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  1. The big boys stand up to the bullies Just recently I watched a chat between Gary Neville and Thierry Henry over the famous Ruud Van Nistelrooy penalty miss and the aftermath with especially Martin Keown getting in the Dutchman’s face, and Neville wondered why Arsenal were so fired up. Henry responded that United were very physical that day and all the time. The crucial thing about that game was that United failed to beat Arsenal at home allowing Arsenal to remain unbeaten for the season. Roy Keane loved winding Patrick Vieira up To put it into perspective, Man Utd were easily Arsenal’s biggest rivals at that time. If Arsenal didn’t win the league, Utd did, simple as that. From Arsene Wenger’s first full season in charge in 1997/98 when he won the double until the Invincible season in 2003/2004, that’s what happened, 8 seasons and 2 teams locked together. That never happened before in English football and probably won’t happen again. What that intense physical rivalry did, though, was create the phenomenon that is the Premier league. It certainly looked like hate The two biggest hatreds were Ferguson and Wenger, and Vieira and Keane where the battles seemed non stop. The media loved it, stoking it up at every opportunity. The Red cards, Yellow cards, the wild tackles, the screaming in faces, the insults, the intimidation even in the tunnels, and a pizza being thrown by little Cesc Fabregas. Of the 2 teams, though, only Roy Keane and Martin Keown could conjure up that eyes popping, veins protruding, pure anger of a face that would send the Incredible Hulk running for cover. It was a violent circus with both sides only caring about one thing, beating the other. Scream louder, Martin, he can't hear you So, I decided to take a look at all matches from the time of Wenger to the Invincible season up to losing that tag at, where else, Old Trafford, and instead look at the card count for each match and see who were the winners there. I decided one goal for a yellow and 3 for a red. Now I should emphasise that there was a very strong belief at the time that Ferguson intimidated officials so much that Utd got treated leniently. Certainly before I went into checking this I can say I felt Utd were the most physical of the two, but that could be my Arsenal bias. Key: I will put Arsenal first every time whether home or away. Every match is Premier league except where stated. Arsene kept the intensity high All the matches And so the first match was in November 1996 at Old Trafford. Utd won 1-0 but we won 5-1 on cards with no reds. 5-1 Then February 1997 at home 2-1 Utd, and their first double over us. But we got the double on cards at 4-2 with no reds. 4-2 Then Nov 1997 at home 3-2 to us but a draw on cards 2-2. 2-2 Then March 1998 away and we did the double with one nil to the Arsenal and 3-2 on cards. 3-2 1998 Charity Shield and we hammered them 3-0 but they beat us on cards. 2-3 1998 September at home we again won 3-0 but lost on cards as Roy Keane got yellow but Nicky Butt got the first red of the sequence to give them 4 to our 2. 2-4 February 1999 away and 1-1 and a draw on both cards and goals. 2-2 April 1999 away FA cup 0-0 but we get our first red with Nelson Vivas to give us 4-2. 4-2 April 1999 again in the return at home and they beat us 2-1 and the snarling Roy Keane captures his first red card to give them 2-6 on cards. 2-6 The Charity Shield in 1999 and we won 2-1 but they got 2-3 on cards. 2-3 Shortly after we played them at home and were beaten 2-1 but they managed 1-4 on cards. 1-4 January 2000 at Old Trafford and a tame 1-1 with a gentleman’s game of only one card for Gille Grimandi. 1-0 October 2000 at Highbury and one nil to the Arsenal but Man Utd beating us at cards 2-3. 2-3 February 2001 Old Trafford and a horror show at 6-1 Utd. No cards though. 0-0 November 2001 League cup home and revenge at 4-0 but poor John Halls came on as sub and got a red to give us a 5-1 on cards. 5-1 November 2001 home and 3-1 this time but they beat us 2-3 on cards. 2-3 May 2002 and we beat them 1-0 at Old Trafford to secure the title but they won 2-4 on cards. 2-4 December 2002 Old Trafford and 2-0 to the Mancs but 2-1 to us on cards. 2-1 February 2003 FA cup Old Trafford 2-0 to us but 1-3 on cards. 1-3 April 2003 Highbury 2-2 but 3-2 on cards as Sol Campbell got sent off. 3-2 Charity Shield 2003 1-1 but Francis Jeffers got sent off for us giving us 5-3 on cards. 5-3 Old Trafford September 2003 our Invincible year and a feisty 0-0 match saw Patrick Vieira get sent off to give us 5-4 on cards. 5-4 March 2004 Highbury sees a 1-1 draw for both goals and cards. 1-1 April 2004 Villa Park FA cup semi-final and 1-0 Utd but we won 4-1 on cards. 4-1 And I will finish the sequence on our next match against them as they beat us 2-0 at Old Trafford in October 2004 to end our unbeaten spell in a match where we won the cards at 3-2. 