Arsenal’s Old Trafford trip is the most meaningful one for years.
This weekend’s must-see fixture sees Manchester United host Arsenal on Sunday and following the Gunners highly impressive smash and grab victory at Dortmund, this one has the potential to be a real crackerjack of a fixture.
The importance of an Arsenal/Man Utd fixture has dwindled somewhat in recent years, with Arsenal slipping further and further behind United in the race for the title. Ten years ago, Arsenal were the Red Devils’ major competitor and as a result, clashes between the two sides were often real season highlights. However, since 2005, Arsenal haven’t really been at the races, with their highest finishing position being 3rd following the arrival of Chelsea and Manchester City as title contenders.
One of the things that makes Sunday’s clash so hotly anticipated is that things are different this year. Following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, United are nowhere near the force they once were, and with Chelsea and Man City also under new management, the title race is as wide open as it has been for a very long time. The side currently sitting at the top of the tree is none other than the Gunners, and with United languishing in 8th, the league has a rather topsy-turvy feel to it at present.
Arsenal have not been made favourites for a clash at Old Trafford for a very long time, and for good reason, with their last win away at Man Utd occurring in 2006. Although the bookmakers appear to be exercising caution at present, there’s no doubt that the footballing world would be far less surprised by an Arsenal win than a United one.
Despite Arsenal’s form, a loss would be pretty devastating for Moyes’ United. Whilst they’ve had a difficult start to the season, a loss at home to a team who they haven’t considered their major rivals for the last 8 or so years would be a massive admission that they are a long way away from the team they were under Sir Alex Ferguson. The stakes are high for Moyes, and equally high for Wenger, as the Frenchman will be determined to win in order to demonstrate that his side does indeed possess genuine title credentials.
For the neutral football fan, the fact that an Arsenal/Man Utd fixture actually means something once again is a real cause for celebration. It takes us back to the heady days of 1997-2005 and the days of the two English footballing giants quite literally squabbling over the title. When these two sides used to meet, controversy was never far away and sadly as Arsenal faded as a force, so did the needle between the two sides. Nevertheless this fixture has produced some tremendous games, and with that in mind, let’s take a look at five of the best Arsenal/Man Utd fixtures of the last 20 years.
September 30, 2000: Arsenal 1-0 Manchester United
This game is best remembered for this truly outstanding goal from Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. Picking the ball up on edge of the area, the Frenchman needed just one touch to tee it up before spinning around and thumping the ball past Fabien Barthez into the top corner. Despite this win condemning United to their first defeat of the season, Ferguson’s side recovered and clinched their 13th title that season.
Feb 16 2003: Manchester United 0 – 2 Arsenal
Recent revelations in Fergie’s autobiography indicate that this was the game that ultimately spelt the end of David Beckham’s Manchester United career. Following a lacklustre performance from the Red Devils and a subsequent FA Cup exit, Ferguson kicked out in anger in the changing room, striking a boot that hit Beckham just above the eye. The next day, Beckham was spotted shopping in Manchester with an alice band on; conveniently displaying his Ferguson-inflicted wound to all and sundry. Ferguson recounts that this was the moment when he realised he needed to sell Beckham for the good of Manchester United.
September 21, 2003: Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal
Later that year, Arsenal returned to Old Trafford, this time in the league, and a fiery battle ensued. Despite the lack of goals, this clash had plenty of excitement and drama, leading the British press to dub the match, ‘The Battle of Old Trafford’.
This match was significant in that it formed a crucial part of Arsenal’s Invincibles season, but it wasn’t just for the football that this game was given the status of a ‘battle’. Following Ruud van Nistelrooy’s last minute penalty miss, Arsenal central defender Martin Keown screamed in glee in the Dutchman’s face before joining his fellow Arsenal players in some highly unpleasant mocking and violent shoving following the final whistle.
Following the game, six Arsenal players and two Man Utd players were charged by the FA whilst Arsenal were also charged with “failing to ensure the proper behaviour of their players”.
October 24, 2004: Manchester United 2 – 0 Arsenal
If the previous year’s game was regarded as infamous, this was nothing in comparison to the corresponding fixture the following year. Following their lucky escape following van Nistelrooy’s penalty miss, Arsenal went on an unbeaten run, culminating in them winning their 3rd Premier League title.
The Gunners headed to Old Trafford having not lost for 49 Premier League games, and returned home with their record no longer intact after van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney netted to give United a win inside the last 20 minutes. Having come full circle from the previous year, van Nistelrooy’s goal came from a controversial penalty won by Wayne Rooney, and the Dutchman embroiled himself in further controversy after a nasty foul on Ashley Cole, unseen by the referee.
As in the 2003 fixture, there were some regrettable scenes at the final whistle, with Sol Campbell declining Wayne Rooney’s offer of a handshake and some serious tension between the two sides. This tension reportedly boiled over in the tunnel, culminating in a piece of pizza thrown at Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson. From that day forward, this game has been known as ‘The Battle of the Buffet’.
February 1, 2005: Arsenal 2-4 Manchester United
The tunnel tension returned in the return fixture just a few months later, with Roy Keane and Patrick Viera clashing even before a ball was kicked. The two captains lined up next to each other following an audible foul-mouthed tirade from fiery Irishman Keane. Referee Graham Poll was forced to intervene and did his best to calm Keane down, but not before things had been allowed to get out of hand. It was Man United who emerged as victors in this sour contest with goals from Ronaldo, Giggs and O’Shea; but once again, it was matters off the pitch that dominated the headlines.