With Premier League leaders Arsenal gearing up to travel to Old Trafford this weekend to take on Manchester United on Sunday, Gooner editor Layth looks back to classic victories over the Red Devils that he's seen in the flesh.
Here’s hoping this weekend’s game will be added to the memorable list below…
11) 1997-98 PL - 14 March 1998: Man United 0, Arsenal 1. Overmars, att 55,174
An early kick off saw the race for the title move inexorably south. Arsenal in the middle of their championship clinching run of 10 league wins in a row, rode their luck then saw their flying Dutchman run onto a flick from Anelka to slot a late goal past a despairing Schmicel. Overmars surprise was only matched by Gary Neville’s despair as the Manc had been given a torrid 90 mins by the Dutch international. The game was also notable for the cameras picking up on a couple of Gooners going absolutely mental in the away end. As was I. What beckoned was not only the double but an afternoon and night on the beers in Manchester followed by a curry in Rusholme.
10) 1982-83 Div 1 - 2 May 1983: Arsenal 3, Man United 0. O’Leary, Talbot 2, att 23,602
My first Arsenal United game. Stretches of open terraces betrayed just how meaningless this end of season league game was for both sets of fans. United were more concerned with facing Brighton in the forthcoming FA Cup Final and the Gunners season had collapsed with two demoralising semi- final defeats by United in the League Cup and FA Cup. Arsenal dominated. Brian Talbot, a good honest pro who never let the club down was on an inspired run of form after a hat-trick in the previous league game at Highbury against a Man City that was about to be relegated watched by a mere 16,000. As I was leaving the ground with my dad with a few minutes to go (he always made us leave early) I heard another cheer. I thought it was four. Turns out Remi Moses had been sent off for United. How times change.
9) 2001-02 League Cup 4th Round - 5 November 2001: Arsenal 4, Man Utd 0. Wiltord 3, Kanu, att 30,693
Forget the fact that United fielded such luminaries as Ronnie Wallwork, Lee Roche, Michael Stewart, Luke Chadwick, Bojan Djordjic, Jimmy Davis and Danny Webber (who?). Well at least try to. In our defence - no, literally in our defence, we had Igors Stepanovs, Stathis Tavlaridis and Oleg Luzhny. This wasn’t a game that would last long in the memory. The league game at Highbury the day before, a jarring 4-2 defeat by Charlton had a lengthier stay in the consciousness. The 4-0 League Cup win against United meant less than a row of beans in the scheme of things - another double for us the coming May took care of that - apart from the fact it was the biggest win in a first team fixture against United since our last but one double winning team: Who says statistics can’t be fun?
8) 1986-87 Div 1 - 23 August 1986: Arsenal 1, Man United 0. Nicholas, att 41,382
George Graham’s first game in charge of the club. Fighting outside, a minute’s silence for the late Sir Stanley Rous marred by both sets of fans chanting and a dramatic late winner by a flamboyant darling of the North Bank that caused me to twist my ankle in the Junior Gunners section pogoing like mental in celebration. Who said football was invented in 1992?
7) 1987-88 FA Cup 5th Round 1988 - Arsenal 2, Man United 1: Smith and og, att 54,161
Don’t let them tell you beloved old Highbury couldn’t generate an atmosphere. To this day I don’t think I’ve heard a louder roar coming from our supporters. The old place was packed to the rafters. The North Bank looked like the Kop as it swayed this way and that for 90 minutes, joyously rising as one when Brian McClair fired a last minute penalty over the bar. They say the Arsenal United feud started that day - which lasted until we were no longer a threat to Fergie nearly two decades later (even if in my book it started in Jan 1987 when Terry Gibson got a normally mild mannered David Rocastle sent off at a tempestuous Old Trafford). Winterburn got in McClair’s face before his penalty accusing him of diving to win it and willing him to miss it in no uncertain terms. He did miss it and the crowd went bonkers. A mate of mine was crushed against the fence that cut the North Bank terrace in two and lost all feeling in his arm for the next week at school. He said it was worth it to beat United that day.
