During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the dominant forces in English soccer were Arsenal and Manchester United. From 1995 to 2005 the duo won nine of ten Premier League titles during that time, with United edging it six to Arsenal’s three. It was one of the fiercest rivals in English soccer. The managers, Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, seemed to genuinely dislike each other while players played each meeting with a lot of fight and bite, something both clubs are clearly missing having watched them over the weekend.
Arsenal were embarrassed 1-0 by Premier League newcomers Sheffield United at Brammel Lane on Monday, while Manchester United limped to a 1-1 draw with leaders Liverpool at Old Trafford. If you look at the current league table you could class this as a fantastic result for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men, especially considering it comes on the back of an embarrassing 1-0 loss to Newcastle, however, all this does is emphasize how far United have fallen since the classic clashes they had with Arsenal.
In 1995 before a United v Arsenal clash at Old Trafford, Roy Keane (captain of Man Utd) and Patrick Vieira (captain of Arsenal) got into a heated exchange of words in the tunnel. Vieira had tried to intimidate United player, now TV pundit, Gary Neville, and Keane, as United club captain, was having none of it. As the players lined up to come out TV cameras caught Keane having a go at Vieira. Despite being very gifted players, both thrived on the physical battles and the extra spice is added to the game made it must-see TV. United ran out 2-1 winners.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team are missing a born winner the likes of Keane, who was the driving force of a great United team for over a decade, and it’s a testament to The Red Devils current midfield that if offered a 34-year-old Keane coming near the end of his playing career they would snap him up in a heartbeat and he would easily be the best player they have.
You could also say the same for Arsenal. Technically they are a very good side, but what they lack is the killer instinct possessed during that 10 year period by the likes of Vieira. A win at all costs mentality. Nowadays players are more worried about their Twitter and Instagrams.
I remember watching a 0-0 draw in 2003 that despite having no goals had everything else. Patrick Vieira was sent off, Ruud Van Nistelrooy missed a last-minute penalty and 7 players were fined for reactions at the end of a feisty game. Martin Keown threw his hands up in the air and slammed them on Van Nistelrooy’s head on the way down, while Ray Parlour punched him in the stomach as Arsenal players surrounded the Dutch striker to scream abuse, believing he had conned the ref into sending off their captain, Vieira. United players reacted to defend their teammate and all hell broke loose.
Today the only reason an Arsenal player would throw his hands in the air would be in the hope of a penalty after a poor dive and if any of them threw a punch I think you’d have to resuscitate half the crowd as they continue their transformation from the kings of ‘by any means necessary’ to ‘can’t we all just get along and be friends’. Unless both teams change their mind it could be a while before either is a dominant force in English soccer again.