Leeds, Liverpool and City are teams you dislike instinctively but the Arsenal rivalry was more ‘manufactured’. Whilst Sir Alex believes it came into it’s own after David Rocastle was sent off for retaliating against a foul from Norman Whiteside in 1987, most fans will feel that it really kicked off in 1990 after the mass brawl that saw both sides docked points.
From that moment on United and Arsenal were tied together in a fierce rivalry. But last night, when Manchester United announced a deal had been signed to take Arsenal’s star player and captain Robin Van Persie to Old Trafford, the bond was finally broken.
It haS been on the wane for a long time as Arsenal have failed to live up to their side of the bargain between the two clubs, to remain the most competitive in the country. And any hopes of a revival well and truly departed with Van Persie.
If you think of Premier League rivalries the first that should pop into your head is Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira. The two stood as titans, fighting their own battle as their clubs waged war on and off field. Crunching tackles, glares and harsh words were all part of their struggles, something that spectacularly came to a head in Highbury’s tunnel back in February 2005 when Keane roared to the defence of Gary Neville, who Vieira was trying to intimidate.
The precursor to this was of course the infamous ‘Battle Of The Buffet’ or ‘Pizzagate’ when an Arsenal side, incensed by their defeat at the hands of United (their first in 50 games), began a food fight that resulted in Sir Alex being hit by a Pizza. Sir Alex can count himself lucky, being hit by a pizza was getting off lightly in comparison to some of the things that took place on field that day!
There was Keown’s attack on Van Nistelrooy at Old Trafford the previous season after Van Nistelrooy’s missed penalty too, all of these episodes added to a rich tapestry of rivalry between our clubs but more recently the animosity hasn’t been there, at least not from this side.
Sir Alex has mellowed towards his former rival Arsene Wenger and can frequently be seen praising the Frenchman and defending him from criticism, something many journalists have point to as the end of the rivalry. It seems as if Sir Alex no longer sees Wenger and his club as a threat, case in point Sir Alex willingly selling Mikel Silvestre to the north London side in 2008. Silvestre was a bit part player at the time, but at the height of animosity between the two sides I doubt Sir Alex would have sold him Silvestre’s boots.
More recently fierce competition has turned to mocking. Back in July, following an interview with the French manager, Russian journalist Sergei Dadygin claimed Sir Alex Ferguson sent Wenger a letter after Arsenal’s 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford, apologising for the game and Patrice Evra’s jabs about kids vs men don’t quite have the stinging effect of a Roy Keane 2 footer, instead they took on quite a jovial but irritating tone.
In his 2011 autobiography, Gary Neville almost eulogised about Arsenal and what they have become. He lamented how they lack the toughness, mental and physical, of the 97/98 team. Something that has played a major part in their falling away from the very top tier of English football, and thus allowed any link between our clubs to die. We have remained competitive and the top team in the country, whilst Arsenal have seen Chelsea and Man City rise to usurp their place.
Arsenal have resisted though, they reacted with indignation to Evra’s comments, attempting to kick him off the field on more than one occasion and Dadygin claims that Wenger was less than happy with Sir Alex’s letter of apology. Whilst we have seen threats emerge in the form of Chelsea and more importantly Man City and looked to trump them, Arsenal have held on to the rivalry with United. Perhaps it is the last vestige of when they were one of the two top clubs in the country.
Last week following the friendly with Barcelona in Gothenburg, Sir Alex complained of Arsenal’s reluctance to do business with him in regards to a Van Persie, stating that they were willing to sell him to anybody but him. If he was ‘trolling’ he did it brilliantly, as he consigned them to the side, reinforcing the fact that he no longer saw them as rivals. You could hear blood boiling in North London with his comments, but ultimately the decision laid with them. If they dug their heels in United and RVP would just have to deal with it.
It seemed like this would be the case too, as reports of Arsenal refusing to budge filled the papers. Whilst it would be better to get some money for him than none next summer, selling him to a team you consider a rival was just out of the question right?
Apparently not! You can only imagine the shock and anger of their fans when it was revealed last night that a deal had been struck. For all of their apparent objection to the move, for the first time in 25 years Arsenal would be selling a player to Manchester United.
Last time around it was Viv Anderson who, whilst a decent player in his own right, wasn’t quite in the same ball park in terms of star power and team importance when he made the switch. This time though, it is a different matter.
Arsenal fans have consoled themselves by saying they chose to sell and they got good money for an ‘injury prone 29 year old’ but Wenger himself has said they had no choice and the fact remains that not only have they sold their club captain for the 4th time in 6 years, but they have sold their club captain and star player to a team they consider themselves to be on equal footing with.
We saw the outrage when it appeared that Wayne Rooney was on his way to Man City back in 2010, so can you imagine the uproar if the move had gone through? It was impossible though, Sir Alex wouldn’t have sold him to them for all the tea in China and rightly so, what kind of message would it have sent out to fans as well as other teams?
For all the talk of money problems at the club, I’m certain fans as well as Sir Alex would have rather seen him go abroad for less than City would have paid or leave on a free. As a top team, having you best player poached away from you is just out of the question.
As with Torres’ move from Liverpool to Chelsea there has been an outpouring of anger against the player. Shirts have been burned, things have been said etc but the fault doesn’t lie with the player, rather with the club. Arsenal, like Liverpool, have allowed themselves to fall that far behind that the move is a step up whether they want to believe it or not.
So when RVP lines up in the red of Manchester United against Everton on Monday, the final links between Manchester United and Arsenal will be broken and, perhaps sadly, will finally lay a once great rivalry to rest.