ARSENE WENGER took a pop at old rival Jose Mourinho over his public criticism of Manchester United players.
The Old Trafford chief has questioned the desire of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to return from injuries for United.
And Mourinho has often been damning in his assessments of some other Red Devils stars this season — including Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
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Mourinho was axed at Chelsea last season as he seemed to lose the dressing room after calling out players such as Eden Hazard and falling out with club doctor Eva Carneiro.
But Arsenal boss Wenger, whose side face United at the Emirates today, says it is not right for a manager to break ranks outside the dressing room.
And that is a pointed dig at Mourinho, who once labelled the Frenchman a “specialist in failure” over his inability to win the title since 2004.
Wenger said: “You cannot always say to the players, ‘We’re all in the same boat and in this together to achieve something together’, and then jump out of the boat and say, ‘It’s your fault now’.
“And then when it goes well, you take the credit.
“You’re in the position where you must be part of it and fight for them when it doesn’t go well.”
Everton star Aaron Lennon’s detention under the Mental Health Act last weekend has put stress- related illness into sharp focus.
And Gunners boss Wenger admitted: “You have to be careful criticising players in public. You can do it in extreme situations at times but it must be handled carefully.
“We’ve been speaking before about players dealing with stress.
“It just makes that stress level worse because top players have a good objective assessment of their performances. They know well where they stand.”
Arsenal’s players go into today’s clash having faced a lot of flak from fans and pundits alike.
Wenger has kept cool and calm throughout but confesses that he has been forced to bite his lip on occasions. He said: “Yes, of course, because that is part of management.
“You have to control what you say.
“There are times you want to say something but most of the time you are responsible for the results and first you must be disappointed with yourself.”
Last weekend’s 2-0 defeat against bitter rivals Tottenham was another low in a shocking season for Arsenal.
And the 67-year-old — who is yet to confirm whether he will stay on as Emirates manager after this season — insists his team were stung by the North London derby result, despite what some critics have said.
Arsenal could cut the gap on fifth-placed United to two points by winning today, and Wenger said: “The players have been very hurt by the result and performance. They are focused on the next game — we know we must achieve.
“We’ve got the FA Cup final against Chelsea to prepare for and we must play the remaining five league games until the end of the season with a chance to be in the top four.
“People feel it doesn’t mean enough only when you don’t win. That is not true. You are not at that level at big clubs where you think it does not matter to win or not. It matters.
“Against Manchester United, we must use the frustration and transform it into positive energy and that’s what we want to see on Sunday.”
Wenger appeared to scoff at rumours he wants to sign Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney during the summer.
He said: “How old is he now? 32 soon . . . I’m not in that mode. I don’t think about that.
“I don’t want to give him that platform before Sunday.”