Last time I took you back to the early 200s. Specifically to the Battle of the Buffet that gave us the infamous pizza-gate scandal. Side note: United broke Arsenal’s 49 match unbeaten run in that game.
That encounter was a very fiery one with both teams trading accusations in the aftermath. The match forever changed the complexion of Arsenal-United rivalry. One could say English football had never seen anything like it. But they were not prepared for what awaited them in the return fixture later that season: The Battle of Highbury.
Like the first game at Old Trafford, much of the headlines were stolen by the incident in the tunnel rather than on the pitch. As the teams, lined up alongside the crammy tunnel at the Highbury (players have since being forgiven for having bouts of claustrophobia in said place), United captain took exception to something Arsenal captain said to United right back Gary Neville. It is believed that it was related to Gary’s bad tackle in the reverse fixture.
Keane could not let this go and things could have gotten ugly as the two captains squared up. The officials could barely hold a grip on proceedings even before the ball was rolling.
With those tense moments outside the playing area, things were bound get ugly on the grass. It was Vieira who drew first blood, (METAPHORICALLY) as the Frenchman headed home to send the home crowd wild. But the joy did not last long as Giggs, so often the danger man for United against Arsenal equalized with a deflected shot.
The goals were just a sideshow as it seemed that the players were more interested in ensuring their team conceded more fouls. Rooney was booked for persistent fouling and could have been sent to the dressing room for an early shower for dissent. United grew into the game but just as they began dominating proceedings, Denis Bergkamp fired through Roy Carroll’s legs to restore home side’s lead.
The sides went to the break with Arsenal having a 2-1 lead.
But United equalized in the second half as clever lineup play between Giggs and Rooney gave Ronaldo a chance which he took with both arms. Level.
Roy Keane then stepped up to dispossess Vieira and the resulting play saw Ronaldo score once again to give United the lead. The never relinquished it. The relentless style of play with United players covering every inch of grass to hold onto the lead is commendable. United played with a zest that was missing since their last Premier League title two seasons back.
The match would have been incomplete without a red card. And so up stepped Mikel Silvestre who headed to the dressing room early for butting Freddie Ljungberg with 21 minutes left to play. But Arsenal could not make the numerical superiority count as Ferguson’s men scored another to make it 4-2. It was the dagger to the heart as John O’Shea of all people scored with a dink of all finishes. It was an epic way to seal an epic game.
The away fans returned home early and Vieira was outplayed by Keane. It was one of those performances from Roy that took every last ounce of energy from his declining body. For United, it was sweet revenge as they completed the double and effectively ended the Champions hope of defending their crown.
United had stormed the enemy’s base with a trident and ended up dismantling the cannon.