It is no longer the case that Arsenal v Manchester United is a battle between two teams fighting it out for the Premier League title, but Saturday’s game at the Emirates Stadium is still huge.
Despite both teams losing form in recent weeks, Champions League qualification remains up for grabs due to Tottenham also slipping up at a vital time of the campaign. Finishing in the top four would be a strong end to the Ralf Rangnick mini-era at United, while for Arsenal a return to Europe’s elite would back up the undeniable progress that is being made under Mikel Arteta.
With so much on the line it should be a great game on Saturday, but how will the latest match between Arsenal and Manchester United compare to these six memorable meetings?
Arsenal 3-2 United: FA Cup, May 1979
Arsenal edged one of the great FA Cup finals against United in 1979, with a frantic finish ensuring the Gunners lifted the famous trophy at the old Wembley.
Terry Neill’s side seemed to be cruising to glory after racing into a 2-0 lead thanks to goals in the first half from Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton. But Arsenal had lost the cup final a year before and their players must have feared a repeat when United launched a stunning late fightback.
First, Gordon McQueen stabbed home from close range in the 86th minute after Arsenal failed to clear a set piece into the box, then within a couple of minutes it was 2-2. Sammy McIlroy brilliantly beat two defenders then squeezed home a fine finish to spark delirious scenes of celebration in the United end of the national stadium – but they would soon be cut short.
Straight from kick off, Arsenal went on the attack and Alan Sunderland popped up at the back post to turn the ball home. Not for nothing is this one known as the Five Minute Final.
Arsenal 1-2 United: FA Cup, April 1999
Another FA Cup classic was played between these sides in 1999, with one of the great solo goals from Ryan Giggs sending United through to the final. It is often forgotten that this match was a replay, with the original semi-final having been a goalless draw.
David Beckham put United ahead from 30 yards but Arsenal had the initiative when Dennis Bergkamp’s deflected strike levelled the scores and Roy Keane was sent off for a second booking. Peter Schmeichel kept out a Bergkamp penalty and United were clinging on at the end but, during the period of extra time, Giggs produced a moment of magic to burst away from a series of tackles, score and produce a famous celebration as United moved towards the treble.
United 0-1 Arsenal: Premier League, May 2002
United were hunting a fourth straight Premier League title but, by 2002, Arsenal had emerged as a worthy challenger to the crown held by Alex Ferguson’s side. With United having been beaten in the Champions League semi finals by Bayer Leverkusen a few days before this game, many believed Arsenal had the ideal chance to snatch the league – and that’s what happened.
Arsenal were on a high after 11 straight wins and they made it 12 when Fabian Barthez could only parry Freddie Ljungberg’s low shot out to Sylvan Wiltord to tuck in the winning goal. Arsenal went on to win the Double that season as the rivalry between the clubs grew deeper.
United 0-0 Arsenal: Premier League, September 2003
Antipathy between Arsenal and United was at an all-time high when the Gunners made the trip to Old Trafford early in the 2003-04 season, which they ended unbeaten in the Premier League.
When Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira was sent off for a second bookable offence, it sparked one of the biggest melees in the history of the Premier League. There were even more scenes that nobody/everyone likes to see at the end when United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy failed to convert a controversial late penalty, leading to Arsenal defender Martin Keown mocking him.
Another row broke out at the full-time whistle, with a large group of Arsenal players converging on Van Nistelrooy again. Arsenal and six of their players were charged by the Football Association in the aftermath, while Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo also received fines. Arsenal had the last laugh in the end, going on to become the first Invincibles in the Premier League era.
United 2-0 Arsenal: Premier League, October 2004
A year after the Battle of Old Trafford came a game dubbed the Battle of the Buffet. Arsenal’s unbeaten run stood at 49 matches, but it came crashing down at the home of their great rivals.
Arsenal made the early running but United took the lead from the penalty spot when Sol Campbell was harshly adjudged to have brought down Wayne Rooney in the box. Van Nistelrooy scored from the spot and Rooney – who Arsenal felt had dived – then made it 2-0.
That was the precursor to one of the most extraordinary rows in football history. In the tunnel after the game, a slice of pizza was thrown at United manager Alex Ferguson, with Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas eventually admitting that he was the culprit. Van Nistelrooy also later received a three-match ban for a challenge on Ashley Cole the referee missed, while Arsene Wenger was fined £15,000 for his comments on the performance of official Mike Riley.
United 8-2 Arsenal: Premier League, August 2011
If any match marked the end of United-Arsenal as the most important rivalry in the Premier League, it was this one-sided affair at Old Trafford. With Arsenal missing three players – Alex Song, Gervinho and Emmanuel Frimpong – due to suspension their early-season disciplinary issues were clear and the Gunners subsequently collapsed to their heaviest defeat in 84 years.
Rooney’s hat-trick was the highlight for United and Ashley Young scored two fine goals, while Danny Welbeck, Nani and Park Ji-sung were also on the scoresheet for the Red Devils.
Regardless of this remarkable win, United missed out on the title to their noisy neighbours Manchester City on goal difference after the most incredible finish to a Premier League season.