Do you miss the United versus Arsenal fizz of yesteryear? You know, the pizza throwing, tunnel shoving, all-out-21-man-brawling edge that seems to have been missing from recent encounters. It was that needle that gave the fixture its meaning over the past two decades. After all, while Arsenal aren’t traditional United rivals like City, Leeds and Liverpool, the tie had more than an air of ‘derby’ about it from the nineties to the early 21st century. But ‘Pizzagate’ onwards, when United ended Arsenal’s 49 match unbeaten league run, and the encounters have been tame. But with the clubs’ biggest meeting in a number of seasons taking place at Old Trafford this coming Wednesday, could old rivalries flare up again? Let’s hope so!
Perhaps its because messrs. Ferguson and Wenger have mellowed over the years that has removed some of the spark from the fixture in recent seasons. After all, when was the last time either of them engaged in petty media-orientated ‘mind-games,’ name calling and put-downs? The arrival of Jose Mourinho and Chelsea’s huge spending certainly gave both clubs a new focus. And, horror of horrors, the pair even agree on certain issues now, such as a common enemy in universally disliked Rafa Benitez.
Or maybe its that the players have changed too. Neither side has the spikey characters that fueled the personal vendettas of the past. Without the incendury personalities of Keane, Viera, Keown, Winterburn, McClair, van Nistelrooy and others, what’s left to fight about? After all Viera hated - literally hated – Ruud van Nistelrooy; Brian McClair tried to cut Nigel Winterburn in half; and Roy Keane scared the aforementioned Viera so bad he probably had to run home to his mummy for a cuddle. Moreover, Cesc Fabregas aside, there’s nobody on either side who – to paraphrase – would gladly start a fight in an empty room.
Most of all the edge has gone because the clubs aren’t rivals for the Premiership title anymore, with the North London side now more accustomed to fighting it out for the fourth Champions League qualifying spot than actual trophies. By the time the two meet in the Premiership at Old Trafford on May 16th the title ought to be as good as wrapped up.
The Champions League semi-final this coming Wednesday, however, could change all that. At last a United versus Arsenal fixture worth getting excited about!