The Be­lea­guered One may park the bus

> A first ever League de­feat to neme­sis Wenger would be Mour­inho’s worst night­mare.

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

PARK­ING THE bus at Old Trafford as the vis­it­ing man­ager is one thing; do­ing it when you’re the boss of Manch­ester United would be quite another.

The com­bined glower of Fergie, frown of Bobby Charl­ton and fury of the Stret­ford End would come down on any home man­ager with the temer­ity to do it like the wrath of God.

But don’t put it past a be­lea­guered Jose Mour­inho when Arse­nal come to town to­mor­row. Given the cur­rent dis­ar­ray of the Devils and the new-found swag­ger of the Gun­ners, it could be his best hope of stem­ming a danger­ous slide to­wards full-blown cri­sis.

Al­ready eight points adrift in the ti­tle race, wracked by in­juries and dress­ing room ran­cour, the United boss has cut a trou­bled fig­ure on the touch­line this sea­son.

It was sup­posed to be his dream job but a first ever League de­feat to neme­sis Arsene Wenger would be his worst night­mare.

Three months into the job he still doesn’t know his best team, has al­ready turned on the play­ers and, de­spite spend­ing £154 mil­lion (RM847m), is do­ing worse than both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.

The sit­u­a­tion calls for des­per­ate mea­sures and he is al­ready fos­ter­ing a siege men­tal­ity: it could be a wise pre­cau­tion as Arse­nal’s su­pe­ri­or­ity in ev­ery area of the pitch could well see them lay siege.

Wenger’s side have been in scin­til­lat­ing form, are un­beaten since the first day of the cam­paign and knock­ing in goals for fun.

They even ap­pear to be sur­viv­ing what looked a po­ten­tially dis­rup­tive in­ter­na­tional break. But with Me­sut Ozil not re­quired by Ger­many and Alexis Sanchez shrug­ging off in­jury to score twice for Chile, their main men have emerged un­scathed.

With Ozil also edg­ing closer to re­new­ing his con­tract, Wenger has had a good week. A first win over a man he gen­uinely loathes wouldn’t just be the ic­ing on the cake, it would be the brandy and ci­gar as well.

The French­man has yet to win in 13 games against the man­ager who ended the du­op­oly Wenger and Alex Fer­gu­son en­joyed over the rest of the Premier League around the turn of the cen­tury.

Mour­inho’s ar­rival at Stam­ford Bridge, backed by Ro­man Abramovich’s rou­bles, re­ally did change the bal­ance of power. And that was fol­lowed by the Abu Dhabi re­boot of Manch­ester City.

Wenger has not won the ti­tle since but the ju­di­cious sign­ings he made in the sum­mer and the free­dom given to Ozil and Sanchez up front has given him his best chance of end­ing the drought in more than a decade.

A win here would con­firm the se­ri­ous­ness of their chal­lenge and leave United floun­der­ing nine points be­hind the Gun­ners and a pos­si­ble 11 adrift of the top.

History may be against them – they haven’t won since a lone Em­manuel Ade­bayor goal clinched the points 10 years ago – and they, too, have in­juries: Hec­tor Bel­lerin and Santi Ca­zorla are se­ri­ous doubts while Sanchez, de­spite his en­thu­si­asm, may not be deemed ready af­ter his ex­er­tions on a dodgy ham­string.

But such is the depth of the squad, who­ever Wenger sends out in mid­field is odds-on to hog pos­ses­sion. Aaron Ram­sey is fit again and Granit Xhaka has added power to an area where the Gun­ners were a lit­tle light­weight.

They have fewer ca­su­al­ties than United for whom seven first-team­ers could be miss­ing. And whether Wayne Rooney has sobered up suf­fi­ciently to play, only Mour­inho can de­cide.

With Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic sus­pended, it could mean Mar­cus Rash­ford starts up front for once – but if he has to fend for him­self, he’ll not get much change out of Lau­rent Ko­scielny and Shko­dran Mustafi.

Rash­ford may be the only lo­cal boy of ei­ther side on the field which is one rea­son many feel the fix­ture has lost its edge from the epic bat­tles around the turn of the cen­tury.

Be­sides the ri­valry be­tween two clubs go­ing toe-to-toe for the ti­tle, there was a genuine ha­tred be­tween them.

“I had a lot of ha­tred for Arse­nal,” Roy Keane told BBC Sport. “I can’t think of any other word when I was get­ting ready to do bat­tle with Arse­nal. Ha­tred was the word. I don’t re­mem­ber lik­ing any­body at Arse­nal.”

Gary Neville agrees. He told FourFourTwo: “They were the best en­coun­ters be­cause there were no holds barred, every­one was bat­tling and no­body was whing­ing.”

In com­par­i­son to the blood and thun­der of those heavy­weight clashes with Keane and Pa­trick Vieira top of the bill and Ruud van Nis­tel­rooy and Martin Ke­own as main sup­port­ing bout, re­cent con­tests have seemed like sit­downs among peaceniks.

But for any­one wor­ry­ing that Satur­day’s en­counter may be sim­i­larly paci­fist, there is the re­as­sur­ing pres­ence of the Por­tuguese man o’war.

Where Wenger and Fergie have made their peace – mainly be­cause Wenger ceased to be a threat – the Arse­nal boss and Mour­inho have, like North and South Korea, re­mained in a per­pet­ual state of com­bat readi­ness.

Hos­til­i­ties flare up oc­ca­sion­ally pep­pered by rants wor­thy of Kim Jong-un. With his back to the wall, Mour­inho is likely to come up with some stunt – a bit of mis­chief like Pep Guardi­ola – but where the Cata­lan sticks to the Queens­berry Rules, the Spe­cial One doesn’t hes­i­tate to go be­low the belt.

Whether he can put one over a man he’s dubbed “a voyeur” and “a spe­cial­ist in fail­ure” once again is de­bat­able but he can­not af­ford to lose.

Mour­inho would set­tle for a draw, Wenger would be dis­ap­pointed not to win.

If the man­agers do steal the show, it will con­tinue the theme of the sea­son. And if Mour­inho does park the bus, only a win over Wenger would be good enough. From this van­tage point, it doesn’t look likely.

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