For over a decade in the Premier League, the prime fixture was between Manchester United and Arsenal. Between the two teams, they have won 16 of the 25 Premier League titles since the creation of the league in 1992. There have been some tasty battles between the sides and none more so than this encounter in September 2003.
In a hard-fought encounter, chances were few and far between. Ryan Giggs hit the post from a free-kick, whilst Ashley Cole came closest for Arsenal with a shot that whistled just wide of the post. The first flashpoint arrived 10 minutes from the end of the game. Gunners captain Patrick Vieira clashed with Ruud van Nistelrooy and appeared to kick out at the Dutchman who dived out of the way to ensure contact wasn’t made. Perhaps Van Nistelrooy had made the most of the incident but Vieira could have no defence for his action. Steve Bennett promptly sent the Frenchman off for violent conduct.
Then in stoppage-time, Martin Keown hauled down Diego Forlan to the ground in the penalty area and Bennett awarded the Red Devils a spot-kick. Arsenal players were feeling aggrieved, especially with Van Nistelrooy who would take the penalty. If he scored, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side would win the match and go top of the table. However, he missed with his penalty beating Jens Lehmann but smashing the crossbar. At the full-time whistle, Keown lost complete control of his temperament, jumping all over Van Nistelrooy. Arsenal players let their emotions take over and many of their players started pushing and shoving Van Nistelrooy around like a rag doll. What followed were some unsavoury scenes with players from both sides squaring up to one another.
Arsenal were fined £175,000 and bans were handed out to Lauren, Ray Parlour, Keown and Vieira whilst Ashley Cole was fined for verbal abuse. Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo were fined from Manchester United for their part in the fracas after the final whistle.
For the record, the match did end 0-0 and was the closest Arsenal came to defeat in their historic ‘Invincibles’ season of 2003-2004.