Even if he doesn’t win another match, José Mourinho is an all-time great manager, coming form nowhere to impose himself on the game through force of talent, personality and will. When he took over at Porto – earned through years of toil – they were fifth in the league and just over two years later, they were Europa League and European champions; at Chelsea, he won consecutive titles and inspired a a team which lasted a generation; with Inter, he took an alright team to the treble; at Madrid, he finished above the greatest club side ever; and at Manchester United, he finished a distant second to Manchester City. Incredible.
But because football is a continuum there will always be new questions, and another one stands before Mourinho today: can he spoil the English game’s most reliably entertaining fixture? The portents are positive. Last weekend, he returned to Chelsea and deliberately restricted Tanguy Ndombele, Harry Kane and Heung-min Son – three of the funnest players in the country – to counters and scraps, in aid of a goalless draw that did little for either club. Expletive Nihilists 1-0 Expletive Crybabies.
Today, though, is different. Both Manchester clubs, along with Chelsea, have already won this weekend, Spurs are at home, and a third game without a win sounds like a sequence. In addition to which, Mikel Arteta is a lot of what Mourinho despises: a preaching discipline of Pep Guardiola with even better hair, who did little to earn his privileged path into a plum job. Taking dastardly pleasure in booting him when he’s down would Mourinho – and football – incarnate – and he knows has the the team to do it.
Arsenal, meanwhile, desperately need something today. In the league, they’ve lost five of their last six games, scoring just twice – a penalty and a header from a corner – looking staid and weak in the process. Though the significance of Thomas Partey’s absence must not be overlooked, things were not right even with him, the co-ordinated patterns of attack that Arteta was meant to bring looking like they were designed by a sleepy toddler with Etch-a-Sketch access.
And Arteta will know that in an open game, his team will probably take a hiding. Their defence is ill-equipped to deal with Spurs’ attack and their attack is insufficiently coherent to frighten Spurs’ slightly dodgy defence. So actually, today’s question should be: can he spoil the English game’s most reliably entertaining fixture? This is going to be intense.
Kick-off: 4.30pm GMT