The Arsenal-Repelling Voodoo Of Mark Hughes
In the 22nd week of Premier League action in the 2015-16 season, Arsenal drew 0-0 at Stoke. It was undoubtedly a frustrating result for their supporters. However it did allow the Gunners to at least keep pace with Leicester City, who with their own draw at Aston Villa the previous day had taken one point lead in the league table. But outside the context of this year’s EPL race, the draw with Stoke had to be maddening for Arsenal fans for another reason entirely. It proved once again that Mark Hughes has some sort of mystical hold on the Gunners at least in his own backyard.
A tale of Mark Hughes and Arsenal’s greatest voodoo of last decade. Goalden Times looks at the strangest streak of English Premier League where Mark Hughes has been unbeaten against Arsène Wenger in his home ground since February 2006, almost for a full decade.
According to Betfair’s Arsenal coverage, Hughes was unbeaten in his last seven contests (five wins and two draws) on home soil against Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. And in that span, he has managed five different clubs! Going back a little bit further, Hughes’ overall record at home against Wenger in EPL was 6-2-2 heading into the most recent contest. Now in the aftermath of the latest draw between the coaches, the overall record is 6-3-2, and in the last eight matches it’s 5-3-0. That’s pretty remarkable given that the streaks date back to Hughes’ 2004-2008 stretch with Blackburn Rovers and includes his time with Manchester City, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers, and now Stoke City. Essentially, a journeyman head coach (who has been in charge of four clubs that have been in and out of the EPL in the past decade) has consistently managed to stand tall against the boss of one of the EPL’s stalwart manager at one of the biggest clubs.
Twice between 2006 and 2007, Hughes’ Blackburn Rovers managed at least a point off of Arsenal at home in Blackburn. The first triumph came in February of 2006. According to BBC’s sports section, Blackburn’s 1-0 win led Mark Hughes to say that his side had been “brave” in its execution, while Arsene Wenger didn’t believe his side should have lost. Wenger wasn’t citing any sort of injustice, but he merely thought his side had played well enough to earn a result with the exception of a few minutes.
The following August was not quite as good for Blackburn, but they still managed a home draw against Arsenal under Hughes’ guidance, maintaining what has by then become such an amazing unbeaten streak. And it was in this match that a touch of divine intervention seemed to assist Hughes against Arsenal. With the Gunners poised for a 1-0 victory, a long shot by David Dunn in the 72nd minute got through the hands of then goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. There was no further drama and the match finished at 1-1.
Hughes had his easiest time with Wenger and the Gunners during his brief stint with Manchester City. In November 2008, he led his club to a dominating 3-0 victory in Manchester, despite the fact that it was not that strong a City squad we are used to in recent years. They ultimately finished six spots and a surprising 22 points behind Arsenal in the league tables. However, on the day of the match in Manchester, events conspired against the Gunners once more. Defender William Gallas had been let go earlier that week, and City capitalized on a defence in disarray with goals from Stephen Ireland, Robinho and Daniel Sturridge.
Hughes did not stay with City for long, but his odd hold on the Gunners continued through stints with Fulham (where he managed a 2-2 draw in his only home match against Arsenal) and Queens Park Rangers (with whom he defeated Arsenal 2-1). The Fulham draw in late May 2011 was nearly a win before Theo Walcott equalized late for Arsenal, but even the draw deprived Arsenal of a top-three finish in 2011. The QPR win in March 2012, meanwhile, ended Wenger’s streak of seven straight league match wins.
And then there is Stoke City. Heading into this season, Hughes had an impressive a 2-0-0 record at home against Arsenal with his current club, with his first win coming by a 1-0 margin in March 2014. It was a tightly contested match that looked to be on its way to a scoreless draw before Jonathan Walters converted his spot kick in the 76th minute. And again, Arsene Wenger was left to rue what might have been if the referee had awarded a penalty for Stoke’s Glenn Whelan challenge against Olivier Giroud.
Hughes’ second win over Arsenal as Stoke manager came in December of that same year, in the following season, when his side scripted a dramatic 3-2 victory. At one point in that match, Stoke actually led 3-0. Arsenal made a spirited comeback to force a draw in the second half but ultimately fell short, falling again to a Hughes side and preserving his bizarre streak of home effectiveness.
So, to put things in perspective, Mark Hughes has not been beaten by Wenger on his team’s home ground since February 2006, almost for a full decade. Frankly, it’s starting to become one of the stranger streaks in the game.
And evidently it has begun to bother the Arsenal boss. In The Mirror’s football section, Wenger was quoted airing some frustration about Stoke’s “physical” and “direct” approach in the most recent match, prompting a response from Hughes that the physicality of the match did not need to be brought up as a talking point. The whole thing certainly sounds much like it did in that first EPL contest between the two 10 years ago, after which Wenger indicated his side shouldn’t have lost. But however the Arsenal boss articulates his frustration, and he has certainly done so after several of their contests over the years, this odd trend seems to continue: Mark Hughes at home is kryptonite to the Gunners.