Since its launch in 1992, the Premier League has been a host to several thrilling rivalries, pitting players and fans across the globe against each other. No other rivalry comes close in prestige and animosity to that between Manchester United and Arsenal, whose rivalry produced several memorable incidents both on and off-field.
A CLASH OF PERSONALITIES
Both Arsenal and Manchester United had glorious histories, and their encounters begin all the way back in 1894. The brawl between both the teams in 1990 in the First Division led to both clubs being docked points. The rivalry between The Red Devils and Gunners only became fierce in the late 1990s, reaching a crescendo in mid-2000s. Many factors can be said to fuel this rivalry, but almost all analysts agree that two personality clashes lay at its centre. United’s Sir Alex Ferguson(1986–2013) and Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger(1996–2018) are two of the greatest managers in football history, but hated each other in their early days at the clubs. Adding to the managerial clash was the intense animosity in the mid-field between club captains Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane. As Keane recalled later in an interview to Robin Scott-Elliot, “I can’t think of any other word that springs to mind when I was going into battle with Arsenal. Hatred was the word.”
DOMINANCE OF THE GAME
United and Arsenal shared the Premier League between them for nine consecutive seasons – from 1995 to 2004, with United winning six titles and Arsenal three. In almost all the seasons, the battle for the title came down to the wire, with both the teams occupying the top two slots six times. Every fixture between the two teams was widely anticipated, and every one of them produced tabloid-worthy drama. The teams faced seven red cards during this phase, which showed the deep animosity between the players.
BATTLE OF OLD TRAFFORD THE PIZZAGATE
Things came to a head in 2003, when the two teams faced each other at Old Trafford in a game retrospectively dubbed the ‘Battle of Old Trafford’. The controversial decision by the match referee to send Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira off the field, and award a penalty to United in the last minute of the match led to a brawl between the players after the final whistle. Five Arsenal players and two United players were fined after the fixture. A repeat of the controversy occurred in 2004, again at Old Trafford. A controversial penalty decision awarded to United left Arsenal fans fuming. Tempers flared between the staff of both teams after the match, amid the ensuing brawl, a pizza was thrown at Sir Alex Ferguson, lending the incident monikers of ‘Pizzagate’ and ‘Battle of the Buffett’. Both the matches were pivotal for Arsenal, the former earning them the title of ‘The Invincibles’ and the latter ending their 49-match unbeaten run.
The intense rivalry that embroiled both the teams calmed down after 2006 and only resurfaced occasionally. The primary reason might be the lacklustre performance of Arsenal after their dream run, and the ascendancy of United’s other rivals – Chelsea and Manchester City. Chelsea’s emergence as title challengers put an end to Arsenal and Manchester United’s domestic duopoly. Vieira and Keane had left their respective clubs by the end of 2005, while Ferguson came under intense scrutiny over his management. In August 2011, Arsenal suffered their heaviest league defeat in 84 years as they lost 8–2 to Manchester United at Old Trafford. The retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and both the Club captains removed the personality clash from the equation.
HOPES OF A RESURGENCE
The appointment of Mourinho as United manager in 2016 added a new twist to the rivalry, given the previous animosity between him and Wenger, giving some the hopes of resurrecting the rivalry. The league fixture between both the teams in 2017 was dubbed the first ‘billion-pound’ game. The claim is based on the combined turnover of the two rivals, with Arsenal posting revenues of £424 million in 2016/17 while United earned a record £581million, taking the clubs’ total to £1.05 billion. The rise of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool pushed both the teams into middle-order, diminishing the importance of their rivalry for the time being.
Arsenal will host Manchester United this Saturday at The Emirates Stadium. Arsenal defeated United 1-0 in their last encounter.
HEAD TO HEAD
Total Matches Played: 234
Manchester United Wins: 97
Arsenal Wins: 84
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