“What Arsene’s running isn’t a football club, it’s is a cult.”
After all the talk of ‘the only team still in four competitions’, the Arsenal are down to just two and if they are not ‘up to the task’ at Old Trafford, they could be just competing for just the league in a few days time. After a bizarre moment of misunderstanding between defender and goal-keeper in the Carling Cup final, Arsenal sacrificed their biggest chance of a cup triumph in six years. The away trip to Camp Nou didn’t do their confidence any good with some exceptional football by Barcelona complemented by some equally outrageous refereeing decisions. Now, in the middle of some ‘thrash talk’ with UEFA, Arsene takes his men to Old Trafford to meet the injured lions, Manchester United.
Man Utd, on the other hand, are hurting themselves; after the stalemate in their first leg Champions league encounter with Marseille, Sir Alex’s men have faced a double reversal in the league. After a controversial defeat at the Bridge, the Red Devils lost not only the game at Anfield but also their deadliest attacking threat, Luis Nani succumbed to injury thanks to one Jamie Carragher. Rio Ferdinand, Arsenal’s eternal nemesis Park Ji Sung and Antonio Valencia will all miss this weekend’s high profile clash. The only bright news for Fergie’s men is the return from suspension of their inspirational captain Nemanja Vidic. Also serving as a distraction could be their second leg UCL clash with the French side within four days. Fergie’s media black out made headlines all through the week, its now upto his men to be in the news albeit for the right reasons.
The rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United has probably reached a dilute state with the former not offering enough challenge in the English league over the past few years. But, nonetheless, they have played some fiercely competitive matches in the past which includes some of the best ones in the oldest football tournament in the world, the FA Cup.
Arsenal 3 – 2 Manchester United : 1979 FA Cup Final – Wembley
Probably the greatest of FA Cup finals between Arsenal and Manchester United was contested at the Wembley back in 1979 when Terry Neill’s men triumphed over Sexton’s United team. The match was easy-sailing for Arsenal as they maintained a 2-0 lead till the 85th minute, but calamity struck as United scored twice in quick succession and shocked the Arsenal supporters in London. Alan Sutherland gained a cult status as he scored the last-minute winner and gave Pat Rice, the current Arsenal assistant manager, a chance to lift his first FA Cup, after failing to win it the previous year. The rivalry and the incredible competitiveness were to continue for years to come!
Manchester United 2 – 1 Arsenal : 1999 FA Cup Semi-Final – Villa Park
One of the matches The Arsenal would want to wipe out from their memory of clashes with their bitter rivals is the epic match at Villa Park. Not only were they outplayed with Dennis Bergkamp missing a penalty, Ryan Giggs scored one of the most outrageous goals in football history and took United to Wembley. Despite Roy Keane’s sending off, Bergkamp’s fantastic finishing, Adams’ brilliant defending, Arsenal couldn’t avoid defeat thanks to that eminent ‘left flank run’ from Giggs as the Welshman dribbled past Vieira, Dixon, Keown and Adams to bury it in the roof of Seaman’s goal in the second half of extra-time, a memorable FA Cup goal for the Red Devils.
Arsenal 0 – 1 Manchester United : 2004 FA Cup Semi-Final – Villa Park
Paul Scholes scored in the 32nd minute in a match dominated by the Arsenal at the Villa Park. Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s name was controversially missing from the team sheet as United needed a win badly during a difficult time for the club. Wenger did his bit by dropping their talisman Thierry Henry to the bench. Many people believe that this was by far the most physical game United ‘brought to’ Arsenal, leading to disastrous injuries to Reyes and Ljunberg. The injuries didn’t end there, as lies the irony, the Arsenal Physio received a head injury from a stone thrown from the crowd. United sailed into their first final in the Millenium Stadium as Arsenal’s treble-winning hopes were shattered in their epic Invincible season.
Arsenal 0 – 0 (5-4) Manchester United : 2005 FA Cup Final – Millennium Stadium
124 years after the first FA Cup final was played, Arsenal got the better of the Red Devils in a penalty shootout; the first time a FA Cup final was decided on a penalty shootout. Both teams had already played each other four times in the season and were quite fed up with each other resulting in the goalless stalemate after 120 minutes of football. The penalty shootout was almost a flawless affair except for Scholes’ spot-kick which was saved by Jens Lehmann. It was left to Patrick Vieira to win it for the Gunners, and he did so emphatically blasting into the top corner of the net. Arsenal won their 10th FA Cup, one less than United’s eleven triumphs.
Manchester United 4 – 0 Arsenal : 2008 Fifth Round- Old Trafford
Manchester United completely dominated their bitter foes at home with early goals from Rooney, Fletcher and Nani, from which the Gunners could never recover. To add to their misery, Eboue was sent off for a ‘high boot’ on Nani, though the latter didn’t cry in that particular incident. Arsenal, without six of their first team players, were clearly not up for the task at Old Trafford as their opponents were ruthless that evening. Darren Fletcher scored yet again in the second half as Arsenal thanked the officials for blowing the whistle 16 minutes later to save the embarrassment as United peacefully strolled to the quarter-final stage of the tournament.