Date: 10th December 2010 at 6:00pm
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United and Arsenal used to be a fiery encounter so what's changed?Last year having written a piece on Jose Reyes, a pal of mine was quick to pipe in and declare part of the reason Reyes didn’t succeed in England was because of the treatment he suffered at the hand of the Neville brothers Gary especially. He then went on to rip into Gary and as our argument progressed memories of the old rival between Man United and Arsenal came flooding back.

As a younger United fan and a Londoner, my hatred for Arsenal (yes hatred is a strong word but I mean it!) is intense, from their players to their fans there isn’t much I like about them and I always looked forward to our fiery encounters with them but in more recent times our games with them have lacked that spark.

These days as both managers have mellowed and new threats have emerged to shake the dominance the two clubs held over the Premier League, the rivalry has died down (although Patrice Evra did his best to bring it back by claiming it was like men against boys as United trounced Arsenal in the Champions League) but at its height every game was like going to war.

Although games between the two have always been competitive, the origins of the feud between the two can be said to stem from a clash that took place in 1987 after Brian McClair missed a dubiously awarded penalty and Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn felt the need to let him know how they felt. This was a precursor to the real fireworks in 1990 after Nigel Winterburn really got stuck in with a challenge on Denis Irwin. It sparked a 21 man brawl and saw United docked a point and Arsenal two.

Despite various smaller clashes since then, it was 13 years later that these scenes were replicated after Ruud Van Nistelrooy was a touch overzealous in an aerial challenge with Patrick Vieira. The French man took umbrage, kicking out at the striker leaving the ref no choice but to send Vieira off, who attempted to get at the player he felt had got him red carded. It kicked off a mini brawl but this was nothing compared to what would follow.

United were awarded a late penalty and Van Nistelrooy, who was normally deadly from the spot, missed the chance to stop the Invincibles before they were even formed as his penalty cannoned off the crossbar. Cue Martin Keown delivering a flying clothesline that would not have been out of place in WWF and for a couple of minutes the game descended into madness as the two teams again staged a battle on the turf of Old Trafford.

The ugly scenes saw Arsenal charged with failing to control their players while Patrick Vieira, Martin Keown, Ashley Cole, Lauren, Ray Parlour, Jens Lehmann, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo all faced individual charges.

A year later the rivalry carried on as United ended Arsenal’s 49 game unbeaten run, the game saw flares all over the pitch with Van Nistelrooy clashing with Ashley Cole and the Nevilles (doing their best Phil and Grant impression) proceeding to assault Jose Reyes. But Arsenal really raged when Wayne Rooney was awarded a soft penalty. Van Nistelrooy exorcised his demons tucking away the spot kick as United went on to win the game 2-0. This was only the start of the drama as in the tunnel an unidentified Arsenal player reportedly threw soup over Sir Alex. The scuffle which carried on for a while also saw Arsenal’s equipment manager, Paul Johnson left with a bloody nose.

With Old Trafford fresh in mind, at Highbury later that season Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira confronted Gary Neville in the tunnel before the game warning him of what would happen if he decided to rough house Reyes during this game but Roy Keane was never one to sit by idly had his say and the game’s climate was set. The clash only served to fire up Keane as he was immense in United’s 4-2 victory.

The battles between the two clubs are encapsulated by the midfield battles of Keane and Vieira and were always a highlight of any football fan’s season. Amidst all the on-field fighting, there was also off field mind games and some wonderful footballing moments.
I would say the rivalry has simmered down to merely competition now but as shown in the game in the game at Old Trafford in 08/09 where Arsenal gave Evra ‘special treatment’ for his afore mentioned comments this ‘competition’ can flare up at any moment.

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15 responses to “Whatever happened to the great United/Arsenal rivalry?”

  1. bharath honnegowda says:

    Ths first time i watched united play was the FA cup semi final against Arsenal. i enjoyed watching keane, neville brothers & Ruud vs viera, bergkamp & co. Arsenal are no more the same force they were and that is the reason the rivalry is not strong enough these days.

  2. jonathan says:

    Ha, the rivlary is gone because they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain of being worthy opponents!

