Neil Humphreys: How Wenger can end Mourinho jinx
Here are five reasons why Arsenal manager can finally end Mourinho hoodoo
ARSENAL v CHELSEA
(Tonight, 11pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Jose Mourinho owns a voodoo doll of Arsene Wenger.
There are 12 pins stuck in its body.
Mourinho holds a 13th pin, ready to stab it through the Frenchman's heart.
Arsenal and Chelsea meet tonight in a contest that Wenger has never won. He is hexed by the hoodoo.
Across 12 years, 12 games, seven defeats and five draws, he has failed to conquer his demon in the opposing dugout. Mourinho has his number.
But it could be 13th time lucky for the frustrated Frenchman at the Emirates. Here are five reasons why.
1. Form favours the brave
In that harrowing first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie with Monaco, the Gunners did what they always do - they succumbed to inferior opposition.
So Wenger did the unthinkable. He allowed a little pragmatism to bleed into his purist principles.
He pulled back Santi Cazorla and partnered him with Francis Coquelin, granting additional cover. Wenger tightened his loose screws in defence.
Perversely, the Monaco hammering was a wake-up call. They've won every game since, morphing into Europe's most in-form side, picking up more points per game in 2015 than any other team in the top divisions of England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy.
In the past, Arsenal attacked Chelsea like French cavaliers on horseback, parading through No Man's Land with shiny swords, only to be shot down by Mourinho's machine gun fire.
That may not happen tonight. The Gunners are now smarter. Their football remains cultured, but less kamikaze.
2. Sit back and suffer, Chelsea
Mourinho was the cat who got the cream after the Manchester United victory last weekend, purring in post-match interviews.
The tactician had triumphed against his old master, proving yet again that winning 1-0 was the easiest scoreline to achieve.
Since beating Swansea 5-0 on Jan 17, every Premier League victory of Chelsea has been decided by a single goal.
It's not so much a charge to the championship as it is championship chess, moving tiny pieces around with little excitement.
Against United, Chelsea often kept 10 men behind the ball, tempting the Red Devils into benign pot-shots from distance. United failed to get behind the blue fortress, but Arsenal can.
Along with Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Oezil has peaked in recent matches, performing at the tip of a left-sided triangle that is the most penetrative attacking force in the EPL.
Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic will not be permitted a lazy Sunday afternoon. What's more, Arsenal's old Achilles heel is suddenly a pillar of strength - the extra pass.
So often criticised for taking an indulgent touch, dribble or pass too many, the Gunners need to do precisely that to slip in Olivier Giroud between the gaps.
Chelsea's central defence deals with long balls and hopeful crosses like a horse's tail swishing away flies.
But pace could punish them. If the Gunners play pinball around the box, the game may tilt in their favour.
3. Stick a box around the hazard
Eden Hazard's winner against United exemplified Mourinho's much lauded strategy: defend deep, concede possession, win the second balls and release the nimble assassin from Belgium.
He cuts inside and gobbles up space like a blue Pac-Man. Fortunately for Arsenal, one of their most consistent performers will go eyeball to eyeball with Hazard.
From newcomer to nascent star, Hector Bellerin broke into the first time and refused to go back to the bench. He can match Hazard's pace. It's the additional panache that's the tricky bit. With a youthful tendency to go walkabout, Bellerin's concentration is critical. Whenever Hazard comes near, he must act like a long lost limpet.
4. Many unhappy returns
With all that talk of a form slump mixed in with chatter about a bitter homecoming to Cesc Fabregas' former club, the cold-headed stats get a little lost. So here they are again. Fabregas has 16 EPL assists, three more than the combined total of Cazorla and Oezil. Behind the mask remains a formidable craftsman.
Mourinho's cautious approach against United - adding Kurt Zouma as defensive ballast alongside Nemanja Matic - should be repeated.
That pushes the midfielder with the mask into Coquelin's face. The Frenchman's anchoring role stabilised the good ship Arsenal, but a perfect storm is coming.
Fabregas returns in an advanced role with a point to prove. Coquelin's season is already the best of his career. Now he needs the game of his life.
5. Beat Chelsea at their own game
Wenger would never admit it, but the more things change, the more he looks like Mourinho.
In the January trip to the Etihad, he kept his men on a leash. Creativity came with a healthy dollop of common sense against Manchester City.
Like primary school kids let loose with paint brushes, they were granted artistic freedom within limits and they prevailed.
This month, the defensive trick was repeated against Liverpool. Silk blended with galvanized steel.
Arsenal did a passable impression of Chelsea, but with more impressive passing.
Wenger bowed before Mourinho in the past. But his team and tactics have the beating of the Blues. Mourinho has stolen points from Wenger for more than a decade, but the Frenchman got wise. It takes a thief to catch a thief.
Wenger tells Gunners: Seize chance to catch Blues
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger warned his side cannot get complacent if they are to sustain their place as Chelsea's closest challengers until the end of the season.
The Blues head to the Emirates Stadium today on course for the title, 10 points ahead of the Gunners with just six matches left to play.
While defeat for Jose Mourinho's men would probably not derail that journey from its final destination, the Gunners could be back down to fourth place by the time they kick off tonight should both Manchester City and Manchester United win, albeit still holding a match in hand following last weekend's FA Cup semi-final.
"We want to continue to win and strengthen our position in second place because that's far from being done," said Wenger, whose side have recorded eight straight Premier League victories.
"We have an opportunity to get closer to Chelsea and we want to take it.
"We dropped points at the start of the season but, since January, we have been top of the (form) table.
"We have an opportunity to show that improvement is consistent."
Wenger accepts Chelsea have found the right formula this season.
"They are the team that have lost less games than any other teams. The Premier League rewards consistency and, on that front, if you look at their record, they have been defensively very strong and very consistent," said the Frenchman.
For all of Arsenal's progress in 2015, Wenger knows they are only as good as their last result.
"You take the example of Man City and that shows how fragile the position is. Nothing is forever in our game," he said.
"Our game is so popular because it is not always predictable, and that is why even if you finish first this season, you can be three or four places behind next season."
Jack Wilshere has recovered from ankle surgery and is hoping to play his part in the run-in, which will culminate on May 30 in the FA Cup final against Aston Villa at Wembley.
The midfielder (above) has been impressed by Arsenal's new-found discipline in getting positive results against the divisions leading sides.
"We want to be difficult to beat when we haven't got the ball because we know what we can do when we do have the ball, but when we don't we want to be difficult to beat, we are starting to do that," Wilshere said.
"There is this confidence or belief that we can do it and that is something different this season."
- PA Sport.