striker has scored a Premier League goal away from home thus far in the 2013-14 season.

There was one other crucial factor that led to the stalemate: a palpable fear of losing. Both sides knew that a win would be a huge lift but a defeat could prove disastrous. The caution of both managers was evident in their substitutions -- or, in Wenger's case, lack thereof. Late on, Mourinho replaced forward Fernando Torres with defender Luiz. Wenger, wary of upsetting the defensive balance of his team, chose not to make a single change.

A draw may have been a fair result, but as the home team, Arsenal will look back on this game as a missed opportunity. Having dropped points against Everton and Manchester City, a win would have restored confidence and credibility to the Gunners' title charge.

Mourinho won the day. Time will tell if he wins the league.


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