4.30pm on Sunday afternoon sees the return of a very familiar football club rivalry. Perhaps the most bitter rivalry in Premier League history… It’s Arsenal vs. Manchester United. The tension, hatred and spite might have simmered down a little since the glory days of these two being top of the pile, but there’s still little love lost between the pair of them.
While Man Utd and The Gunners may no longer lay claim to the fiercest rivalry in the top flight, they certainly used to. This fixture has thrown up some seriously shocking and jaw-dropping moments to football fans down the years.
Let’s have a short trip down memory lane and remember five of the most controversial moments from the Premier League’s offerings of this classic tie…
#5: Arsene Wenger gets sent off at Old Trafford
Not long into the 2009/2010 season, these two foes were pitted against each other at Old Trafford. The game was heading for a 2-1 victory for the home side when Robin van Persie banged one in against his future employers. Arsene Wenger, naturally, celebrated wildly. Only to see the goal chalked off for offside. It was a humbling moment for the Frenchman in front of the baying United fans.
Embarrassed, disappointed and angered, the former Grampus Eight coach booted a water bottle – quite impressively – up into the air. Fourth official Lee Probert saw it, referee Mike Dean intervened. Wenger was sent to the stands, amongst all the jeering United supporters.
In the video above, Gordon Strachan quite expertly breaks down the incident for everyone…
#4: Keane & Vieira go at it in the tunnel
The rivalry was at its most bitter when it had its most combative captains at each other’s throats. Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane weren’t/aren’t fellas to be messed with. Neither will either back down from a row. It was 2005, a game between the two sides at Arsenal’s place. The Sky Sports cameras picked up a bit of yelling in the tunnel. It was the combustible Irishman Keane. He’d taken exception to something his counterpart had done…
By all accounts, the Gunners’ captain ran into the away changing room just as the teams were coming out and said something to Gary Neville to wind him up. Keano – fiercely protective of his teammates – wasn’t happy. The rant from Keane was very much along the lines of ‘pick on me if you want to pick on someone, big man.’
It was all caught on camera, beamed to millions of people and set up a rather tasty encounter indeed. One that United would go on to win 4-2.
“As I walked to the front I heard something going on at the top of the tunnel,” Keane wrote in his autobiography. “All I could see was a few fingers, pointing at Gary. I lost it. Five seconds earlier I’d been perfectly calm, in the zone, ready for the match.”
“I’d thought they might have booted him out on the pitch. But in the tunnel? I just thought ‘The f*****r!’. They were trying to bully him. They were a big team and, in the tunnel, they were even bigger. So I said to myself, ‘alright, let’s go’.”
#3: The ‘Battle of the Buffet’
October 2004. Over 67,000 people watched United run out 2-0 victors over their London rivals. But it wasn’t the result that would be remembered. The game saw quite a few nasty challenges, with it all culminating in a tense final whistle that had no shirt swaps and a few handshake refusals. Why? Well, there was a feeling that Wayne Rooney may have dived for his penalty and, of course, the result ended Arsenal’s incredible and record-breaking 49 match unbeaten streak.
After the match, it all kicked off.
Cheesed off, the upper crust of the Arsenal squad decided to dish it out to their opponents. In a tunnel fracas after the game – somewhat ridiculously – something of a food fight ensued. Sir Alex Ferguson got hit by a slice of pizza.
Fergie later wrote: “They say it was Cesc Fabregas who threw the pizza at me but, to this day, I have no idea who the culprit is…”
Fabregas confirmed he was responsible on Sky One banterthon A League of Their Own, back in October 2017 (see clip above). Mamma mia.
#2: “The biggest disgrace of all time”
Some people rather generously labelled it ‘The Battle of Old Trafford’. Phil Neville grandly called it “the biggest disgrace of all time.” Others called it handbags. But to most of us it’ll be remembered as ‘that game where Martin Keown did that weird Dracula impression’.
It was September 2003. The last Arsenal/Man Utd match had occurred some five months previous. It was, as they all were at that time, an ill-tempered affair. This followed suit. Over 30 fouls and eight yellow cards littered a dirty match that saw Vieira sent off and the game end goalless. The highlight/lowlight, though? ‘That’ penalty.
Prolific Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy was known for scoring tap-ins, having an awful haircut and – in the red half of North London, at least – diving. So when he went down rather softly here in the final minute and won a spot kick, Arsenal players went nuts.
RvN then missed the peno and it all erupted. Arsenal were not exactly shy about ‘giving it’ to van Nistelrooy. A melee ensued. The hatred deepened.
#1: The ‘Brawl’ of Old Trafford
It may have lasted less than thirty seconds and resulted in a mere two bookings, but this dust-up saw 21 players getting involved (David Seaman opted against running the length of the pitch for it) in a pushing and shoving match that threatened to spill over into real violence. Luckily for everyone concerned, a lid was barely kept on proceedings but it’s thought that this incident sparked the later hatred between the two sides.
Such was the severity of the brawl that not only did the clubs fined their own players, they were both actually docked points by the league (Arsenal two points, United one point).
Manchester United travel to The Emirates on Sunday afternoon. Come down to your nearest Rileys to experience some real atmosphere for it. The game kicks off at 4.30pm. So why not head on in a little earlier and enjoy a few games of pool or darts?
See you Sunday.