In the early 2000s, Arsenal and Manchester United shared one of the greatest rivalries in world football.
Characterised by Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane locking horns on and off the pitch, there was a wonderfully nasty edge every time the two clubs faced off.
The two teams looked like they genuinely hated each other, and that all peaked in 2003, when Ruud van Nistelrooy missed the penalty that could have stopped the Gunners’ Invincibles run.
It was 0-0 in an incredibly tense affair, as these games always were, and both teams were playing aggressively, with most players either looking to kick lumps out of the opposition or get them sent off.
Van Nistelrooy was interested in doing both. Vieira was already on a yellow card due to an accumulation of fouls when the ball floated within an antagonizing distance of both the Frenchman and Dutchman.
Seizing the opportunity to stick one on his opponent, while also winding him up, van Nistelrooy jumped into the Arsenal captain’s back and slyly kicked out at him.
Vieira had no such subtlety about him, and his retaliatory kick, which didn’t even connect, was immediately seen by the referee – with help from the United man’s dramatic jump back – and he was quickly given his marching orders.
Jens Lehmann, Vieira and every other man in yellow was furious with the striker, but things were de-escalated fairly quickly… for now.
The major incident
Gary Neville put in a teasing cross from deep, inviting the United attackers to get on the end of it, while Arsenal were left scrambling with relative desperation to keep hold of their clean sheet.
Amongst all of this, Diego Forlan fell to the floor under pressure from Martin Keown and the referee awarded the men in red a penalty, which was to be taken by Van Nistelrooy.
Lehmann did all he could to put the Netherlands international off, side-stepping across his line in the hope it would stop the striker putting the ball in the back of the net.
Van Nistelrooy looked confident before he hit the ball though, as he wiped his mouth, set himself, took the run-up with authority and absolutely battered the ball.
That assured look soon turned to one of disbelief though, as he watched the ball smash off the crossbar and into the ground before being cleared up the pitch.
After that moment with Vieira, Van Nistelrooy was very wrong if he thought he’d be left to lick his wounds on the Old Trafford pitch in peace, as Keown gave him a piece of his mind.
That only got more intense once the final whistle was blown and pretty much the whole Arsenal team decided to pile in.
Lauren started things off by shoving a knee into his back, before Keown jumped up so he hit the striker with a stray arm on the way down, shouting at him the whole time.
Within a second there were five or six yellow shirts around him, all trying to get close enough to push him around. While Keane grabbed hold of his teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo was going back in, attempting to take all of the Arsenal men on at once.
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) September 30, 2019
The commotion didn’t last too long though, as Van Nistelrooy ran down the tunnel and Arsenal went off to celebrate their hard-fought point with the away fans.
If all of this was to happen now it would be viewed upon as shameful, but this turn of events came to encapsulate the hatred that engrossed this rivalry in that period of time.
There will also be plenty of fans out there – most of them likely being of an Arsenal persuasion – who may even see this as one of the rivalry’s greatest moments.