6) 1988-89 Div 1 - 17 December 1988 Arsenal 2 Man Utd 1: Thomas, Merson, att 37,422
‘The worst United team/The world has ever seen’, crowed Highbury to a small (for United anyway) away following separated by those forbidding gunmetal grey fences that populated the Clock End in one of the last non all-ticket games in London between the two. Our young guns were busy accumulating points and enthralling, whilst United’s team, a curious assortment of fading and ageing ‘stars’ and crap players – Ralph Milne anyone? – were swept aside in a scoreline that failed to do justice to the difference in class. Our season would culminate in the never-to-be-forgotten victory at Anfield whilst Alex Ferguson was sacked the next season after a third round cup defeat to Forest…. what’s that you say?
5 & 4) 1990-91 Div 1 - 20 October 1990 Man Utd 0, Arsenal 1, Limpar 6 May 1991 Arsenal 3 Man Utd 1. Smith 3
I had missed Gus Caesar’s Arsenal debut at Old Trafford in late 1985 in front of a single pen of travelling gooners in front of the K Stand. I had however seen pies, golf balls, and coins launched from the same stand onto travelling fans below during the game where Tony Adams scored at both ends in early April 89. I had also seen UFO spotter supreme and builder of the most incompetently sited new stand at Brunton Park, Michael Knighton dribble onto the hallowed Old Trafford turf for the first game of the season in Aug 89: besmirching a myriad of world class United players past and present in the process. A man who wanted to buy United but couldn’t raise the ten million needed. But I had never seen an Arsenal victory at OT until this game.
Speeding up to the North in my mate Mozzy's trusty Capri, we stopped at Corley Services in the Midlands for a Julie’s Pantry (ask your dad). We were met by sea of United fans, none of whom seemed to hail from the region.
My mate who was driving us to Manchester, not the brightest tool in the box to be fair, asked me absentmindedly ‘who are United playing today?’ ‘Us ‘ I replied. He nodded thoughtfully and continued eating his Julie burger with carrots.
For Arsenal fans the game was memorable for Anders Limpar’s goal that he fired in from the byline that beat Les Sealey at his near post to the delight of 6,000 travelling gooners. For the FA the game was infamous for the touchline spat that saw 21 out of the 22 players get involved in a lot of over-eager shoving and a few kicks. Fearful that the sky might fall in under such revolting and reprehensible behaviour the dynamic and ever vigilant FA deducted two points from us and a point from United. ‘You can stick your two points up your ar*e’ a galvanised and unified club sang to them for the rest of Championship winning season. It culminated on that glorious May Bank Holiday Monday with United giving us a guard of honour (what goes around…) the day won the league at a delirious Highbury.
As a sad/serious programme collector it was the only time in my life that I simply forgot to buy a programme thanks to Ian Woan’s performance for Forest against Liverpool earlier in the day rendered us Champions before our evening kick off against United. It didn’t help that I was already battered from a heavy weekend in Newcastle in between attending the 0-0 at a freezing but raucous Roker Park. Graeme Souness as gracious as ever claimed we didn’t deserve to win the title. Our record for that season read P24 W D13 L1. Thanks Graeme.
3) PL 1997-98 - 9 November 1997: Arsenal 3 Man Utd 2 Viera, Anelka, Platt att 36,205
There were times when you felt that the whole world was watching the game along with those inside the ground. United powered by Roy Keane at the peak of his powers, a pre Simeone Beckham, and a c**t that was called Sheringham locked horns with an Arsenal team driven on by Viera and Petit, defended by our famous ‘back four’ - that as every Gooner knows was actually six interchangeable legends: Adams, Bould, Keown, Winterburn, Dixon and Seaman. Jose Mourino may have said years later that the ‘world will stop’ to watch Real Madrid v United but it was Arsenal v United that got there first. This game was no exception.