  3. Aaron D'Silva says:

    As a united fan growing up in north London,I too feel your hatred chudi! There is no other club including them scousers and that small club down the road that I love beating more then Arsenal! Think it was the legendary Keano that set the modern day conflict although The big Dane,ian wright and of course ruud would have something to say about that! With all due respect I do believe arsenal play some majestic football but I echo Patrice Evra’s words in saying, they have not (recently) turned their football into trophies so why worry?
    I can never watch the game in one piece and never enjoy it knowing what is at stake for me in north London…that will be the same come Monday night!
    Here are few reasons why I hate arsenal:
    1. Always feel they are the victims of teams bullying them and commiting horrid tackles (eboues tackle on nani in the cup)
    2. Time and time again claiming they are the best team in the land (no trophies in what…now?)
    3. No respect or dignity in defeat (henry’s comments after European cup final vs Barcelona)
    4. They are always a ‘young team’
    Plus many many more…
    I love the fireworks between the two clubs and do Want them back…roll on Monday night…Roll on Keano scaring vieria in the highbury tunnel,Ronaldo scoring a double at highbury and the emirates,Rooney netting past Lehman and even John o’shea popping up with with one at OT!
    Manchester United vs Arsenal…best memories in football!

  4. johnboy says:

    rivalry went as arsenal became less competitive…then wenger and fergie found a ‘respect’ for each other….this will be the biggest arsenal utd game in years….i loved the game in the fa cup when nani was juggling the ball around gallas, one of my fave games

  5. Gooner77 says:

    As ‘United’ fans being from London full stop is just wrong. How do you feel when they sing those cockney songs at Old Trafford?

    • Chudi Onwuazor says:

      Cockney Reds have a quite celebrated history, were very prominent in the 70s and we’ve had a (unsuccessful) Cockney manager in Sexton who went to the same school as Aaron and myself

    • The Glutten says:

      I don’t see anything wrong with supporting a club outside of your own region. I’m Mancunian but currently living in Glasgow and there’s a disproportionately high Arsenal support up here. I’m sure the Weegie shirt sales aren’t unwelcome in Hill-Wood’s piggy bank.

  6. Gooner77 says:

    Remember when we won the title at Old Trafford? Must of felt a little uncomfortable sitting in your North London yard then eh?
    Looking forward to Monday, should be a great game 🙂

    • Chudi Onwuazor says:

      not really, I was a kid, got a fair bit of stick in school but we gave as good as we got the 6-1 at Old Trafford was a highlight

      • jonathan says:

        Just wondering, how do you become a United fan if you’re from another region? Generally for overseas fans, you can sort of pick who you like, or have some sort of far reaching ties to a club. But I’m curious given Association Football clubs’ historictly strong links to a particular region how a local goes about supporting an outside club.

        • Chudi Onwuazor says:

          I cant speak for everyone else but me it was because of a childhood friend called Joei (now the front man of a rock band) spent lots of time around him and his family who were all United fans.
          At that age you want to do everything like your friends so we were the only United fans in my class there were some others in the other class in my year but from getting drawn into it by a friend as you get older and get more into it you start to form your own ideas etc.

          I remember my family thinking it was just a phase and sooner or later I would turn like everyone else in my area and start to like Ian Wright but after a few years and I hit 9 they realised that I wasn’t going to.

          I can also fall back on the family in Manchester line too but that was only part of the reason so I don’t really bring that up.

  7. Yashi says:

    Loved the finger-pointing of Keane in that tunnel, and him saying something along the lines of “pick on someone your size” and “see you out there on the pitch!” I would crap myself if I met Keane in the tunnel before a match and he said, see you out there on the pitch with the angriest face of all time!

    I think back in the day when the rivalry was fierce, we both had great teams. Utd were relentless in their pursuit for trophies, but Arsenal had a fantastic team too! Nowadays, they do have a very talented team, but they lack the fire that used to rage within guys like Vieira, Keown,…etc They look very lightweight at times and I think they haven’t won against Chelsea or Utd for a long time now.

  8. Gooner77 says:

    I think there’s everything wrong with supporting a club outside your region. Ok so if you’re from provincial town and your nearest club isn’t even in the football league then I understand people supporting bigger clubs but if your a Londoner, born and bred, then you have plenty of great clubs to chose from. I just don’t get how you can grow up in London and end up supporting Manchester United or Liverpool. I know it’s commonplace, someone I know has a season ticket for Old Trafford (he drives 4 hours to every home game-hehehehehe) and he sits there while the United fans sing abusive songs about Cockneys and the real Manc lady sitting next him always turn round to him and says ‘you hate it when they sing that one don’t you?’

    • Chudi Onwuazor says:

      To be fair it is as commonplace in London, I know some ‘rude boys’ from Totenham that scream that’s where they are from at every opportunity but don’t support the team.
      Arsenal fans from North London when the team originats from South London etc.
      Football is a global game mate and whilst you may hate it, it is something that happens