When Roy Keane attempted to flatten Patrick Vieira in the tunnel before a Manchester United vs Arsenal game in 2005, tensions between the rivals were at an all-time high.
Then, the Premier League heavyweights were fighting each other for domestic dominance, whereas now the two are engaged in a battle for a Europa League spot.
It hasn’t been the same.
However, the bitter rivalry that thrilled football supporters for most of the 90s and early noughties pre-dated Keane vs Vieira and Arsene Wenger vs Sir Alex Ferguson.
In fact, it pre-dated the Premier League, beginning in January 1987, according to Fergie – nine years before Wenger’s arrival in north London.
“There was a fierce rivalry when George Graham was there and I’d just come down,” he told The Times in 2009.
“Arsenal had been on a 22-game unbeaten run and then we beat them at Old Trafford and it was one of those games when big Norman [Whiteside] did about 45 fouls and never got booked. How he got away with it I’ll never know,” he added.
Graham has never forgotten his first exchange with his compatriot.
“David O’Leary was getting kicked all over the place by Norman Whiteside,” he told The Guardian.
“David Rocastle was provoked so much that he got sent off and there was a big row coming off the pitch. Alex Ferguson and his then assistant Archie Knox were right in our faces and I thought: ‘Jesus Christ! That’ll be the first and last time they intimidate us. We’re not going to be bullied any more’.”
A year later Arsenal beat United in an FA Cup tie and Nigel Winterburn goaded Brian McClair for missing a penalty.
That incident then had an influence on a 21-man brawl in 1990, which saw both clubs deducted points – two for Arsenal and one for United.
“Maybe it means we won the actual brawl,” Perry Groves, who was part of that Arsenal squad, joked with talkSPORT.
“After the game, George told us it was exactly what he wanted – players looking out for each other. He said: ‘That’s what I’m saying in here, but in the press I’m going to have to say I don’t condone it and it’s not how I expect my players to behave’. I think a couple of the lads got fined a week’s wages!”
Fast forward a few years to Wenger’s era, beginning in 1996 and Arsenal, league champions in 1989 and 1991, began to challenge United’s early dominance in the Premier League.
Both teams were evenly matched after that and only the finest of margins separated them in league and cup competitions, with the Gunners a missed Dennis Bergkamp penalty away from a place in the 1999 FA Cup final, which would have ended United’s treble dream.
Other notable incidents include Phil Neville receiving a yellow card after just 27 SECONDS in the 2003 Community Shield for crunching Vieira.
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In 2003, six Arsenal players and two United stars were charged with improper conduct following the ‘Battle of Old Trafford,’ with Arsenal charged for ‘failing to ensure the proper behaviour of their players’.
Ringleader on the day, Martin Keown revealed even his wife had told him he’d gone too far in his confrontation with Ruud van Nistelrooy.
A year, Man United ended Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten run in a match that became known as the ‘Battle of the Buffet’. Furious players clashed in the tunnel afterwards culminating in Cesc Fabregas throwing a slice of pizza at Ferguson’s face.
Then there was Keane and Vieira, captains of United and Arsenal respectively and winners who brought out the best in each other. “I had a lot of hatred for Arsenal, because they were our big rivals,” Keane told ITV in 2013.
“He’s my favourite enemy,” Vieira added.
Ferguson and Wenger, meanwhile, was the feud that kept on giving.
“Our mental duels keep me awake,” the former Arsenal boss once said about Fergie’s mind games.
“There were confrontations, because there were two teams and two managers battling for one award: the Premier League,” Fergie told United Review. “In my time, we had a few arguments but I always did really respect the man because he did a fantastic job at his club.”
It was drama us fans couldn’t get enough of and arguably, the rivalry made the Premier League.