The days when Arsenal vs Man United was a title decider are over for now, but this weekend’s clash between the sides could yet be of vital importance. With United flying high in the Premier League and Arsenal making gradual improvement, both managers have been working under severe pressure at times this season.
Saturday’s game at the Emirates looks crucial for United’s chances of claiming the title as they try to stave off the ominous charge from rivals Manchester City. But will the encounter live up to these five classic Arsenal vs Man United matches?
5 greatest Arsenal vs Man United matches ever
Manchester United 0-2 Arsenal (16 February 2003)
First up is an FA Cup fifth-round tie, which Arsenal won to seemingly take a step towards a second successive league and cup Double.
A fiery start to the game saw three players booked in the opening exchanges and captains Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane were ordered to calm their teams down by referee Jeff Winter. A remarkable close-range miss from Ryan Giggs with the game goalless proved to be pivotal.
Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp were rested but goals from Edu and Sylvain Wiltord were enough to secure victory for the Gunners. This game is still most famous for United manager Alex Ferguson kicking a boot into the face of David Beckham during his post-match rage.
Arsenal 2-2 Manchester United (16 April 2003)
A few weeks later there was a titanic title tussle at Highbury, where a thrilling draw left United three points clear at the top, but with Arsenal having a game in hand.
Ruud van Nistelrooy’s fine solo goal gave United the lead but Arsenal came from behind to lead thanks to a double from their talismanic forward Henry. Their advantage was short-lived, though, as a Giggs header levelled things up for United.
Sol Campbell then saw red for elbowing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the defender missing the FA Cup final due to his suspension. United went on to win the title, Arsenal’s eight-point lead in early March having disappeared.
Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal (21 September 2003)
No goals on this occasion but plenty of high drama as an incredibly bad-tempered affair at Old Trafford led to seven different players receiving fines from the Football Association.
Vieira was controversially sent off following a clash with Van Nistelrooy but, despite the hosts having a man advantage, there were no goals heading into the last minute of the game.
Martin Keown was adjudged to have fouled Diego Forlan in the box and a penalty was awarded. Van Nistelrooy had missed two penalties in a row but stepped up again, with Jens Lehmann trying to distract him by moving around on his line.
Van Nistelrooy’s kick crashed against the crossbar, with Keown celebrating the miss by celebrating in the face of the Dutch striker. This sparked a huge melee, leading to the game being dubbed the Battle of Old Trafford.
Arsenal received a £175,000 fine over the behaviour of their players – setting a record for the Premier League – while Lauren, Keown, Vieira and Ray Parlour were all given bans. Among the other players to be fined were Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Arsenal went the full Premier League season unbeaten, meaning Van Nistelrooy’s missed penalty was decisive in their remarkable feat. Arsenal vs Man United clashes don’t come much better than this.
Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal (24 October 2004)
You know a game is special when it is known by its own one-word nickname: Pizzagate.
Arsenal were on an unbeaten run of 49 games dating back to the previous season, a Premier League record, but they were prevented from reaching the half-century at Old Trafford. Van Nistelrooy converted from the penalty spot to open the scoring – controversially as Campbell did not seem to foul Wayne Rooney – and Rooney struck to wrap things up late on.
But these facts are only part of the story of a game, which was dubbed the ‘Battle of the Buffet’ after Ferguson was hit by a slice of pizza in a tunnel fracas following the full-time whistle. After years of speculation over the incident, Cesc Fabregas confirmed he threw the pizza.
Arsene Wenger was furious with decisions made by referee Mike Riley, with his post-match comments earning the Arsenal manager a hefty fine.
Van Nistelrooy was also banned retroactively for three matches, for a challenge missed by Riley on left-back Ashley Cole.
Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal (28 August 2011)
The above four selections all came from the same two-year spell when the rivalry between the two clubs was at its peak. But Arsenal then fell away, with their lack of relevance in title battles summed up by this humiliating defeat at Old Trafford.
Arsenal had a host of players missing due to injury or suspension but there was no excuse for an incredible collapse, with United leading 3-0 at half-time thanks to strikes from Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young and Rooney.
Rooney completed his hat-trick after the break as United ran riot and young right-back Carl Jenkinson was dismissed, meaning Arsenal had seen a player sent off in each of the first three league games of the new season.
In the aftermath of the loss, Arsenal signed players including Per Mertesacker – now the head of the club’s academy – and Mikel Arteta, who will be in the dugout for the Gunners on Saturday. He will no doubt be hoping the game is a far more positive chapter in Arsenal’s history.