Arsene Wenger & Tony Pulis: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Tony Pulis
during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at The Hawthorns on March 18, 2017 in West Bromwich, England.

Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are coming off a win in the League Cup, and look to pick up another victory on Monday when Tony Pulis and West Bromwich Albion come to the Emirates. No doubt every game in the Premier League is important, but when these two managers collide it is not to be missed.

Both have hugely impressive histories in management, as well as a fairly impressive rivalry that goes back many years. Equally important is the clashing cultures of the two bosses.

On the one hand is Wenger, who cultivates wonderfully creative attackers, while on the other is Pulis, who molds his players into defending dynamos.

Keep reading to find out about the rivalry, and how the two managers have fared against one another.

The Arsene Wenger & Tony Pulis Rivalry

The First Skirmish

While Wenger took charge of Arsenal in 1996 and hasn’t left the club since, Pulis started his career in England more humbly. He managed the likes of Bournemouth (far before they were an EPL team), Gillingham and Bristol refining his trade.

Eventually, his work lead to his first appointment at the Potters in 2002. After a few years in charge, and the club going through some messy times in the boardroom, Pulis returned to lower-league management.

The two bosses met in these early years, but the rivalry we all know and love (at least some of us) didn’t get going in earnest until 2008, and Pulis’ second stint in charge of Stoke City.

In November of that year, with the Gunners recently moved to the Emirates, but having lost key players like Thierry Henry, the two managers clashed at the Britannia. Arsenal were frail in those days, as evidenced by the fact Denilson was a mainstay in the midfield that season.

Tony Pulis’ men scored twice from their now-infamous long throws and physical style. The game was so brutal for Wenger’s men that they suffered three injuries, and had Robin van Persie got sent off after the hosts got under his skin.

War of Words

That was when the war of words began. Arsene Wenger, as always opinionated, started the salvo,

“I read that my team were not brave. All I can say is they are brave and, for me, you need to have more courage to play football when you know that someone is tackling you from behind without any intention to play the ball. It happened at the weekend. Do you think Delap tried to play the ball when he tackled Walcott? Or that Shawcross tried to play the ball when he tackled Adebayor off the pitch? All the players have been injured deliberately. I am not ready to listen to things that are completely untrue and make people who are cowards, for me, look brave.”

His Welsh counterpart retorted to the media,

“In London 48 hours later and 150 miles away from Stoke-on-Trent, Mr Wenger changed tack and has tried to rewrite history. Remember there was only one red card on Saturday and the last time I watched the game it certainly was not a Stoke City player who received it. As for Rory Delap’s challenges on Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna, Rory is as honest and committed as they come. They were free-kicks, but Rory would never purposely go out to injure a fellow professional, it’s just not in Rory’s nature. Further, as I recall the game, Emmanuel Adebayor was booked for a chest-high challenge on Ryan Shawcross.”

The Shawcross Incident

February 2010 saw another trip to the Pottery for Arsenal and another clash between Pulis and Wenger. In an event which is still discussed at least twice a year by Gooners, Aaron Ramsey was the victim of a hard tackle by Ryan Shawcross, resulting in a severely broken leg.

There is still debate about whether or not that was a dirty challenge, but the fact the young Welshman’s career was almost ended before it began is irrefutable. Take a look a the video and let us know what you think!

Warning: it is a graphic video!

Wenger’s Words

Wenger’s thoughts,

“The tackle from Shawcross was horrendous. Spare me how nice he is. Did you see where the injury is? It is not acceptable. That is not football for me and I refuse to live with it. The FA have to act.”

Such sentiment was echoed throughout Arsenal’s supporters, but met with steel by Tony Pulis,

“I know Shawcross, he has no bad blood in him whatsoever. It is a desperately sad day for football, for Aaron and for Arsenal. I accept that.”

While the war of words was far less colorful than the previous incident, the bad blood felt even today is partly due to the infamous tackle. It is also believed to be the reason for a certain comment from our man Arsene later that year.

“You cannot say it is football any more. It is more rugby on the goalkeepers than football. When you see the way Shawcross kicked Heurelho Gomes, how Robert Huth pushed Gomes in the goal, you cannot say that is football anymore.”

Pulis Reaction

The boss spoke of a match between Stoke and Spurs when the Potters employed Pulis’ favorite tactic; parking the bus. He kept his nerve at the time, but mere months later Pulis let us know exactly how he thinks of Arsene Wenger,

“Wenger is ­perceived to be a genius, but he hasn’t delivered a trophy in six years (it was actually five years). I don’t think we need foreign ­managers running the national sides. I’ve got nothing against foreign ­managers, they are very nice people. Apart from Arsene Wenger.”

The two managers didn’t really have anything to say about the other for a few years after that. The results for Arsenal were still not up to par, including two straight 2-0 defeats away.

The next controversy again revolved around Ryan Shawcross and Aaron Ramsey. In April 2012 the Stoke faithful began their now-beloved tradition of booing Ramsey, whose only crime was having the nerve to allow his leg to be broken! What a scumbag!?!?!?

Arsene Wenger, of course, had scolding words for the fans who took part in such ignominious behavior. What was more controversial at the time, however, may have been Tony Pulis’ take,

“I was more concerned about the Arsenal supporters booing Shawcross so I didn’t hear the ones on Ramsey.”

A Thaw?

Even after such willful ignorance, Tony Pulis did come around on Arsene Wenger. After the February 2013 game at the Emirates, where Michel Arteta and Michael Owen clashed over a tackle on Laurent Koscielny, the Welshman had respectful words for once, “I think Arteta’s challenge was a poor challenge, but Michael should not do that.”

The Arsenal boss responded in kind, “It looked to me (like it should have been a red card) but I have to look at it again as I am maybe not completely objective when it comes to Ryan Shawcross. That is why I will be a bit cautious with my statement.”

After that season, with Stoke finishing 13th in a relatively stagnate season, Pulis left the club and seems to have left behind a bit of his rivalry with Arsene Wenger. The clashes with his iterations of Crystal Palace and now West Bromwich Albion have not produced the same spark as when he lead the Potters.

Of course, the Welshman does have a penchant for beating the Frenchman on home turf. That was still the case in November 2015 when Arsenal lost 2-1 at the Hawthornes, despite 73% possession and 11 shots on target.

Parting Thoughts

Pulis is a hard-nosed traditionalist who wants to preserve the tough, physical British game that he grew up with. Wenger, to contrast, has always tried to innovate in England and evolve the sport into a much more attacking game.

While there has never been any love lost, as is normal when Wenger beefs with another manager, there also seems to be some semblance of respect between the two.

These two clashing styles have produced plenty of drama, as well as discussion among fans. While Tony Pulis has yet to win at the Emirates, you can bet he and his players will come to fight on Monday night.

Main Image Credit:
Embed from Getty Images

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