At the fourteenth time of asking, Arsene Wenger can finally say he has beaten Jose Mourinho.
So we can put the bitterness to bed after Arsenal beat Chelsea 1-0 in the Community Shield on Sunday. The war of words will now stop, the two managers will shake hands, show some respect for each other and play nice. Right?
Last season, Chelsea could barely consider Arsenal as rivals. The Gunners were out of the title race long before Christmas and eventually finished 12 points behind Mourinho’s Premier League champions.
But the feud between Wenger and Mourinho still exploded. It included a touchline bust-up at Stamford Bridge last October and jibes from the Blues boss about Arsenal’s “boring” failure to win a title in over a decade.
And their rivalry may reach boiling point over the next nine months if the two teams end up fighting for the title this season.
It is one of the most childish rivalries in football between two respected managers, yet it is so compelling. It is a tale of two coaches who seem to share only the trait of being terrible losers. Everything else, from their football philosophy to their approaches to the media, are polar opposite.
At the final whistle, there was no attempt from either manager to disguise the bad blood between them.
After the Arsenal players had collected their medals, Mourinho stood at the bottom of the Wembley steps and shook each of their hands, only for Wenger to dart behind him at the last minute and avoid having to acknowledge his rival.
It was a turn of foot that one of the Frenchman’s players would have been proud of and proof, if we needed any, that a freak 11-year winless spell against Mourinho has got under his skin.
“I believe we are in a job where you have to respect people and respect everybody,” Wenger told reporters in his post-match press conference. “It’s a difficult job but I think it’s vital that managers respect each other.”
Not until Arsenal have won their first Premier League title since 2004 will Wenger be able to shake off the “specialist in failure” tag given to him by Mourinho.
He is unlikely to ever forget being branded a “voyeur” by the Portuguese.
But at least he no longer has to field questions about never beating a Mourinho-managed side.
A fantastic first-half strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain determined the result, but ultimately it owed more to Arsenal’s defensive organisation as they blocked Chelsea’s route to their goal with an intelligent tactical display.
It was a disciplined and dogged performance that bore all the signs you would expect from a team managed by Mourinho. It also showed beyond doubt how much it mattered to Arsenal and Wenger as they plot a genuine title challenge this season.
They restricted Chelsea to half-chances while creating the better opportunities to score the second goal of the afternoon, especially when Santi Cazorla chipped straight at Thibaut Courtois when one-on-one with the Blues goalkeeper.
“I have to say the best team lost and the defensive team won,” was Mourinho’s assessment of the match. “For me it depends on the perspective. Normally you like to say that the team that is defensive and defends very well doesn’t deserve to win. I have to go in your direction and say that the best team lost and the defensive team won.
“But I also think if the team that defends very well, the team that leaves their philosophy in the dressing room and changes their attitude and accumulates 10 players behind the ball at all times, and play all the second half with nine players in front of the box – this is football. This is very good tactical organisation and in that perspective I say congratulations.”
Mourinho had claimed ahead of the fixture that he would question himself if he had a record of failing to beat a rival manager in 13 attempts.
But Wenger had the answer. The FA Cup holders beat last year’s Premier League champions and now the task is to ensure that Arsenal maintain this level of performance when the season starts in earnest.
Last year, the Gunners struck three past Manchester City in the Community Shield but their title hopes ended in tatters long before Christmas. It is a cautionary tale that the 35,000 jubilant Arsenal fans here would be wise to heed ahead of their league opener at home to West Ham next Sunday.
Mourinho, of course, will claim this doesn’t really count. He wore a tracksuit on the touchline to suggest he was in full pre-season mode, while even Victor Moses was given a run out as one of four Chelsea substitutes.
But the Portuguese’s body language told a different story as he barked orders to his players and argued constantly with the fourth official. He never likes losing in any circumstances, and certainly not in front of 90,000 people against Arsene Wenger.
The war of words between Mourinho and Wenger won’t stop here, the sniping and the touchline clashes will continue and it may become even more hostile should they both challenge for the league in the latter part of the season.
Wenger insists his record against Mourinho has not played on his mind but admitted it might have affected some of his players.
“I must honestly say it didn’t play on my mind at all but as long as I get it served every time in press conferences it can have an impact on the team,” Wenger said. “It was important for my team to get it out of the way.”
Even if he denies it, it was important for Wenger too.