Arsenal v Manchester United – No longer a heavyweight clash
It has not just been ten years since Arsenal have won the Premier League. It is ten years since football fans across the world have looked forward to Arsenal v Manchester United. The rivalry which once was consumed by hatred and physical dominance guaranteed to always be a decisive fixture in the season. But now it has become just another game.
Cast your mind back to the Premier League’s fiercest ever rivalries, and Arsenal v Manchester United will front the list of the most competitive, intense and vicious battles.
In 1996, Alex Ferguson meet his match in a young Frenchman nicknamed ‘Le Professeur’. Arsène Wenger was the man who produced a team capable of matching Ferguson’s tactically – and his team matched United physically.
The fixture is famous for its individual battles on and off the pitch. Roy Keane finding a central midfielder with the same determination and will-to-win in Patrick Vieira; Ruud van Nistelrooy witnessing another forward capable of scoring 30 goals in a season; and two of the top goalkeepers in world football in Peter Schmeichel and David Seamen.
This Saturday, though, will see the two teams battle once again at The Emirates. But the encounter will not have the same spice as what it once had. Instead of Ferguson at the helm, sits a Dutchman, perhaps unaware of the previous hostility between the two teams in Louis van Gaal; instead of Keane and Vieira dictating the game, there will be Michael Carrick and Aaron Ramsey; instead of van Nistelrooy and Henry, there will be Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie. There will be none of the hatred we’ve seen in the last two decades.
Although it is still one of the blue-ribbon fixtures of the season, it will not have the footballing world fixated on what could possibly happen next. The Sky Sports cameras will not be obsessed with every event as the two collide, as the strongest characters have long since retired. The pre-match walkouts in the tunnel; the handshakes; the vicious tackles may turn out to be non-existent. Both sets of fans will not relish this game as much as they used to.
Between the two, they have won 16 of the 22 Premier League titles and 10 of the last 22 FA Cups. They are two teams who used to be guaranteed the top two spots in the league. But now they are more likely to finish mid-table than top-of-the-table.
Former United skipper Keane has been less than impressed with the pleasantries exchanged between the two teams in recent years. He wrote in his autobiography: “I see players in the tunnel today, hugging one another before a game. I don’t think any of the United lads would have disagreed with me; they hated Arsenal. And the Arsenal lads hated United.”
But tomorrow evening we will watch two giants of English football who are no longer the two dominant sides in the country. It will see Arsène Wenger without his Scottish adversary in Alex Ferguson. But more importantly, we will see a rivalry, which long ago was adored, but now a middleweight fixture than the heavyweight clash it once was a decade ago.
Here are WNOL Sport’s top four favourite moments of the intense rivalry between the two clubs since 1999.
Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a last-minute penalty against Arsenal and sparked a mass brawl in 2003
Manchester United ended Arsenal’s 49-match unbeaten run with a 2-0 victory in 2004
Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira had no problem trading insults before a fixture in 2005
Manchester United humiliated Arsenal in 2011 after beating them 8-2 at Old Trafford in 2011