Wenger has been forced to watch on impotently as Chelsea assembled squads of ready-made talent - sometimes at the expense of his own beloved enterprise.
The Chelsea way, flying in the face of Financial Fair Play, is anathema to what Wenger and Arsenal represents - namely fiscal responsibility and nurturing talent from underage levels to the first team. But such things do not decide soccer matches or titles and, in that respect, the Chelsea way has trumped Wenger's prudent, long-term sustainability.
|WENGER VS. MOURINHO
|CAPITAL ONE CUP
On the other, a formidable unit of full-international talent. Big-money buys like Ricardo Carvalho, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Michael Essien, Andrei Shevchenko and Didier Drogba competed against Justin Hoyte, Armand Traore, Philippe Senderos, Abou Diaby and Jeremie Aliadiere.
Inevitably it was the Ivorian Drogba who decided the match in Chelsea's favor on a simmering afternoon that brought three red cards and a mass brawl at the final whistle. "For long periods we were the better team but the regrets we have are that we should have put that game beyond Chelsea," Wenger said in what was to become a familiar refrain. "They had a bit more experience and Drogba made the difference."
In the end, it boils down to the question of philosophy. Wenger, has until now, refused to waver on his. And his poison, which so long held English soccer in thrall, met the antidote in Chelsea.
A vital psychological hurdle was overcome in the Champions League quarterfinals in 2004 when Wayne Bridge's late winner saw the Gunners off to end Chelsea's long streak without winning against Arsenal. That result, Roman Abramovich's cash and the subsequent appointment of Mourinho meant Arsenal's star was falling as Chelsea's was rising.
Under Mourinho, both clubs continued on that trajectory. Chelsea, through rampant investment and Mourinho, became one of Europe's strongest clubs - swaggering through and dominating the English soccer landscape.
Arsenal was no longer the primary rival of Manchester United. It was now Chelsea. Arsenal became also-rans, a feeder club at times, and not a contender for the serious trophies. Its inadequacies were played out on the field and were pronounced in the matches against Chelsea. Arsenal was exploited by Mourinho. Its deficiencies magnified. It was bullied, harassed, beaten.
While Arsenal was blooding new players - best exemplified in that League Cup final defeat in 2007 - Mourinho was packing his side with huge signings and had even more in reserve.
Often, Chelsea played a very simple game against Arsenal - tackle hard, defend deep, cede possession and hit on the break. Its competitive record against Arsenal under Mourinho in his first spell in charge was very impressive: four wins and four draws.
It was a template Chelsea strayed from when Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas were in charge and they were punished with defeats. Crucially for Villas-Boas in his 5-3 home defeat he could not count on Didier Drogba, who was suspended.
More often than not it was Drogba who had his say against Arsenal, scoring 13 times in 14 matches overall. If Chelsea could coax a performance from Drogba in these fixtures, it generally came out on top.
"I don’t know how much Chelsea miss him but we don't miss him. He did a lot of damage against us in every game," Wenger said after Drogba scored last summer in the Emirates Cup in London.
Arsenal's vulnerability from dead-ball situations was exploited right from the off by Chelsea under Mourinho. A 2-2 draw at Highbury kept Chelsea five points clear of its title rivals in December 2004.
"We suffered from set pieces," Wenger said on the night. "But we had some young players out there and we were too small as a unit."
Their next clash, in April 2005, was a 0-0 draw that delayed Chelsea's title-winning party. Chelsea set out to frustrate its guests, defending in numbers, absorbing pressure and keeping its structures intact. It typified Chelsea's season - the soccer was not electrifying but a 23rd clean sheet set it on course for the title.
After a subdued first season with the Blues, Drogba was about to embark on his quest to become one of the world's most feared strikers. Drogba's double downed Arsenal in the 2005 Community Shield. Direct passes to Drogba unsettled Arsenal. Claude Makelele was exceptional, smothering Arsenal's attacks and protecting what was a deep blanket defense.
"Chelsea were dangerous with the long ball. They do it very well," Wenger said. "It's a fact that Drogba likes the high balls and they gave us a hard time."
It was Drogba again who was the thorn in the Arsenal side later in August 2005. An uninspiring contest with a lack of clear-cut chances saw Chelsea grind out another win, bringing its undefeated streak to 31 matches. It was their first Premier League win over Arsenal in 10 years. A lucky goal from Drogba, on as a substitute, was the difference between the sides on the day.
Wenger said: "We had enough possession to score goals but we just missed something; we need to be more efficient." Same old story.
On Dec. 18, 2005, Chelsea restored a nine-point lead in the table and all but ended Arsenal's title hopes. The Gunners lost their third game in succession, failed to score in four running and were left in ninth at the close of play, 20 points behind Chelsea. It was an elbow on Lauren by Michael Essien that was the talking point of this 2-0 victory courtesy of Joe Cole and an increasingly influential Arjen Robben.
"Essien was a straight red in my opinion," said Wenger. "He did not play the ball, he played the player."
Ashley Cole's transfer to Chelsea from Arsenal brought another element of acrimony to an already tempestuous fixture and he made his first appearance against the Gunners in a 1-1 draw in December 2006. Arsenal played all the soccer in this one but had familiar failings as it could not convert its possession to goals. Mathieu Flamini gave Arsenal a late lead before Essien drove home a terrific strike to equalize. The game was memorable due to chief protagonist Drogba's clash with Jens Lehmann.
"Because of the way they controlled the game in the first half, I am happy to settle for a draw," Mourinho said after. "In the first half, they controlled possession and played with more quality and confidence but I don't remember a single shot."
A stop-start, disjointed game then decided the fate of the Premier League title in favor of Manchester United for the first time since 2003. Gilberto Silva scored a penalty after Khalid Boulahrouz was sent off for a foul on Julio Baptista but it was Essien who scored the equalizer in the second half.
The last time the teams met it was a routine victory for Mourinho, suggesting that his dominance over Wenger will continue. Spaniards Cesar Azpilicueta and Juan Mata struck once each to comdemn Arsenal to an early League Cup exit in October of this year.
Where once there was rancor there is now geniality.
"Wenger is a nice guy, Mourinho said upon his return to England. "I respect him a lot. I believe that he feels the same in relation to me. I would bet there is not one single problem between us."
No problem other than Wenger cannot win against him.