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Premier League Classics: The best clashes between Arsenal and Man Utd

| 22.04.2020

We look back at the high points of their rivalry

When it comes to pure drama, the rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United at its fiercest is arguably still the Premier League’s golden era.

United and Arsenal won 11 of the first 12 Premier League titles between them. Whenever they played each other, it could shape the course of the whole season.  

The current Manchester City and Liverpool sides have a great sporting rivalry and have pushed each other to new heights. However, there’s also huge respect between the two camps. These United and Arsenal sides genuinely seemed to hate each other under Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

That added edge made for some brilliant matches, and we’ve rounded up our five favourite clashes in the Premier League…

March 1998: Man Utd 0-1 Arsenal

Arsenal had never won at Old Trafford in the Premier League era. They hadn’t even scored there before this fixture. But with United nine points ahead, having played three games more, they knew victory could put them in the driving seat.

Marc Overmars raced on to a Nicolas Anelka header to score a late winner, which proved to be the turning point in the title race.

Wenger’s side went on to win 10 games in a row, overtaking United at the top of the table and beating Newcastle United in the FA Cup final to clinch the double.

May 2002: Man Utd 0-1 Arsenal

There can’t be many feelings better than sealing the title on your closest challenger’s own patch. That’s exactly what Arsenal did in 2001/02, with a goal from Sylvain Wiltord enough to clinch top spot.

The Gunners only needed a point to secure the title, but Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp were both missing from the starting XI.

It didn’t make a difference in the end, with United well below their best, allowing the North London side to seal the double.  

September 2003: Man Utd 0-0 Arsenal

The ‘Battle of Old Trafford’ didn’t produce any goals, but this high-tension game was still unforgettable.

Any match between these two was fiercely contested during this period, but the red mist descended on several Arsenal players after Patrick Vieira was sent off. They believed Ruud van Nistelrooy had conned the referee into sending off their captain.  

Van Nistelrooy then had the chance to seal the win from the penalty spot in the closing stages. However, his effort crashed off the crossbar. When the final whistle blew, the Dutch striker was surrounded by still fuming Arsenal players. Before long, players from both sides got involved as the situation escalated.

Arsenal were later fined £175,000, while Lauren, Keown, Vieira and Ray Parlour were all suspended and fined. Ashley Cole was also fined. Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo were fined and given warnings.

However, what happened after the match is just as notable. Arsenal went on the win the title and put together their historic 49-game unbeaten run. If Van Nistelrooy had scored that penalty, English football history could have looked very different.

October 2004: Man Utd 2-0 Arsenal

Talking of Arsenal’s unbeaten run, here’s where it came to an end. United came into the match determined to prevent the visitors from playing their slick, passing game.

Jose Antonio Reyes came in for especially rough treatment, with Phil Neville later admitting they “kicked him off the park”.

The game turned in the 73rd minute, when Wayne Rooney won a very controversial penalty. Van Nistelrooy stepped up to score, making up for his miss just over a year earlier. Rooney then wrapped up the win in the last minute.

The drama didn’t end at the final whistle. A heated confrontation in the tunnel came to be known as the “Battle of the Buffet”, after a slice of pizza was thrown in Ferguson’s face.

August 2011: Man Utd 8-2 Arsenal

Arsenal had fallen well behind United by this point but losing to their rivals by such a huge margin was still one of the lowest points of the Wenger years.

The Gunners had lost Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri during the summer, and a makeshift line-up just couldn’t handle the hosts. Rooney scored a hat-trick and Ashley Young grabbed a brace.

The dismal display forced Arsenal into a late trolley dash. They signed Park Chu-Young, Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos and Mikel Arteta in the three days before the transfer window closed.

Mertesacker and Arteta proved to be smart additions on and off the pitch. Both now play a key role at the club as manager of the academy and first-team respectively.

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Daniel Anwar

Daniel has written about sport for Coral, Squawka, FourFourTwo and the Premier League, among others.