Arsenal v United – Some key moments from last 30 years

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United V Arsenal fixtures guarantees entertainment and it always lives up to the hype….we have witnessed some of the most memorable moments..not all may be the sweetest.
Below are some of the moments which defines the intensity of rivalry between the two clubs.
Spanned over a couple of decades…


David Rocastle v Norman Whiteside – January 24, 1987
This fixture was the first time that Alex Ferguson had locked horns with Arsenal and it is safe to say that it set a precedent for future encounters. Having arrived from Aberdeen two months previously Fergie’s primary aim was to salvage United’s season, whilst the Gunners were on a 22-match unbeaten run; United would be foolish to try and out-football such an in-form side and as a result the game was a bruising affair. Northern Ireland midfielder Norman Whiteside was the chief-instigator as he went around breaking up play and using David O’Leary as a hackey-sack. Arsenal legend David Rocastle took objection to this approach and throttled Whiteside and was subsequently sent off. United ended up winning 2-0 with Ferguson remarking that Whiteside probably got away with “about 45 fouls” without even receiving a booking.

Brian McClair misses a penalty – February 20, 1988
With Arsenal 2-0 up in this FA Cup 5th Round tie, United striker Brian McClair halved the deficit with a goal early in the second half. The Gunners decided to hold on to their one-goal lead and produced an accomplished (if at times fortuitous) display as United looked to breach the Arsenal defence once more. With two minutes of the 90 left, the now pantomime villain of last year’s battle, Norman Whiteside, lost his footing in the box under pressure from Michael Thomas and won his side a penalty. The Arsenal players were incredulous and remonstrated with the referee, with the ensuing delay proving too nerve-wracking for McClair who blazed the spot-kick over the bar. Cue left-back Nigel Winterburn launching a tirade of abuse in McClair’s direction as he followed the disconsolate striker back to the half-way line.

Nigel Winterburn’s tackle on Dennis Irwin causes 21-man brawl – 20 October 1990
Revenge is a dish best served cold. Or if you are Brian McClair, it is best served relentlessly into the ribs. Following an over-zealous tackle from Nigel Winterburn on United full-back Dennis Irwin, an irate McClair seized his opportunity for retribution and delivered a few kicks into the chest of the Arsenal left-back, who was still on the floor following the challenge. This sparked a 21-man brawl with punches thrown from both sets of players resulting in a 10-minute delay of the game.
The late David Rocastle gave a very frank account of the incident: “It was our team-mate, our little blood brother, in trouble. They were kicking Nigel like a nightclub brawl. That’s what got us upset. If it was just a bad tackle, you wouldn’t go in like that, no chance. But when I saw them kicking Nigel I ran over thinking, ‘You can’t have this’! We went in there and we stuck up for each other. At Arsenal we never, ever started any brawls – we just finished them.”
The FA took action and fined manager George Graham and five players two weeks’ wages, whilst also fining both clubs £50,000 and deducting one point from United and two from Arsenal. The Gunners had the last laugh winning the game 1-0 (thanks to a goal from Anders Limpar) and ending the season as league champions, celebrating with a 3-1 win over United at Highbury at the end of the season.

Ian Wright v Peter Schmeichel – February 1997
Strikers and goalkeepers were never meant to get on and the relationship between these two was a fiery example of that. Both players were at the top of the game and on-field battles were compulsive viewing; a duel between a goal-machine and one of the best goalkeepers around. Things turned sour when the pair came up against each other at Old Trafford in 1996, where Schmeichel was accused of racially abusing Ian Wright. Wright neither confirmed nor denied this and after a full FA investigation the United ‘keeper was cleared of any wrong doing.
Fast forward to later on that season and the two clashed yet again, this time in the tunnel at Highbury and had to be separated by team-mates before the match had even got under-way. Ugly scenes were to follow as Wright planted a double-footed lunge on Schmeichel during the game. The two found themselves reacquainted on the BBC sofa as pundits for the 2002 World Cup, where insightful analysis made way for petty squabbles.

Ryan Giggs’ mazy-run in FA Cup Semi-Final replay – April 14, 1999
Arguably one of the greatest games played between the two sides with a winning goal to match. David Beckham’s curling strike, Dennis Bergkamp’s deflected equaliser, Nicholas Anelka’s disallowed winner, Roy Keane’s red-card, Peter Schmeichel’s injury-time penalty save; even when listed in prose it is pretty pulsating stuff.
Man Utd found themselves under immense pressure in extra-time as Arsenal looked to make their man-advantage count and United looked doomed when Schmeichel fractured his ankle after making a finger-tip save to deny Bergkamp once more. With the final minutes of the 2nd half of extra time wilting away, enter Ryan Giggs.
Picking the ball up from his own half, he beat 4 players (including Lee Dixon twice) before firing the ball into the roof of the net, sparking joyous scenes from the players, fans and management. Following his super-human effort, Giggs was promptly asked for a urine sample from doping officials whilst also being questioned by the RSPCA on suspicion of smuggling ferrets…

