In this week’s From the Archives, we take a look at one of the most memorable United-Arsenal clashes in Premier League history. Widely known as the Battle of the Buffet, the Premier League clash at Old Trafford had everything you wanted from title rivals going head to head.
The corresponding match in the previous season was the one which saw Ruud van Nistelrooy miss a penalty late in the game that would have handed the Gunners’ their first victory of the season but he missed it and Wenger’s side ended the campaign as Invincibles’. Going into this one, Arsenal were unbeaten for a mammoth 49 games, stretching from the previous two campaigns.
The bad blood between the two teams was evident from the off as a number of tackles that would have been punished by any other referee went unnoticed. Among them included Ferdinand’s rough tackle on Freddy Ljungberg and Nistelrooy’s studs up challenge on Sol Campbell. But the visitors started the better team and they showed why they were unbeaten for 49 games as they picked the United defense open with ease but failed to apply the finishing touch. It would come back to haunt the Gunners late on.
The game was far from free-flowing as fouls and interruptions marred play. The half ended with Roy Carroll saving from a Henry one-on-one opportunity. Despite the number of ‘bad’ challenges, only three players were in the book at the breather.
Like for most of the first period, Arsenal dominated proceedings in the early part of the second half before United managed to string together a few passes and get a toe-hold on the game. Gabriel Heinze’s shot from range tested Lehmann but failed to trouble the scorers.
The most controversial decision from referee Mike Riley came in the 73rd minute when he pointed to the spot after Rooney was taken down by Sol Campbell. Replays suggested that Rooney dived and won his side a penalty. Like last season, up stepped Nistelrooy to take the penalty. The weight on his shoulders must have been massive but he made no mistake this time as he sent Lehmann the wrong way to give United the lead. Old Trafford erupted.
Arsenal threw the kitchen sink at the United goal hoping to get on level terms and extend their unbeaten run to half a century of games but they looked susceptible to counter attacks from United. With the pace of Ronaldo and Giggs on the wings. There was another shout for a penalty but this time the referee did not blow the whistle as Ronaldo took the tumble under pressure from Ashley Cole.
United brought on Alan Smith and Louis Saha late on and the duo combined to set up a Rooney tap in.
The end of the match saw more tensions flare up as Campbell ignored Rooney’s outstretched arm. The players’ from the two sides did not exchange jerseys and it is long believed that the Arsenal side had ’50 NOT OUT’ emblazoned underneath.
The presence of police officers failed to deter the players as Arsenal fans expressed their displeasure at Rio Ferdinand being chosen for the Man of the Match award. Sir Alex also exchanged a few words with Wenger and in the melee, a pizza was thrown at Sir Alex. Widely believed to be Cesc Fabregas, Ferguson admitted that he did not know who threw the pizza late on his auto-biography.
Arsenal lost momentum after the match and failed to defend their Premier League crown as they finished runners’ up Chelsea. United who were inconsistent and finished third behind the Gunners. The rivals met in the League Cup and the FA Cup final later in the season with United winning the former and losing the latter on penalties in the latter. The return fixture was not short of drama as United won 4-2 after another skirmish in the tunnel at Highbury.