MM’s Top 5… Man Utd v Arsenal clashes

Manchester United meet Arsenal on Sunday for a crucial game in the Barclays Premier League.

As we enter the business end of the season, three points are a must for both sides. Arsenal are chasing their first league title in more than ten years, whereas victory for United would take them to within touching distance of rivals City in the final Champions League place.

It promises to be an exciting encounter, and with that in mind, MM takes a look at five memorable meetings between the two giants…

Villa Park 1999 – FA Cup semi-final (United 2-1 Arsenal AET) – Hair-raising display

In what would prove to be the last ever FA Cup semi-final replay, Arsenal were looking to reach their second consecutive final, having beaten Newcastle to lift the cup the previous year. In the way was a United side who were also in a dead-heat with the Gunners at the top of the Premier League.

The clubs had played out a 0-0 draw at the same venue three days earlier, but a packed Villa Park didn’t have to wait long for a goal the second time around, as David Beckham was teed up by Teddy Sheringham to bend  a trademark  effort past David Seaman in the 17th minute.

United looked to be heading to Wembley until, with 20 minutes of regulation time remaining, Dennis Bergkamp sent a bouncing shot in from 25 yards to level the scores. Things took a turn for the worse as Roy Keane was dismissed for a second yellow after bringing down Marc Overmars, leaving United to see out the 90 with ten men.

Unsurprisingly, Arsenal dominated from then on, and looked to have finally made the breakthrough in the second minute of stoppage time. Phil Neville brought down the onrushing Ray Parlour with a clumsy challenge, and David Elleray pointed to the spot. It looked as if it would be heartbreak for United, but as Bergkamp stepped up for the crucial kick, Peter Schmeichel pounced to his left to parry the ball away and earn the Reds a stay of execution.

United seemed galvanised by the heroics of their keeper and with penalties looming they were arguably the better side. On this particular occasion though, penalties were not to be required.

In the final minute of extra-time, Patrick Vieira made a tired pass on the halfway line which was cut out by United substitute Ryan Giggs. The young Welshman sped off into Arsenal territory, ignored teammates pleading for the ball, instead beating three Arsenal players as he stormed into the box before lashing the ball past Seaman.

It was one of the all-time great FA Cup goals, although for many the moment is more memorable for the carpet of chest-hair revealed by Giggs as he removed his shirt and ran to celebrate with his disbelieving teammates.

United would go on to beat Newcastle and lift the cup, a week after pipping Arsenal to the Premier League title. They added the Champions League trophy in typically dramatic fashion to complete the most successful season in the club’s history.

Old Trafford 2002 – Wiltord seals the title at OT (United 0-1 Arsenal)

Arsene Wenger’s men travelled to Old Trafford on the back of an 11-game winning run knowing a win would seal the Premier League title.  United on the other hand, knew that a victory would significantly boost their chances of retaining it in what seemed certain to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season at the helm.  

Ferguson had stated his intention to depart before the season kicked off, and having been eliminated from the Champions League by Bayer Leverkusen a week earlier, knew that anything less than a win would mean a trophy-less campaign for United, their first in four years.

On the pitch, technical quality was in unusually short supply, as United adopted a physical approach to disrupt the free-flowing play which English football had come to expect from Wenger’s side.

While Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira were busy writing the latest page in their catalogue of midfield battles, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes made particularly rash challenges on Edu and Sylvain Wiltord respectively, during a first half in which the Reds were fortunate not to lose at least one player to a red card. 

After the break Arsenal’s nerves looked to have subsided completely, and the crucial moment came ten minutes later. United keeper Fabien Barthez parried a Freddie Ljungberg shot straight to Wiltord, and the Frenchman duly slotted home the winner, with a Sky Sports commentator almost tearing his larynx in the process.

Having clinched the title on enemy soil Arsenal went on the lift the FA Cup to seal a domestic double. Sir Alex eventually decided to stay on at United, despite missing out on a fourth championship in four seasons.

