Whether it was designed to rankle his long-standing sparring partner, Sir Alex Ferguson, or whether it was an honestly held belief, Rafa Benitez said last season: "Arsene Wenger was the best manager who had been in the Premier League for a while." Either way, it was a reflection of admiration from former Valencia, Liverpool and Chelsea boss Benitez for Wenger.
Likewise, Arsenal's long-standing manager, Wenger, has regularly stood up for counterpart Benitez since the 2012/13 campaign when the Spaniard was facing a revolt from fans at Chelsea. There is a mutual respect.
However, on Tuesday night they will again be rivals when they meet as Arsenal host Serie A's Napoli in UEFA Champions League Group F at Emirates Stadium.
Ahead of the game, Peter Fraser looks back at some of the classic previous encounters over the past more than a decade between two of the most successful managers who have worked in English football in this Millennium.
|Wenger All Time Record v Benitez|
Valencia 2 Arsenal 1 - March, 2003 - Champions League
Benitez's Valencia dumped Arsenal out of the Champions League second group stage following this victory at the Mestalla Stadium. A single point would have seen Arsenal qualify but two John Carew goals either side of Thierry Henry's solitary strike condemned the London club to defeat in Spain. Arsenal had been held to a 0-0 draw at Highbury earlier in the group, when Miguel Angel Angulo was sent off. Benitez said that draw gave him, "great satisfaction".
Liverpool 2 Arsenal 1 - November, 2004 - Premier League
In the first Premier League meeting between Wenger and Benitez, who had left Valencia to take over at Liverpool, the latter came out on top in an engrossing game at Anfield. It was one of the early defeats for an Arsenal side who had famously gone unbeaten in the previous campaign. A well-worked Xabi Alonso goal had provided Liverpool with a deserved lead but Patrick Vieira superbly equalised. However, Neil Mellor's long-range, injury-time half-volley in front of The Kop took the points. Wenger would get his revenge in the league at the end of the season with his first victory over Benitez. That loss cost Liverpool a place in the top four but they still went on to win the Champions League in the same season.
Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1 - March, 2006 - Premier League
This game had an echo of England's defeat by France at Euro 2004 when a dreadful Steven Gerrard back-pass was to the advantage of Henry. The Frenchman scored the winner in this league match courtesy of his opponent's error and it kept alive Arsenal's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League. It came just seconds after Alonso had been sent off. Henry had earlier given Arsenal the lead before Luis Garcia equalised. In the same season, Wenger's Arsenal went on to reach the Champions League final.
Liverpool 1 Arsenal 3 - January, 2007 - FA Cup
Benitez and Liverpool had won the FA Cup in the previous season but their defence did not last long as they were knocked out by Arsenal in the following campaign's third round. A brilliant two goals from Tomas Rosicky put Wenger's men in control but Dirk Kuyt gave Liverpool some hope. However, not for the first time in his career, Henry made Jamie Carragher look a little foolish and won the game for Arsenal.
Liverpool 3 Arsenal 6 - January, 2007 - League Cup
Just three days after their FA Cup meeting, both sides went goal-crazy in a League Cup quarter-final at Anfield, which had been rearranged after the original fixture was postponed by fog. The fixture was especially memorable as Julio Baptista scored four times as Wenger's visitors again came out on top. Jeremie Aliadiere and Alex Song were also on target for Arsenal on Merseyside. Liverpool's goals came through Robbie Fowler, Gerrard and Sami Hyypia. It was Arsenal's first win at Liverpool in the League Cup in their history and it booked a semi-final with North London derby rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Liverpool 4 Arsenal 1 - March, 2007 - Premier League
Peter Crouch's first hat-trick at club level meant Liverpool would gain some revenge for their cup exits at the hands of Arsenal earlier that season. The win left Arsenal unsure of finishing in the Premier League's top four. Crouch's treble plus a Daniel Agger goal meant William Gallas' close-range finish was meaningless. Wenger would say, "My players are now concerned. They did not produce what was expected."
Liverpool 4 Arsenal 2 - April, 2008 - Champions League
In what was an epic Champions League quarter-final second leg between the two British clubs, Benitez would again come out on top in a European clash with Wenger. Ahead of the Anfield game, the tie was poised at 1-1 from the first leg. Momentum would swing from one team to the other on a famous Merseyside night but Liverpool would ultimately progress to the semi-finals. Hyypia equalised Abou Diaby's opener. Fernando Torres' brilliant turn and strike seemed to have won it but a stunning Theo Walcott run allowed Emmanuel Adebayor to tap in for an away goals advantage. However, Gerrard scored a penalty and Ryan Babel's late breakaway ended any doubts. "It was a great night and a fantastic game," said Benitez. But Wenger would admit defeat was, "very hard to take."
Liverpool 4 Arsenal 4 - April, 2009 - Premier League
Andrey Arshavin's finest hour in his disappointing Arsenal career was one of the final nails in Liverpool's best attempt to win the Premier League. The Russian scored a blistering four goals on a remarkable night at Anfield to immensely frustrate Benitez and Liverpool while Wenger and Arsenal maintained a long unbeaten run. Torres and Yossi Benayoun were both on target twice for Liverpool. Wenger said after the final whistle, "Arshavin is a top player."
Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1 - January, 2013 - Premier League
Benitez, now in charge of Chelsea on an interim basis - which was unpopular due to his previous Liverpool connections, claimed their first home win of 2013 by coming out on top in a rain-soaked London derby against Wenger's Arsenal. Juan Mata and Frank Lampard's penalty put the Stamford Bridge club in front and their visitors could not find an equaliser despite Walcott's consolation.
You can watch Arsenal v Napoli live on Sky Sports HD2 from 7pm on Tuesday
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