3-2 We were the real bullies? I stopped it there as our time as Manchester United’s biggest rival was over. We haven’t won the league since. The money boys took over. One surprising aspect in all this is how few red cards there were. 4 to us and 2 to them. Alex Ferguson always had the refs in his sights So 59 card goals to the Red Devils and us? The mighty Arsenal? 67 putting us clearly in the lead as the dirtiest team in the sequence. 26 matches and 126 card goals equals almost 5 cards per game. I think that emphasizes the physical aspects to the contests. It always draws in the fans. The Premier league became the world’s Premier league, thanks, in large part, to the emergence of Arsenal as Ferguson’s first strong challengers. The battles on and off pitch were mesmerizing viewing for the punters and nowhere else could match. It is still the most fearsome rivalry in Premier league and First division history. Keane and Vieira never really made up although, perhaps surprisingly, Wenger and Ferguson did. They were the best of their time and loved snarling at each other. Up for the fight But come on, how many neutrals would feel that Arsenal were the dirtiest team, really? I suspect not many. Alex Ferguson did have a fearsome cachet that worked in his team’s favour. Refs were intimidated and it was widely believed that the intimidation worked. Ferguson always believed that any margin that he could get in his favour, he would make sure they did. My card analysis seems to backup that belief but we do have to remember one thing, Arsenal were a big strong team at the time. We had height everywhere, and we were certainly bigger than Man Utd. Wenger moved to smaller, less physical players when this team ran its course as did football fashion. Roy Keane - the most frightening face in football I can’t truly say whether we deserved this title during this period as I doubt if there was a more physically intimidating player than Mister Keane in all of the Premier league history. But he kept himself on the pitch for this fixture only going once at 74 minutes all the way back in 1999. He was probably afraid that Arsenal would kick poor Utd to pieces without him. And Fabregas didn’t throw the pizza at him. The only thing I can truly say with certainty is that rivalry defined the Premier league, had an intensity that I doubt if we will ever see again, and brought us to where we are now in football.
  2. The Dark Side entered football He kept his darkest side for Wenger Note: the Steve Bruce mentioned as the author is not Steve Bruce footballer and manager but possibly a poet/writer which I found on the internet. It is difficult to be certain as nowhere seems to have actual details on who the author is. Regular readers will remember a blog I wrote some time ago https://arsenal-bulgaria.com/site/team/london_calling/the-fickleness-of-football-fans-r488/ in which I posited that Alex Ferguson underachieved at Manchester United because they were easily the richest team in England and the world at some points. And yet he never really came close to winning everything and certainly underachieved in the Champions league in that context. I can imagine the foul mouthed abuse I would get if I dared to suggest that he underachieved at Manchester United. Don't speak out, Rafa A new book has come out called The Dark Side of Alex Ferguson by Steve Bruce. I have recently read it and I feel it is worth a blog. Now there is nothing really new in it but he does manage to show the hypocrisy Mr Ferguson had and the power to keep the whole football community in thrall, FA, referees, journalists, the BBC and the media in general. This book reminds you of a lot of the incidents that you may have forgotten about but I feel the biggest remark I can make is that you could not write this about any other manager no matter how great. None had the insidious control to silence both the football authorities and the media once remarked upon by Rafa Benitez. Bully boy Alex The book is short at 100 pages. It covers his early years as a manager in Scotland in which he seemed more of an overt bully than he managed to get himself portrayed in later years. Gordon Strachan was a particular target saying the treatment he got was horrendous. Ferguson never let the enmity drop throughout his life. It also shows his hypocrisy in claiming he was from a poor background and because of that he became a champion of the underdog. Many footballers were truly poor, mostly from Africa and South America but they never tried to make it a defining element of their character. Ferguson was never really poor and a champion mostly of himself not the underdog. Gordon Strachan got dog's abuse We are reminded of his atrocious treatment of John Motson of the BBC when he had the temerity to ask Ferguson about discipline after Roy Keane had received 3 red cards. He managed to fit many fucks in there at a decent man only asking