How Arsene Wenger Can Avenge 1,000th-Game Misery and Keep Title Race Alive

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2015

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger shouts across the pitch during the English FA Cup semifinal soccer match between Arsenal and Reading at Wembley Stadium in London, Saturday, April 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Tim Ireland

It ought to have been a celebratory occasion. Arsene Wenger was sending out an Arsenal team for the 1,000th time in his reign. This was an extraordinary milestone, and one that deserved a memorable result.

Unfortunately, Arsenal’s result will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons. That day will forever be infamous, as Arsenal meekly succumbed to a 6-0 mauling against Chelsea. 

It was an embarrassing day for Arsenal and Wenger. What will have made the agony all the more intense is that the pain was inflicted by none other than Jose Mourinho, who has emerged as a "bete noire'" for the Gunners boss. Since arriving in English football, Mourinho has been the bane of Wenger’s existence. For all his many achievements, the Frenchman has never recorded a victory over the Chelsea boss. 

That must end this weekend. Arsenal host Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium, and while any hopes of winning the title have become incredibly slim, this game remains hugely important. It still represents a tremendous opportunity to lay down a marker for next season, and lay some ghosts to rest in the process. Who knows, perhaps a resounding Arsenal victory could send the wheels spinning off Chelsea’s title charge.

The question is: How are Arsenal to break the habit and finally defeat Mourinho? There are indications Wenger may have finally found an appropriate formula for success in these crunch games. Since the turn of the year, his team has defeated Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool 

The Liverpool game is probably the most relevant example, seeing as that also took place at the Emirates Stadium. In both Manchester matches, Arsenal were able to relinquish possession and look to hit their opposition on the counter-attack.

Tim Ireland/Associated Press

That’s unlikely to be the case against Chelsea, who come to Arsenal knowing they’re in pole position to lift the Premier League. A draw would represent a very good result for them, and Wenger will not have forgotten the way they expertly ground out a 0-0 in this fixture last season.

The onus is on the Gunners to take the game to Chelsea. They managed that against Liverpool, with a high-octane start catching Brendan Rodgers’ side off-guard. Had Arsenal been more clinical, they could have been several goals to the good inside the opening 20 minutes.

Arsenal will need to exert that kind of relentless pressure in the early stages if they’re to rattle Chelsea. The likes of Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey will be asked to close down Chelsea defenders at every opportunity in order to force errors and unsettle the back line. 

Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

However, that kind of high-intensity style comes with a degree of risk attached. Arsenal were arguably lucky not to concede the first goal to Liverpool after Rodgers’ team caught them on the counter-attack. Chelsea would surely be less profligate and punish any defensive lapses from the Gunners. Francis Coquelin will need to be at his absolute best to snuff out Chelsea’s inevitable counter strikes.

Arsenal will need to be perfect if they are to beat Mourinho’s men. If they’re to stand even the slightest chance of overturning Chelsea’s Premier League lead, they will need to continue in that fashion and hope the Blues implode. It’s a long shot, but they have to try.

Even if the league proves beyond their reach, a Wenger victory over Mourinho would sound a warning that Arsenal will be a force in the title race come next season.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here.