The Beleaguered One may park the bus
> A first ever League defeat to nemesis Wenger would be Mourinho’s worst nightmare.
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.