Manchester United dominated the Premier League for a while, but their regime ended a few years ago. Worse for Arsenal, it has been 17 years since they lifted their last Premier League trophy. The rivalry between the two, though, is unforgettable. Some moments worth mentioning include Arsenal securing the 2001/02 Premier League title in Old Trafford, Manchester United ending Arsenal’s unbeaten run in the ‘Battle of the Buffet’ on 24 October 2004 and, seven years later, the Red Devils handing the Gunners their biggest loss in Premier League matches (8-2).
The Forgotten Rivalry Between Manchester United and Arsenal
Robin van Persie and the Guard of Honour
The 2012/13 season was a very special one for the Red Devils. They once again reaffirmed their status as the most successful club in English football with 20th Premier League title, presented to Sir Alex Ferguson as a farewell gift. United confirmed the title that season when they won 3-0 against Aston Villa in Old Trafford on 22nd April, four matches before the season officially ended. So, as a part of tradition, United earned the right to receive guard of honour from their opponents for the remainder of the season.
Ironically, the first club to give Manchester United a guard of honour were Arsenal as both teams faced off in Emirates Stadium. On that day, no one received more attention than Robin van Persie.
After eight years with Arsenal, van Persie transferred to Manchester United for £22.5 million; that very season, he scored 26 goals and provided 15 assists to win his first Premier League title. Truth to be told, the Dutchman’s departure was not very bad for Arsenal fans as it had been quite normal for them to see stars leaving the Emirates Stadium. Samir Nasri, Ashley Cole, Emmanuel Adebayor, and some others moved on from Arsenal for a new chapter elsewhere. However, the thing with this RVP transfer was that he strengthened an all-time rival. This left the fans upset and van Persie hated.
In an interview with BBC Sport last May, Van Persie apologized if he hurt Arsenal fans. “At crucial moments you have to make tough decisions. It was a very tough decision and I get that fans were angry as I was the captain and top scorer. Sometimes you feel like you need a challenge and new adventure. If I hurt people, I’m sorry. I made that decision and I stand by it.”
The Peak Eras
To most people, perhaps this Man United–Arsenal thing is not as big as the North West Derby, which sees the two most successful English teams in both domestic and European competitions face off. But to talk about Premier League rivalries would not be complete without mentioning Manchester United and Arsenal. It has been one of the nastiest match-ups in the top level of the English football system. Those who witnessed this rivalry in the late 1990s to early 2000s understand how heated the match would be when the two teams collided.
The most exciting part of this rivalry was that the two clubs were captained by two tough, strong-willed leaders. Obviously, we are referring to Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira. Both players played really hard but more than that, they were the cornerstones for their teams’ success. The two midfielders always backed their teammates up and brought the best out of them. One of Keane’s best moments with Manchester United was his goal against Juventus in the semi-final of the Champions League in 1998/99 season. For Vieira, it must be the memorable goal against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane which earned Arsenal ‘The Invincibles’ status in the 2003/04 season.
Alpha-males like Keane and Vieira are irreplaceable, at least until now. No matter how many leadership qualities Harry Maguire possesses or how brutal Sead Kolašinac is, when it comes to mental toughness, the boys don’t compare to the legends. Arsenal have five captains, with Granit Xhaka being the most commandeering figure. As for Manchester United, the team entrusted the captain’s armband to Ashley Young with Harry Maguire as a potential future captain once Young leaves or retires.
Football fans all over the world long for the intensity that the Red Devils and the Gunners brought into the game back then. While we are waiting to see who can replace the two legendary figures, we will see how both teams will fare in the UEFA Europa League this season.