IGNORE MOURINHO — WENGER WILL ALWAYS BE A WINNER
Arsene Wenger delivered his retort to Jose Mourinho with a rapier thrust and a winning smile. No failure here.
The Arsenal manager starts this week with his team still fighting on three fronts and looking far from a "specialist in failure" — at least for now.
Wenger watched his side reach the quarterfinals of the FA Cup on Sunday with a 2-1 win over Liverpool. It was a hard-fought, gritty victory and the Gunners rode their luck but it was a fitting response to Mourinho, not to mention the humiliating 5-1 defeat at Anfield eight days earlier.
Next up is Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday, an FA Cup last-eight clash against Everton and crucial Premier League clashes that will define Arsenal's title challenge.
Arsenal has not won a trophy since 2005 but is increasingly becoming the choice of the neutrals and romantics among us this season. Wenger will not want sympathy, but he judged his riposte expertly to Mourinho's frankly nasty, pernicious failure jibe.
"I do not want to go into silly, disrespectful remarks," Wenger hit back. "I did not speak about him in my press conference and I won't do so again tonight. All I know is that it is more embarrassing for Chelsea than for me."
The best advice would usually be to avoid being dragged in to a war of words with Mourinho, but the Portuguese does not intimidate Wenger and this time he crossed the line.
The weekend results do not prove Mourinho wrong, but remind us that any analysis of Arsenal and its season must wait until at least the end of the campaign. Wenger has had his clashes with Mourinho before, and he's been through this whole mind games nonsense with the great Sir Alex Ferguson, too.
And, whatever Mourinho says, Wenger is a winner. He has won three league titles and four FA Cups for Arsenal, qualified for the Champions League 16 years in a row and overseen the club's move to the Emirates Stadium.
While Wenger navigated Arsenal through rocky financial times, the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City emerged with their petrodollars to threaten the effectiveness of the Gunners' business model based on spending only what they earn. In truth, Arsenal is punching above its weight by even competing with Chelsea and City this season.
Do I think Arsenal will win the Premier League title? No. Is Arsene Wenger an expert in failure? Not a chance.
The win over Liverpool was somewhat fortunate. The outcome would no doubt have been different had referee Howard Webb spotted the most obvious of fouls by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on Luis Suarez and awarded Liverpool its second penalty of the game.
But the fight and spirit of Wenger's men gave them a much needed boost after their dismal Anfield performance as they prepare for an even tougher test with the visit of the reigning European champions.
Wenger has consistently proved the doubters wrong, including many among his own Arsenal support. He took a gamble by resting several players against Liverpool, but his decision was vindicated and the likes of Tomas Rosicky, Bacary Sagna and Olivier Giroud will start against Bayern with fresh legs.
In Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Gunners also boost one of the most in-form players in the country right now. The midfielder started on the right, scoring the opener with a clinical finish before racing down the flank and displaying great composure to tee up Lukas Podolski for what turned out to be the winning goal.
With Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott out injured, Oxlade-Chamberlain's pace in behind will provide a target for Mesut Ozil to aim at when Pep Guardiola's men roll into town Wednesday.
Arsenal has nothing to lose in its two games against Bayern and its focus this season should be purely on the two domestic competitions it has a great chance of winning.
I don't think Arsenal will win the league — City and Chelsea are too strong — so the FA Cup represents its best chance of ending that nine-year drought. But when it looked like it could all crumble as Wenger looked to pick up the squad following a crushing defeat and found himself under a barrage of abuse from Mourinho, the Frenchman found the answer.
MANCHESTER CITY VS. BARCELONA HAS THE MAKINGS OF A CHAMPIONS LEAGUE CLASSIC
Manchester City warmed up for its Champions League first leg against Barcelona with a statement of intent as it brushed aside league leader Chelsea in the FA Cup on Saturday. A few hours later, the Spanish champions issued their response by smashing Rayo Vallecano for six at the Camp Nou.
This is shaping up as a feast for the purists between two of the most aesthetically pleasing teams in Europe.
City fans will be praying that Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho are fit to play some part in Tuesday's first leg at the Etihad Stadium because they could make the difference in a tie that will surely deliver goals.
Both sides are addicted to scoring but always provide their opponents with a chance and have exhibited countless examples of sloppy defending this season.
The likes of Swansea, Cardiff and Watford have all scored twice against City this season, and the club has been taught a lesson in home defeats against top-class sides in Bayern Munich and Chelsea. That is why Saturday's win over the Blues — a burgeoning rivalry that could come to dominate English soccer in the next few years — will be important to City's mentality ahead of the Barcelona game.
You sense that for all the goals and the club's capacity to destroy teams, even some of the City players aren't quite aware of just how good this side is.
The real difference between City and Barcelona is in the relative experience in this competition of the two squads. City is in the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time, and the only man in the side who has won the competition before is Yaya Toure. And he did it with Barcelona.
But I think City can — and will — beat Messi, Neymar and Co. over two legs and keep its quadruple dream alive.
REFEREES IN NEED OF ADDITIONAL HELP
As much as I like to ridicule the seemingly superfluous officials stationed behind the goals in Champions League and Europa League games, perhaps it is time for the FA and Premier League to think about giving our referees a hand. If we're not going to use technology, let's give our officials the best possible chance to make the correct decisions.
Howard Webb is supposedly the best referee in the country and will be officiating at the World Cup in Brazil. But he made two terrible decisions Sunday that could have changed the result of the game between Liverpool and Arsenal.
Only he knows why he didn't award a penalty for a blatant foul on Luis Suarez in the penalty area, while Steven Gerrard should have walked for a second yellow card when he took down Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Given the position on the pitch of the two incidents, you have to feel that one of UEFA's extra officials behind the goal would have made sure the right decision came to pass.