There are rivalries in football that come about not through tradition or geographical location, but through sheer competition. In recent years, Manchester City and Liverpool have contested a series of increasingly fraught, seethingly impassioned confrontations. For a while, Chelsea and Liverpool shared a similar enmity. In the mid-90s, Manchester United and Newcastle United endured an iconic firefight over the Premier League title.
But one such competitive rivalry leaves all others in the dust. It is one that is set to be rekindled on Sunday: Arsenal vs Manchester United.
This game has an iconic past, with some of the most memorable moments in English football history attributable to these fixtures. In recent years, as the giants have fallen, so too has the standard of this once-brutal rivalry. But, with Arsenal leading the league and United mounting what some are calling a title challenge, the feud is back on.
To celebrate that fact, here are eight of the greatest Arsenal vs Manchester United moments. We have presented these in chronological order, so no moaning in the comments please.
20th October 1990: Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal
Nothing sums up the distaste these teams have traditionally had for each other like this 21-man brawl. A rough challenge from Nigel Winterburn on Denis Irwin sparked nearly the entirety of both sides embarking on an anglicised version of the WWE Royal Rumble.
Both teams were docked points for the fracas, but the setback could not derail Arsenal. The Gunners went on to lift the 1990-91 First Division title, while United finished sixth.
14th April 1999: Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United
This FA Cup semi-final replay had it all. A gripping passion play staged over two games plus extra time, this was a sliding doors moment in the Red Devils’ pursuit of the treble. But this particular game at Villa Park is remembered for one moment above all others.
A weary Patrick Vieira pass. An interception. A slaloming run past four Arsenal players. A slammed shot into the roof of the net. A shock of black chest hair. Ryan Giggs had won the game and sent United to the FA Cup final.
30th September 2000: Arsenal 1-0 Manchester United
Players are often criticised for not doing it on the big stage. In 2000, there was no bigger stage in the Premier League than a game between Arsenal and Manchester United. Perhaps no bigger star than Thierry Henry. And boy, did the Frenchman prove he could do it on the big stage.
A routine pass comes to the striker with his back to goal. He stands it up and in one fluid movement, turns round to volley it skywards. The ball flies past countryman Fabien Barthez like a missile. Henry summed up in one moment of Gallic genius.
21st September 2003: Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal
In the wake of the 21-man scrap in 1990, things had been a little more cordial. The rivalry was still intense, but was usually fought on professional terms. Things turned truly bitter here in what became known as ‘The Battle of Old Trafford’.
Seven yellow cards and one red were doled out over the course of the match, with the crescendo coming as Diego Forlan won a late penalty. Ruud van Nistelrooy hit the bar in the last minute, sealing a draw for Arsenal. Gunners defender Martin Keown reacted by clotheslining Van Nistelrooy on the back of the head. The resulting scenes led to five Arsenal players and two United players being fined.
24th October 2004: Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal
Arsenal had not lost in the Premier League since ‘The Battle of Old Trafford’. They had lifted last season’s title and were on the verge of going 50 games unbeaten. In their way stood the old enemy. Welcome to ‘The Battle of Buffet’.
Sir Alex Ferguson himself said he saw this match as a pivotal moment in the career of counterpart Arsene Wenger. It is true that the Gunners never won another Premier League title under him after this chaotic affair. Van Nistelrooy got revenge from the penalty spot after what looked suspiciously like a dive from Wayne Rooney. The ex-Everton striker added a second and Arsenal’s unbeaten run was over.
But what of ‘Pizzagate’? That came about after the game, when Cesc Fabregas allegedly threw pizza at Ferguson while the United boss was in the midst of a confrontation with Wenger. A truly bizarre and rather funny flashpoint in one of football’s great blood feuds.
21st February 2005: Arsenal 2-4 Manchester United
The closing chapter of this rivalry’s greatest trilogy is probably the most famous. It is amazing to think that the tunnel fight between Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira was just a season removed from Keown’s antics and mere months after ‘Pizzagate’.
A six-goal game that is not remembered for anything that happened on the pitch. Instead, this game is solely remembered for Vieira’s exchange with Gary Neville, followed by Keane’s impassioned defence of his teammate. A moment of simmering, rage-fuelled human drama that has stood the test of time. Even as the pair half-smile at each other as pundits, you get the idea they’re one wrong word away from a straightener.
28th August 2011: Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal
As good a candidate as any for the moment this ceased to be a top-tier rivalry. Keane and Vieira were long gone. Henry would pop back the following year on loan, oddly enough going off injured in an FA Cup game against United.
One of Arsenal’s two scorers that day, Robin Van Persie, would depart for United the following season. That perceived portrayal threatened to stoke the rivalry, but it never really materialised. Neither did Arsenal’s defence here, as Rooney’s hat-trick was the centrepiece of an utter humiliation for the Gunners.
9th March 2015: Manchester United 1-2 Arsenal
The FA Cup played host to many great ties between these two sides. This hidden gem from 2015 was one of them. Arsenal won a dramatic quarter final by virtue of a familiar face.
Angel Di Maria was sent off for Louis van Gaal’s Reds, evoking memories of bitter matches past. The Argentine had assisted Rooney’s opener, his exit exposing the sort of inconsistency his spell at Old Trafford is known for. Nacho Monreal answered back before homegrown ex-United star Danny Welbeck netted the winner. Arsenal went on to lift the famous old trophy, hammering Aston Villa 4-0 at Wembley.
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