“Remember who you are, what you are, and who you represent.”
So said the legendary Rocky Rocastle in a quotation which now adorns the walls of the Emirates following its Arsenalisation.
It’s a sentiment which Arsene Wenger, in all his 20 years at the club, has observed at all times, oozing dignity and class even when in the face of the most testing of circumstances.
It’s also a sentiment which is entirely alien to one Jose Mourinho, one which he has neglected in its entirety for pretty much his entire managerial career, and certainly during the portion of it which has been spent in England.
Now, for someone who grew up in the ’90s, with its two club dominance, a certain natural hatred of Manchester United is a given. Sir Alex Ferguson had a fierce rivalry with tensions bubbling just under the surface.
Yet those tensions never boiled over into extended or intend overly personal confrontations.
So while it would please me greatly to lay into that great rival club, Mourinho is not representing Manchester United Football Club when he is quoted saying, “I will find him one day outside a football pitch and I will break his face.”
The only way Arsene’s face was breaking, after being asked about the quote in his own press conference, was into laughter.
For this is not the beginning of an obsession, but the evolution of one. The writing has been on the wall for some time.
I started to draft this column back on Tuesday, well before the Daily Mail launched the serialisation of the Mourinho book in such sensational fashion.
I know, I thought, I’ll write about Chelsea since we face them at the weekend.
But there’s a small issue. Even though I dislike the new money stench emanating from Stamford Bridge, even though they continue to be well stocked with a combination of players I consider to be either cheats, traitors or a combination of the two, even though my own brother is a fan?
To me, I just can’t get as worked up about Chelsea without the Mourinho connection.
“Facing Chelsea without Mourinho,” I wrote, “is like facing Nagini and the Death Eaters without Voldemort. They might be grim and dislikeable in their own right, but having the ringleader of evil at the helm moves things into a whole different ballpark.”
And then a certain Portuguese irritant decided to remind us all, with knobs on, quite why he operates on that next level. If Dante had designed a 10th circle of hell, it would have been the exclusive realm of Jose.
In some ways it should help us in the match against Chelsea. In the most public way, he has reminded us that whatever hoodoo he supposedly held over us – real or imagined – he no longer manages the west London side.
Mourinho sacked, Terry absent, but another central figure of the Arsenal-Chelsea episodes of recent years remains. Big game Theo.
Despite his various injury and form travails, Theo has three league goals against Chelsea, more than any other current player, and could go level with Bergkamp (4) or even van Persie (5) if he nets this time out.
His first ever goal for Arsenal also came against our west London rivals in the 2007 Carling Cup final, and there was a 2009 FA Cup strike to add to the mix as well.
*That’s right, Matt Dickinson, things that happen outside of the Premier League also count, such as – ooh I don’t know – Arsene Wenger beating Jose Mourinho in the 2015 Community Shield before *gloriously* dodging his insincere handshake. It’s ok, you can keep it on this occasion since your motives were still pure: poking fun at Jose.*
No, Walcott is back in some semblance of form, and while it’s a disappointment not to see him once again have a chance to ruin John Terry, there’s plenty of other Chelsea defenders with whom he can have some fun.
Even so though, a victory against the Blues would be great, a solid three points at home to a good side and a chance to exert some pressure on our rivals in the table, to even lay down a proverbial marker. But it won’t inspire quite that same fire in my belly as a clash with Mourinho did in times gone by, and indeed will do when Manchester United come down.
A match against Chelsea now boils down to a football game with a bit of a Cesc sideshow and a bit of rivalry niggle.
Meanwhile a match against a Mourinho-managed side always turns into a personal investment, dignity and class versus spite and petulance, good versus evil.
It doesn’t matter where the Portuguese is managing, his obsession with the manager of The Arsenal is bordering on obscene, and it seems that he cannot comprehend quite why the subject of that obsession is – even when bitterly criticised – still treated with utmost respect.
It’s called staying classy, Jose, you should try it sometime.
More to the point, he cannot understand why that bitter criticism is tempered by sections of the media and Arsenal fans, by more pertinently by other managers and figures whose praise Mourinho himself seeks. How can those Arsenal fans prefer Wenger to him, in spite of their occasional disillusion with the Frenchman?
Perhaps beauty is in the eye of the beholder? After all, success is relative to your resources, and there’s no doubting that Wenger has achieved things Mourinho could only dream of with such limitations.
More importantly though, Arsene has achieved something Jose has not, and will not, ever manage. A feat unequalled in the Premier League. An achievement which marks him out as one of the greatest ever.
That’s why he is, despite Mourinho’s efforts to tarnish him, best described in one word: