Arsenal ‘welcome’ Manchester United to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday evening in a match that is as likely to be as fiery as the filling in the Balti pies served up at half time.
These two sides have always enjoyed a bitter rivalry, but that has perhaps been exacerbated in the past two decades or so with all the shenanigans that went on in the early 2000s; those scars run deep to this day.
Times change and so to do the players involved, but make no mistake this is a huge contest in both of these teams’ season. Arsenal have been made a slight favourite with the bookmakers, but you can bet your bottom dollar that this Manchester United side – in fine form remember – will give as good as they get.
And as for those tuning in on BT Sport on Saturday evening, if this latest episode of the Arsenal vs Manchester United story can live up to these iconic moments of the recent past we’re all in for a teatime treat.
Giggsy Bares All After Goal of the Decade
The early seeds of this modern rivalry were sown in this FA Cup semi-final replay, with the score tantalisingly poised at 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes.
Dennis Bergkamp would miss penalty in extra time, but even so the game looked set to fizzle out into a shootout with both sides running on empty.
Not that Ryan Giggs had read the script. The Welshman picked the ball in his own half, jinked one then another, beat four Arsenal players (including Lee Dion twice) before slamming home a late, late winner.
He then proceeded to take off his shirt and whirl it around his head….revealing a comprehensive set of chest hair that his compatriot Tom Jones would be proud of.
There’s one thing winning a Premier League title; there’s quite another to do it on the turf of one of your biggest rivals.
But that’s exactly what Arsenal did at the culmination of the 2001/02 season. They needed just a point to secure the trophy and confirm another league and FA Cup double. Manchester United would surely do all they could to avoid that happening in front of their own supporters….
The Red Devils certainly gave it their all, but a Sylvain Wiltord goal gave the Gunners a 1-0 win and a chance to rub their foe’s nose in it by celebrating long and hard on the Old Trafford pitch.
Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold
United wouldn’t have to wait long to get their own back on Arsenal….just 12 months, in fact.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men led the title race into its dying embers, and they went to the Emirates with a three-point lead – albeit having played one game more than the Gunners.
So a big performance was needed from the Mancunians, and that’s exactly what they delivered. Goals from Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ryan Giggs cancelled out a Thierry Henry double to silence the home crowd.
The nature of Ferguson’s celebrations suggested he knew his side were almost over the line, and so it proved when they duly obliged with the trophy a couple of weeks later.
Keown Loses It
It was at this point that the rivalry started to become even more bitter. Less than six months after United all but bagged the title at the Emirates, the two teams clashed early in the 2003/04 campaign at Old Trafford.
It was a game marred with bone-crunching tackles – no doubt inspired by the antics of the previous April – with eight yellow cards and Patrick Vieira dismissed for one too many ugly challenges.
The worst would come at the end of this 0-0 draw as United were awarded a controversial 91st minute penalty. Van Nistelrooy stepped up to take it but could only hit the woodwork – unleashing a torrent of abuse from the Arsenal players. Most notably Martin Keown, who leapt in the air, wailed like a banshee and whacked the Dutchman in the head for his troubles.
You may remember Arsenal’s team of Invincibles, who went the whole of the 2003/04 season unbeaten.
That undefeated streak remained in place until October, when – yep, you’ve guessed it – Manchester United became the first team to beat the Gunners in 15 months of league action.
In the most delicious of ironies it was Ruud van Nistelrooy who netted the first in a 2-0 win, and an ill-tempered affair once again boiled over but this time in the tunnel after the match, with a fracas ending with a pizza being lobbed at Sir Alex, a proud Scot unused to having Italian food thrown in his face.
The culprit never came forward, although internet rumours abound that it was that cheeky young scamp Cesc Fabregas….