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Who is the master of Premier League mind games?



Ignored by some, abused by others. Mind games have become part and parcel of the modern game. Whether it is to get into the heads players, refs or even opposition managers, it is rare to find a managers press conference without a few carefully planned tricks thrown into the bargain.

Becoming a great manager is more than just being tactically astute, knowing how to spot potential and getting the best out of your players on both the training field and on match days. Great managers have an ability to deflect pressure in big matches to give their players that extra confidence whilst denting that of their opponents.

Here we’ll see how managers, both past and present, have been using the tricks to fluster opponents and perhaps gain an advantage for their sides, or the complete opposite!

Jose Mourinho

The figurehead of mind games. Jose has used so many over the years I’m sure he’s confused himself as much as the opposition, but hen always knows what he’s doing. Opposition managers over the years have even been admiring his ability to use his words as weapons for getting at opponents. Last year before facing them in the knockout stages of the Champions League, PSG manager Laurent Blanc admitted the Chelsea manager “is a lot stronger” than him at out-psyching opponents. But have his mind games really worked?

His most recent fling has been the ‘Campaign against Chelsea’. Mourinho has been vocal in his frustration at recent decisions that have gone against Chelsea claiming that there was a campaign from the media and the FA against the club.

However, this recent campaign hasn’t been going so well for the former Real Madrid boss, with Chelsea being denied two clear penalties in the first half in a recent league game at home to Burnley. Not only this, but Nemanja Matic was sent off for retaliating after a leg-breaker challenge from Ashley Barnes that went unpunished. This left Chelsea with a solitary goal cushion to defend with 10 men and they were unable to hold on. This prompted the official Chelsea twitter page to comment on the four big decisions to go against their side that same day!

Potentially one of his most ambitious mind game of all was trying to suggest that Chelsea were not in the hunt to be premiership champions last season. This came about when he said “The title race is between two horses and a little horse that needs milk and needs to learn how to jump. Maybe next season we can race.” In fairness, he was correct, with Man City going on to win the league on the final day, with Chelsea finishing a disappointing 3rd.

So it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows for Jose recently, but he can pull off some wonders.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Mourinho have been locking horns for many years but since the latter returned to the Premiership they have taken a rather more personal route. Wenger initially claimed that Mourinho “feared failure” before Mourinho retorted in another interview prior to a match that Wenger was a “specialist of failure” after not winning a trophy in eight years before their FA Cup triumph last year.

Did it work? Well, I’ll let you decide. Chelsea went on to beat the gunners 6-0.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Probably the greatest manager to ever grace the game, Sir Alex always knew what he was doing.

Fergie and Mancini, during his days at City, liked to have the occasional war of words. Before the Manchester Derby back in late 2013, Sir Alex decided to target the refs before the potentially title decided encounter at the Etihad.

Commenting on the number of penalties City had been awarded that year, the Scotsman asked the media “Twenty-one in the last year, isn’t it? If we were to get that number of penalty kicks there would be an inquiry in the House of Commons. There would be a protest.”

Even though we all like Mourinho’s insult everyone tactics, he’s got some ways to go to surpass the silver-tongued Scotsman.

Did it work? Yes. United went one to win 3-2 through a last minute free-kick by then new signing Robin Van Persie. Not bad, eh?

Roberto Mancini 

Apologies City fans, but I have to come clean. I probably hated Roberto than any other manger in the league, and this was mainly due to the amount of, well, content of the incorrect nature he spoke of during his press conferences. I hope you appreciate me holding myself back here. But I must admit, he was brilliant at it, and he showed it in the 2012-13 season.

This was a pretty ominous statement that appeared in every single interview with the Italian towards the end of the 2011-12 season. After City were behind United by 8 points with not long in the season, Mancini admitted defeat claiming: “The title race is over.”

It didn’t stop there for Roberto, no no! Even when United had dropped points to Everton and later lost at Manchester City, Mancini’s men had closed the gap to two points, but he continued the relentless games, saying City were “Not two, five” points behind the leaders, to add more pressure to the Red Devils in their game in hand, which was away at Wigan.

Did it work? To just say yes would be an understatement. United lost to Wigan 1-0 and City went on the win their first ever premier league title on the final day thanks to a last minute goal. Agueroooooooo……

Rafa Benitez

How can anyone forget Rafa’s famous outburst back in 2009?  We were treated to one of the best mind-game meltdowns that the Premier League has had the privilege to witness and even Liverpool fans can laugh at it now.

During the 5-minute speech, he claims that Sir Alex, or “Mr Ferguson”, “was the only manager who could escape punishment” from the FA, that he “killed” referees and that Chelsea should employ zonal marking on the United staff, whilst repeating that these were facts. He even went as far as complaining about the number of early kick offs Liverpool had, and also commented on the number of home matches United had in the second half of the season, claiming they had a “clear advantage”. In fairness he did have a point, well kind of…

Did it work?

Nope. At the time of the press conference Liverpool were top of the table, but eventually surrendered their position to, guess who, United, and despite Liverpool only losing two league games the whole season, lost in the end by four points to their fierce rivals.

So that’s that. The good and the, well, not so good. Love them or hate them, mind games have become a massive part of the beautiful game, and whether you think they’re great or just downright disrespectful, they’re here to stay, and believe you me, football would be that little bit duller without them.


Tottenham Hotspur fans react to Danny Welbeck dive

Tottenham Hotspur fans were not pleased with Danny Welbeck’s dive v AC Milan.



