Arsène Wenger’s rage at José Mourinho bubbled over after 21 minutes at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The Frenchman strode into the opposing technical area and shoved the Chelsea manager in the chest. Wenger got in two good shots. That’s two more than his Arsenal team managed in 90 minutes.
Being generous, Arsenal had one effort on target and that was in added time, with Chelsea 2-0 up and sure of victory.
Mourinho retaliated by reaching up and flipping the taller man’s tie. It was pure Laurel and Hardy.
The comedy act continued after the final whistle.
Mourinho kept a straight face as he faced the cameras of Sky News square on and declared it a “good game."
His team had only managed three shots on target. One of them was a penalty. Four shots on goal in more than 90 minutes do not make a good game.
Yet Wenger, who spent his interview with a surprising twinkle in his eye and looking sideways at the off-camera interrogator, agreed.
“Overall it was a good game,” he said, although he is so one-eyed he was probably only talking about his team, which, unlike last season, did not lose by six goals.
Chelsea took the lead in the 27th minute. Eden Hazard danced through the Arsenal defense and into the penalty area where Laurent Koscielny attempted to stop him. The defender was so late, Hazard could have gone off, gotten in like at the concession stand, drunk a cup of tea, come back on and still won the penalty. Hazard converted.
After that, said Mourinho, “A good Arsenal pushed us to be pragmatic.”
He must be kidding. Since when did a Mourinho team need to be pushed to be pragmatic?
Mourinho and Wenger agreed that the referee should have shown some red cards.
“Referee had a fantastic performance,” Mourinho said, before adding “But they could have finished the game with eight men.”
He thought that Koscielny should have been shown red for the penalty, Calum Chambers, a yellow card machine, should have been shown a second before half time and Danny Welbeck another in added time for an assault on Cesc Fàbregas.
Wenger seemed to be having trouble keeping a straight face as he matched Mourinho moan for moan.
“We could have had the penalty,” he said apparently about to burst out laughing.
“They were lucky a few times with yellow cards,” he added. He was doubtless thinking of Gary Cahill’s two-footed lunge into Mesut Özil that precipitated the touchline meltdown.
So what did the combatants think had happened?
“I have my technical area. He has his technical area,” Mourinho said. “He cannot come into my technical area, especially to put pressure on the referee to show a yellow card to my players. I said, just leave my technical area and don’t come back.”
Wenger opted for the no-comment route while giving the impression that he thought the whole matter quite funny. It was, though the disciplinary authorities probably won’t agree.
“Nothing,” Wenger said. “Look, you have good cameras.”
“I just went out to see what happened,” he smiled when asked again.
To the third variation on the same question, Wenger answered very slowly “I say absolutely nothing,” savoring every syllable.
Yet for all his good humor, Wenger has not won any of his 12 matches against the Special One. Mourinho ended their spat last season with a knockout blow when he called Wenger a “specialist in failure,” a tag that Wenger hasn’t shaken off. No wonder there is rage behind the smile.
The bitterness came out once when Wenger picked at the old theme of Chelsea buying success, blaming money for the two goals on Sunday.
“At the end of the day they have the financial power and they used it in a very efficient way when they had the chances,” Wenger said.
Yet British media have pointed out this season that Arsenal’s summer signings probably mean that the Gunners have closed the small gap in total salary revealed in the most recent annual reports of the two clubs. Arsenal, whatever Wenger says, now pays more in player wages than Chelsea.
Wenger and Mourinho are two of the very smartest boys in the Premier League school. Sunday demonstrated that they are very much boys.
Mourinho’s team is the last one that is unbeaten. It is also five points clear in first place. He is, again, top of the class.
Dealing with head injuries remains a problem for soccer, as for other contact sports. Thibaut Courtois was felled by a knee to the head from Alexis Sanchez in the 10th minute at Chelsea on Sunday. The goalie did not go off until the 27th minute when blood started coming out of his ear. He was replaced by Petr Cech. Cech wears a padded cap to protect the skull shattered playing for Chelsea in 2006. Courtois went to hospital and is, it seems, all right. Yet Chelsea should know better.
Goalkeepers are the most important players on any team. On Sunday, David De Gea saved a 2-1 Manchester United victory single-handedly -- three times. He became the first Premier League goalkeeper to stop a Leighton Baines penalty. The Everton fullback had scored 15 straight. In added time, De Gea hurled himself low to his right to stop a shot from Leon Osman, then high to his left to push away a shot by Bryan Oviedo.
Fear can feed on itself. Three times recently Tottenham has spoiled potential wins by conceding late goals, because it’s defending became panic stricken with victory in sight. On Sunday, the fear nearly ate Tottenham again. Spurs dominated Southampton and should have gone two goals up. Instead, defending a one-goal lead, they twice offered Southampton chances. Victor Wanyama could not quite score from the edge of the area. So Tottenham gave the ball away again and left Sadio Mané unmarked two yards from goal. He whiffed. Tottenham won, 1-0. At the whistle, Etienne Capoue looked skyward and uttered a very long and extremely relieved prayer.
It’s an old soccer cliché that players cannot simply flick a switch and start playing. Yaya Touré can. With Manchester City struggling to break down a dogged but mediocre foe apparently undeserving of his full effort, Touré roused himself in the last 10 minutes, burst forward and rifled a shot inside a post. City went on to beat Aston Villa 2-0 on Saturday to rise to second in the league. There’s another soccer cliché: class finds a way to win. Take your choice.
The QPR defense should save time and just mail a couple of goals to the opposition on Fridays. At West Ham on Sunday, the Hoops found a new and even more pathetic way to concede after just five minutes. With the rest of the defense standing watching Nedum Onouha thumped a corner into his own net. West Ham won 2-0 without having to do anything.