Highbury 2005 – Keane v Vieira  (Arsenal 2-4 United)

Hardly one to be described as a shrinking violet, Roy Keane was undeniably a player who relished the physical side of the game, and his infamy was thanks in no small part to a customary seasonal battle with a certain Frenchman.

Patrick Vieira arrived at Highbury in 1996 for a fee of £3.5million prior to Arsene Wenger’s first season in charge. Having only played a couple of games for Milan’s first team prior to the move, he was something of an unknown quantity.

However the rangy midfield man quickly stamped his authority on the North London club with a series of impressive performances, and formed an effective partnership with countryman Emmanuel Petit.

Having squared up to each other on more than a few occasions during their time at the two Premier League giants, it all came to a head in February 2005, as the Gunners looked to avenge a defeat to United earlier in the season with victory on home turf.

Although on this occasion the action happened off the pitch, as Keane reacted angrily to allegedly witnessing Vieira trying to intimidate United full-back Gary Neville in the Highbury tunnel, and accused Vieira of picking on what he saw as ‘the weak link’.

Keane later recalled the incident in his autobiography: “As I walked to the front I heard something going on at the top of the tunnel,” he writes. “All I could see were a few fingers, pointing at Gary. I lost it.

“So I said to myself: ‘Alright, let’s go’.”

Players from both sides, and referee Graham Poll, stepped in to calm the two captains down, before they led their teams out to an appropriately feisty affair.

Vieira’s headed opener in the eight minute only served to heighten the tension, but United hit back as a young Cristiano Ronaldo claimed a double before John O’Shea proved the unlikeliest of goalscorers to wrap up a 4-2 win for Sir Alex’s team, despite ending the match with ten men.

Both now retired, Keane and Vieira have since settled their differences and even declared their mutual admiration, although both claim they came out on top in the rivalry. 

Old Trafford 2004 – Ruud’s redemption (United 2-0 Arsenal)

Just over a year after ‘The Battle of Old Trafford’ came ‘The Battle of the Buffet’. In September 2003, United played host to Arsenal, who were on their way to an historic unbeaten Premier League season.

The record was however on the brink of collapse when in the 91st minute of a particularly bad-tempered match, United were awarded a penalty after Martin Keown was adjudged to have brought down Diego Forlan.

Ruud van Nistelrooy, who had earlier in the match incensed the Arsenal players for his part in a sending off for Patrick Vieira, stepped up for the kick, only to smash the ball off the bar.

Van Nistelrooy was mobbed by the enraged Gunners, and Arsenal’s record remained intact.

The following season Arsenal, who by then had extended the run to 49 games, returned to Manchester looking to make it a half-century.

But when Wayne Rooney was felled by Sol Campbell in the area, the stage was set. Up stepped Van Nistelrooy to slot the ball past Lehmann, exorcising his demons.

United prevailed 2-0, Arsenal’s run was ended, and Sir Alex was hit by a slice of pizza.

Old Trafford 2011 – Young Gunners left red faced (United 8-2 Arsenal)

A mounting injury list had left Arsene Wenger short of options, and the coach was forced to name an inexperienced starting XI.

United took advantage to run riot when Danny Welbeck capitalised on some hesitant defending to head past Wojciech Szczesny, and when Robin van Persie saw his spot kick saved by David De Gea at the other end, the signs were ominous.

Ashley Young extended United’s lead with a wonderful, curling effort and Wayne Rooney added his 150th United goal from a free-kick.

Theo Walcott responded for Arsenal, beating De Gea at his near post, but after the interval United stepped firmly on the gas.

Rooney completed his hat-trick, while Nani and Park Ji-Sung also got in on the action. Arsenal’s young full-back Carl Jenkinson was dismissed for a second yellow late on, and their humiliation was complete when Ashley Young added his second, and United’s eighth, in the final minute.

Image courtesy of FATV via YouTube, with thanks. 

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