Thierry Henry wonder goal – October 1, 2000
United and Arsenal were now the two teams regularly jostling for the Premier League crown, so each game between the two had the “title-decider” sub-plot to it, regardless of how early they came. As a result these matches often proved to be a fairly cagey affair – the first 30 minutes of this game was no exception. A minute later one of the greatest goals in Premier League history had been scored. Having spent most of the opening exchanges on the left-hand side, Thierry Henry ventured into the middle of the park as Arsenal were attacking the United box. Giles Grimandi played a pass into the feet of Henry and, with his back to goal; the Frenchman flicked the ball up with his left foot before dispatching a volley into the far top-corner with his right, leaving fellow country-man Fabien Barthez helpless in the United goal. The goal ended up winning Goal of the Season, though United took the bigger prize with a 3rd straight title.

Martin Keown ‘consoles’ Van Nistelrooy after penalty miss – September 21, 2003
“Van Nistelrooy is a cheat and a coward…at Arsenal we hated him and had real reason to do so.”
The views of captain Patrick Vieira on United’s Dutch goal-hoarder Ruud Van Nistelrooy- it is safe to say that it was this game which set it all off. After officiating a spicy Community Shield encounter between the two, referee Steve Bennett was again the man with the whistle for the Old Trafford tie and ended up dishing out eight yellow cards, two of which went to Arsenal captain Vieira. The Frenchman’s second yellow provided the game’s first flashpoint as the midfielder aimed a kick in the direction of Van Nistelrooy, resulting in referee Bennett giving him his marching orders. A scuffle broke out between both sets of players causing a delay to the game but worse was yet to come.
In injury time Manchester United were awarded a dubious penalty after Diego Forlan was felled by an innocuous looking challenge from Martin Keown. Van Nistelrooy ended up crashing the penalty against the bar, much to the delight of Arsenal players who gathered around the Dutch striker, shoving him and gloating.
The aftermath; the FA reprimanded both sides and issued individual charges to Vieira, Keown, Ashley Cole, Lauren, Parlour of Arsenal and United duo Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo.

United end Arsenal’s unbeaten run/ Pizza-gate – October 24, 2004
Arsenal’s unbeaten run had come to an end after 49 games when they were (somewhat controversially) beaten 2-0 by United at Old Trafford. The home-side opened the scoring thanks to a dubiously awarded penalty, after new signing Wayne Rooney went down under a challenge from Sol Campbell, when contact looked minimal at best. Van Nistelrooy exorcised his demons of last season by slamming home the penalty before Rooney added a 2nd (on his birthday) to leave Arsenal defeated and dismayed.
As the players went down the tunnel there was a heated exchange which simmered into the post-match area. Current Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas then allegedly threw pizza across the room only for it to hit United manager Alex Ferguson, something which the Spanish midfielder vehemently denies to this day. Ashley Cole’s version of events does not really help the player’s cause;
“This slice of pizza came flying over my head and hit Fergie straight in the mush. We all went back into the dressing room and fell about laughing. All I can say is that the culprit wasn’t English or French, so that should narrow it down.”

Vieira and Keane square off in the Highbury tunnel – February 1, 2005
Both captains nearly came to blows before a ball had even been kicked at Highbury when Patrick Vieira confronted Gary Neville as the teams were coming out of their respective dressing rooms. Roy Keane objected to this and squared up to Vieira who immediately retreated down the tunnel to the behest of his players. Cameras at the entrance of the tunnel caught the final moments of the altercation as Roy Keane bounded down the tunnel to offer Vieira a more appropriate sparring partner. Graham Poll diffused the situation, but it fired up the United side as they put on an accomplished display to win 4-2.

Arsene Wenger sent off and stands on platform behind dug-out
Abou Diaby had scored an own-goal to give United a 2-1 lead, after Arsenal had taken the lead earlier in the first half, and Arsene Wenger had just seen an equaliser ruled out for his team after a very contentious off-side call. Naturally he was not best pleased, and decided to vent his frustration by kicking a water-bottle in the Old Trafford technical area. Fourth official Lee Probert was clearly dismayed by this act of petulance and alerted Mike Dean who sent Wenger to the stands with 30 seconds of the game left. Not familiar with the lay-out of the stands, Wenger decided to stand and watch the game in Old Trafford’s main stand on a platform behind the dugouts. Dean was not best pleased and pointed the Frenchman towards the changing rooms, leaving Arsene to make the long walk past the ever-sympathetic United fans…
Wenger, whilst perplexed by the decision, was able to see the funny side, “I have to say I thought it was a good kick.”


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