Gary Neville always said that the toughest team he ever played against was this Gunners vintage. I believe I may have spent a not inconsiderable portion of this game screaming at him that he was ‘worse than his brother’. Along with telling a certain Teddy Sheringham that although he ‘went to Man United’ he was ‘still a c**t’. Played in the pouring rain this game and the atmosphere inside Highbury was irresistible. Early on the ball spun loose and quick as a flash Anelka fired in a low shot that beat Schmeichel at the near post. Cue pandemonium in the Clock End, my heart reflecting the chaos as it clubbed away fuelled by adrenaline.
A corner that was headed out seven minutes later fell to Vieira, who swept the ball over onrushing players and swerving past a shocked Dane. 2-0. In the madness Vieira slid to the ground and promptly tweaked knee ligaments that put him out for a month.
As we went for the jugular roared on by another passionate Highbury crowd soaked in the rain but loving it, gaps appeared for United. The player we all loved to hate Sheringham got in between our centre halves and headed a goal back. Just before half time a snatched shot by the same player saw United level. It was only to set up a dramatic finale late in the second with David Platt meeting a corner and burying the ball in the net. Cue more pandemonium.
For me this period provided examples of the archetypal Arsenal United game: tough, passionate, skilful, full of snarling respect between the sides on the pitch and utter hatred off it. Shame it only lasted fewer than two decades.
2) 2004-05 FA Cup Final 21 May 2005: Arsenal 0 Manchester United 0 (Arsenal win 5-4 on pens) Millennium Stadium Cardiff, att 71,876
There used to be a little sports memorabilia shop round the back of Liverpool St Station a few years ago. The bloke also sold sporting postcards for 50p. Seeing as I couldn’t really justify a grand for a pair of signed Ali gloves (or afford them) I used to buy the postcards instead. I bought one of Patrick Vieira’s last ever kick in an Arsenal shirt. It was the only thing I really remember about that Cup Final. As Cardiff veterans by 2005 we knew where to park, where to drink, where to go in the evenings in that wonderful city that turns bonkers after dark. We also knew where to avoid too. I remember running into some well-oiled United fans after the game – though to be fair so were we. ‘You must be embarrassed by that’, one bloke clad in a United top said to us in a pious Brummie accent. Apart from laughing our heads off at the ridiculousness of his statement before serenading him with continuous verses of ‘we won the cup/we won the cup/ eei I addio we won the cup’ looking back he did have a point I admit. I can’t recall a more defensive display from an Arsene led side. 4-5-1 - or was it 5-4-1 turning to 5-4-0 after Reyes got sent off? - can quickly turn into a more attacking 4-3-3 if you push the wide men forward on a counter, but in Cardiff on that day there was no chance of that happening.
But do you know what? Who cares. I grew up watching Don Howe and George Graham teams. There’s nothing wrong in being pragmatic at times. There were more than 20 of us enjoying ourselves in Cardiff that night, along with thousands of other gooners, who wouldn’t have done so had we played our normal attacking game and got picked off by a powerful United side (well we all would probably have drunk as much if not more but that’s a different story). Sometimes in football the ends justify the means.
That summer I took my six month old daughter to have her photo taken with the FA Cup in the North Bank concourse at Highbury. I told her we’d build a collection of photos of her with the trophies Arsenal would win in the future. With a child's deadly accuracy of questioning she asks me throughout her childhood when we would be getting more pictures of her with a trophy throughout those nine barren years. I should have known far better than to tempt fate where The Arsenal is concerned….
1) PL 2001-02 8 May 2001: Man United 0 Arsenal 1, Wiltord att 67,580 I have a confession to make: unlike the other 10 I didn’t actually attend this particular game. I happened to be travelling in Central America at the time. Nicaragua to be exact. As you do. Managing to find a dusty back street bar full of Spanish speaking locals and one very gutted United fan I got very drunk that night watching Wiltord win the league for us, in my Arsenal shirt that I would later swap for an all-night lock in with a barman in Guatemala. Afterward I stumbled across a street called ‘Calle en Arsenal’ and stood under the sign singing Arsenal songs until I was threatened with arrest. It was a great night in a crazy, stunning, memorable country. I probably don’t have to tell you I would still rather have been at Old Trafford.