what anyone would ask. Ferguson never forgot to hold a grudge. Destroying Manchester United And so we are treated to the many indiscretions. Roy Keane, after they fell out, went from being the greatest footballer he ever had to not even getting in Ferguson’s top Man Utd team he had managed. Perhaps the biggest was the takeover by the Glazers, which is directly attributable to Ferguson. The Rock of Gibraltar chapter is the most significant of the whole book. If Man Utd fans want to know how the Glazer’s took over, saddled the club with enormous debt, and presided over their drift downtable and downmarket, it is all in there. Ferguson created the Glazer's Briefly put, two main directors of Man Utd, The Irishmen John Magnier and JP MacManus known as the Coolmore Mafia, had promised Ferguson an equal share of the horse’s winnings in return for investing in the top racehorse Rock of Gibraltar. Ferguson decided that it was a share of the stud value he should get, which was worth far more. After a hugely destabilizing court case, Ferguson backed down. The 2 Irish millionaires decided that they could not work with him anymore and sold their stakes in United to the Glazers, who promptly bought it by leveraging the sale with all the physical assets, including the ground and the buildings, which meant Utd would have to pay it all back to the Glazers. A club which was generating huge profits suddenly became massively in debt and caused a vast amount of resentment in fans, which is still felt strongly even now. Ferguson cheerleaded the Glazers and continues to do so to this day. Wenger alone got to Ferguson But this is an Arsenal blog so let’s move on to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. Wenger got under Ferguson’s skin far more than any other, mostly because he was dismissive of Wenger when he came. Japan was rubbished as was Wenger’s five languages, with Ferguson claiming he had a young uneducated foreign footballer there who could also speak many languages. The Professor, he sneered, but then Wenger straightaway won the double, putting Ferguson in his place. Wenger transformed how footballers trained and where, how and what they ate, rotation of squads, and all of that Ferguson had to swallow as he also had to make such changes to Man Utd if he was to keep up. So the insolent Frenchman made him change his ways. Oh, the indignity. He alienates two Keanes The book is an enjoyable read, showing so many petty grudges, jealousies, bullying, hypocrisies, and sometimes downright nastiness of a man who ruthlessly fought off any attack he perceived, whether justified or not. It covers Roy Keane and even a cruel and unnecessary remark about a very young Robbie Keane. It covers agents, his manipulation of so many football people in favour of his sons, his treatment of journalists, banning so many for the most trivial of crimes such as asking him a question about his team. It goes over a life characterized by bullying, but somehow getting away with it in a manner no other manager has ever managed. A big falling out And so he is revered as a great, often referred to as the greatest ever manager, and has had so many hagiographies written about him it is almost unreal. But perhaps the greatest criticism he should get, but doesn’t, is that Man Utd’s troubles, stemming from the Glazer takeover, are squarely down to Alex Ferguson believing he could bully the Coolmore Mafia. They were Utd fans, unlike the Glazers, and they would have backed him to the hilt without putting the club in debt. The moral of the story is bullying will always do badly in the end. Arsenal finished above Man Utd last season. This season we are challenging for the title. I hope we always stay classy and never have such a book written about any manager of ours. It is ok to attack a 19 yr old Robbie Keane
  3. We won the league at Old Trafford Arsenal on the break Ah, Manchester, the fixture I have been at the most. It is like being in Ireland with all the Irish voices I hear and everyone offering an opinion on everything, especially the football. I travelled with my brother, Joe, a diehard Utd fan. We had 2 tickets in the Alex Ferguson Stand so I had to be on my best behaviour. One doesn’t want a United fan sniffing you out and exposing you. As it happened the woman beside me kept watching my phone as all the Arsenal messages from the fanclub keep popping up. I was going to do a live feed but I was nervous she would suss me out so I declined, plus the fact that the light was bad where I was and the pictures weren’t coming out well. But let’s take a step backwards, to what it is like going there for the big game. It has a real football atmosphere, despite all the corporate changes. Strangely there is no big screen (perhaps an indication of the Glazer’s stinginess?). We are flying high on top and they have had, improbably, 3 wins on the bounce, one against Liverpool, but still I could