Arsenal successfully knocked AC Milan out of the Europa League last night with a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium. The hero of the night was England forward Danny Welbeck. The striker scored two goals as Arsenal completed a deserved 5-1 aggregate victory over the Rossoneri.

But Milan had taken an early lead through Hakan Calhanoglu’s bamboozling long-range strike. Arsenal, at that stage, were looking on the ropes. Welbeck though won and then dispatched a penalty to level the scoring. The word ‘won’ being the optimum word.

Welbeck dived for the penalty, there is no doubt about that. Ricardo Rodriguez barely breathed on the Arsenal man, who tumbled to the ground hopefully. When the penalty was given, he looked in disbelief.

Tottenham Hotspur’s English midfielder Dele Alli (2L) is booked for a dive during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

For Tottenham Hotspur fans it was a moment they did not appreciate.

Spurs have seen Dele Alli victimised throughout the season, and some would say rightly so, for his diving. There is no doubt that the England midfielder has dived this season and not many Tottenham fans would suggest not.

But the anger here lies with what Tottenham fans believe is hypocrisy. There is also a certain level or irony given a thinly veiled dig by Arsene Wenger against Spurs’ players this season.

After the highly controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield, where Harry Kane was accused of diving v Liverpool, Wenger had this to say, as reported by the BBC:

“I remember there were tremendous cases here when foreign players did it.

“But English players have learned very quickly and might be the masters now.”


“Sometimes players play a little bit with the rules. How far can you go? That is down to the referees.”

With Arsenal their next Premier League opponents, Arsene Wenger’s barb was not hard to see.

When that statement came out Tottenham fans quickly pointed out occasions when Arsenal’s English stars had been caught diving. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were prominent examples. Now, in Welbeck, Tottenham have seen another.

Arsenal fans will be happy that their team have booked a place in the next round of the Europa League. On balance it was more than a fair result as over two legs Arsenal outplayed the Italian giants.

But the Welbeck moment certainly put an asterix on the game for Spurs fans.

Here is some of the best reaction from Twitter…

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AC Milan

Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?

Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.

They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.

These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.

Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.

(Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.

The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.

Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.

Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.

Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.

The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.

It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.

When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.

If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.

There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.

Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.

It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.

It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.

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Brighton 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Amex

Arsenal lost for a fourth successive game as Brighton & Hove Albion bullied their opponents into submission.

Rob Meech



Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal suffered their fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions as Brighton & Hove Albion took a giant leap towards Premier League survival.

The pressure on Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, which has intensified since the turn of the year, looks set to reach new heights after another dismal day at the office for his charges.

Goals from Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray put the Seagulls in control before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled one back for the visitors on the stroke of half-time.

Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Arsenal were unable to muster an equaliser.

For Brighton, this was a huge result that lifted them seven points clear of the relegation zone.

Here are three talking points…

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Is beleaguered Wenger’s position now untenable?

It lurches from one disaster to another for Wenger.

He probably thought the nadir had been reached after last weekend’s limp performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, when his future became the main topic of debate.

The Frenchman would have hoped for a reaction from his players in the subsequent fixtures.

Instead, his side were brushed aside against City in the Premier League before producing another sub-standard display here against Brighton.

Added to their shock Europa League reversal at home to minnows Ostersunds, it is the first time Arsenal have lost four successive matches since 2002.

After last season’s FA Cup triumph, Wenger penned a new contract that takes him through to the summer of 2019.

Now, however, it’s difficult to see how he can last beyond the end of the current campaign.

Perhaps only by lifting the Europa League, which would automatically qualify Arsenal for the Champions League, could Wenger realistically remain in situ.

Even then, it may not be enough. His players look devoid of any confidence and need an injection of new ideas.

(Photo by Glyn Kirk/Getty Images)

Brighton take a massive step towards safety 

The focus will understandably be on Arsenal, but Brighton’s display should not be overlooked.

This victory extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League to four games and has all but banished thoughts that they might be dragged into a relegation scrap.

Yes, it was a good time to face Arsenal, but Chris Hughton’s side made a fast start with two early goals that went a long way to recording their first win over the Gunners since 1982.

Brighton’s performance bore all the hallmarks of their season so far.

Despite being one of the lowest scorers in the division, they took their chances when they came, exploiting Arsenal’s weakness from set pieces and aerial balls.

In the second half, the home side remained very organised defensively, which was key when the Gunners upped the tempo.

Modest and unassuming, Hughton has done a terrific job on the south coast.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Defensive shortcomings continue to haunt Arsenal 

Wenger has regularly spoken of his belief that Arsenal cannot compete on a level playing field with the likes of Manchester City.

And while his side’s record against fellow ‘Big Six’ clubs is regularly scrutinised, the Gunners’ results against the lesser lights have not been good enough for a club with Champions League aspirations.

In 2018 alone, Arsenal have been beaten by Swansea City, Bournemouth and now Brighton in the Premier League, while losing to Nottingham Forest and Ostersunds in cups.

A lack of leadership has long been an issue on the pitch and it’s an area Wenger has consistently ignored.

Defensively, the Gunners are too easy to bully.

Take Shkodran Mustafi’s defending for the first goal in the Carabao Cup final last weekend, for example.

Particularly away from home, Arsenal are prone to imploding.

Despite the attacking talent Wenger has at his disposal, his failure to invest in proven defenders at the top level looks set to cost him dearly.

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