The Premier League title battles between Arsenal and Manchester United in the late 1990s, early 2000s were nothing short of the stuff of legend. The greatest manager the league has ever seen, Sir Alex Ferguson, had won four out of the opening five Premier League titles with a Manchester United side that had the ‘Class of 92’ at its heart.
The Red Devils were a relentless winning machine that swept aside all in their way, and with the talent and financial advantage they had on the rest of their rivals, it seemed like it was almost impossible for a team to consistently challenge them. Blackburn Rovers won that famous title back in 1995, but that was thanks to Jack Walker’s money and Alan Shearer, who departed for a Newcastle United side also desperate to win a league title.
It didn’t quite happen for Shearer, and instead, Fergie’s challenger would come from Japan. When Arsene Wenger arrived from Nagoya Grampus, he was seen as a nobody. A strange appointment for Arsenal to make. But he would change the face of English football.
Arsenal won the double in his first season and in doing so he ruffled the feathers of Manchester United and Fergie in particular. Patrick Vieira was the perfect enemy for Roy Keane to get stuck into but most importantly, both sides were absolutely incredible.
Schmeichel or Seaman? Scholes or Bergkamp? Later, Van Nistelrooy or Henry? These two were the best in the country by a mile, managed by the two greatest managers in the league, if not the world and they shared the most intense rivalry on and off the pitch. Who can forget Martin Keown’s celebration in Van Nistelrooy’s face after he missed that penalty, or ‘Pizza-gate’?
Matches between these two Goliaths so often decided the destination of the title and when Sylvain Wiltord scored at Old Trafford to win the league for Arsenal, he wrote his name in the folklore of the club. This brings us on to potentially the title-decider this weekend.
Just like United and Arsenal used to be, Manchester City and Liverpool are managed by the two finest managers in world football. At this current moment in time, they are arguably the best two teams in the entire world and have dominated the Premier League for five years. Success naturally brings rivalry, even between two clubs that have been fairly amicable over the years.
Unless there are flash points in games, they are unlikely to create the same hatred that Arsenal and United had for one another. Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are far too respectful for that and in truth the game has moved on. There’s no longer room for Vieira and Keane’s crunching tackles and with such a focus on ball retention from Man City, there’s rarely any 50/50 duels.
But this rivalry has certainly progressed. City have dominated the Premier League with four out of the last five titles, and yet the one they lost to Liverpool still stings. Meanwhile, the Reds have enjoyed European success where City have consistently failed, and can still use that as a point of superiority when it comes to comparisons.
Yet these two teams are better than Manchester United or Arsenal ever were. Arsenal won the league with just 78 points in Wenger’s first season, whereas the modern duo are relentless in their hunt for perfection and have raised the bar. Now you need at least 90 points to win the Premier League.
United’s treble in 1999 is the only achievement that puts them above both Klopp and Guardiola’s teams, but let’s not forget, the Reds could surpass them by winning all four this season and City could match that treble feat.
This rivalry is still in its infancy and has nothing on United vs Arsenal as things stand. However, as these two continue to battle for supremacy, the fight to win could lead to drama. With a Premier League decider, an FA Cup semi-final and a potential Champions League final to come - this will be the season this rivalry catches fire.