sense the fans nervousness. They don’t want to be beaten by a bunch of Arsenal kids. A good spy is never caught As always, though, the first port of call is the Matchstick Man, across the canal from Old Trafford, this huge pub, packed to the rafters, doesn’t allow enemy spies such as myself. They even check what you are wearing underneath if they are suspicious. Only Utd colours are permitted. As usual, though, I get by unnoticed as I slip in beside my brother, well dressed in his Red Devils t-shirt. However, there is always a superb atmosphere and big queues at the bar as drink gets downed unmercifully. There is fear in the air as the 3 wins were nervous ones, with Utd rarely looking all that good. Liverpool are going through their own difficulties so even that win wasn’t enough to give them confidence against the young gun tyros. Lots of talk of a draw being a good result. Ah, how they have fallen from their glory days when teams would be summarily dismissed, and even ourselves in the Wenger days, sometimes. Getting closer Of course, they know and they remember, that we won the league here. An indignity that shall never be forgotten. We will always be a big game, Roy Keane and Gary Neville on Sky retain their hatred to this day. We were the two giants, banging our heads against each other, with mind games, ferocious tackles, and bulging eyes head to head’s between Wenger and Ferguson. Ah, the great days of the biggest match in football. VAR likes interfering Of course, you know what happened , the first few minutes, Utd were holding the ball, passing it around and a bit of a miss from Eriksen. Then we took over, gaining possession and chances as they defended like mad, unable to hold the ball in midfield. Then we scored, a Martinelli wonder and all looked right with the world from my side. As the VAR sign went up, my brother looked at me and said nonsense, Erikson was dispossessed, nothing in that. I wasn’t so sure. Erikson has always been good at going to ground, like his buddies Son and Kane. Of course, VAR should not have interfered, the referee was in position, he saw it and didn’t give it. There was no clear and obvious error. But the referee bottled it and took the easy way out by blaming VAR. It was the start of a bad day for the Arsenal. Plenty of Antony jerseys about We allowed them to pick our pockets three times, particularly the final 2 goals as we pushed forward for the win. You cannot leave a gap between the lines for Rashford and his ilk to run into. Bravery should never be stupidity. Yes, we had more chances. Yes, some of them could have been goals. And yes, the better football was played by us, but we have to stop giving away easy goals, a rot that started, unfortunately with my hero, Wenger, and has never been properly addressed. This will be our best loss of the season This could turn out to be a great loss, at this time of the season. Why so? Because it was at Old Trafford, a big team with big players, in a intimidating stadium, and a manager who indisputably knows what he is doing. He identified that Arsenal played very high, and a Sam Allardyce long ball through the middle could cause havoc. And it was a strategy that paid off very handsomely. But we played well, we pressed, held the ball much better than they did and two goal hero Rashford, at the end said it was an even game. A draw, at least, would have been a fairer outcome. The players will know that. Mistakes cost us. The teams only played in one half of the pitch So, if we learn from this, cut out this weakness, then we can start again, with the loss out of the way early as all teams lose in the Premiership, except one and get back with a stronger mentality this can be the catalyst to pushing City all the way. Now, I have to say that the Arsenal fans were superb, singing and truly supporting our boys all the way. This is a strength that has been lacking in recent years, and they must keep doing this. We must ensure that we have every little advantage possible. We now have good players in every position and there is a togetherness that Man Utd and Chelsea, for example, will take time to replicate. Liverpool may finally be showing cracks in an aging team and the Spuds are the Spuds. See? I told you But, can I say, at least once in your lifetime, get to Old Trafford for the Arsenal. You won’t regret being swept along in the atmosphere, and make sure to get your pints in the Matchstick Man as an Arsenal spy, listening to the worried fears of the Mancs, and smiling to yourself that our kids have got these boys worried. We will rise again, we will overcome the big teams and VAR and show that team spirit, combined with fan spirit, is the key to Arsenal’s success. And at least my brother Joe was happy. ps. Apologies for the pictures - it was dark, grey clouds had gathered as if a portent for that Prince of Darkness, Mr VAR!
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