For the past few weeks, Sunday’s matchup between Manchester United and Arsenal has been the topic of conversation throughout the media and among Premier League fans. According to the press, this contest could “make or break” United’s title run and/or it could define Arsenal as a legitimate front runner for the title.
Arsenal’s midweek Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund has added a new level of intrigue to the match. The Gunners made history by beating the German club in the Westfalenstadion, becoming the first English club ever to do so. And with the victory, Arsenal notched their fourteenth win in fifteen unbeaten away games. They are also top of the Premier League after accumulating 25 points in 10 matches. Their lone league loss was during the opening home match of the season to Aston Villa.
To say the Gunners are entering the contest at Old Trafford on a “high” would be an understatement.
The last time Arsenal walked into the Theatre of Dreams in this type of form was ten years ago. In 2003, the Gunners visited Manchester five games into the season and boasted an unbeaten record that dated back to the conclusion of the previous season. This match would come to be remembered as “The Battle of Old Trafford”.
Prior to this contest, matches between Manchester United and Arsenal had become extremely intense with player arguments and fights breaking out from time to time. The 2003 match in Manchester would be characterized by a huge foul count: thirteen for United, eighteen by Arsenal. Late in the match, Patrick Vieira was sent off for a second yellow card and Arsenal was left to play the remainder of the match with 10 men.
With the score tied in the 90th minute, Manchester United was awarded a penalty by match referee Steve Bennett. United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy stepped up to take the penalty despite having missed his previous two penalties. The Dutchman’s shot hit the bar and rebounded back into play. He was immediately surrounded by Arsenal players, most notably Arsenal center back Martin Keown. At the final whistle, Van Nistelrooy was again the center of Arsenal’s attention as the Gunners taunted him on their way off the pitch. Arsenal would go on to finish the 2003-04 season undefeated (26 wins, 12 draws, 0 losses) and would forever be known as “The Invincibles”.
The bad blood still exists between the two clubs, but it is more reserved for their supporters.