13 months after the explosive encounter at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Arsenal, the sides squared up to one another again. Arsenal had gone 49 games unbeaten in the Premier League. They were looking to make it 50 matches at the home of their most competitive rivals. They also knew that a victory here would virtually rule Manchester United out of the 2004-2005 title battle before the end of October.
Referee Mike Riley was going to be in for a difficult afternoon. He tried to allow the game to flow but there were sly fouls and challenges all day, with Rio Ferdinand lucky to escape punishment for hauling down Freddie Ljungberg in a goalscoring position. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s studs-up challenge on Ashley Cole also went unpunished on the day but the Dutchman would be charged and banned later by video authorities.
In the 73rd minute, the Red Devils won a controversial penalty as Wayne Rooney went down under Sol Campbell’s challenge. Replays showed that Rooney had made a complete meal out of the minimal contact between the two England internationals. After the demons of the previous season’s fixture, Van Nistelrooy did well to keep his nerve, send Jens Lehmann the wrong way and fire Sir Alex Ferguson’s side infront. In stoppage-time, Arsenal fell for the classic counter-attack with Alan Smith playing Rooney in to seal the three points for Manchester United and end Arsenal’s historic run.
In the tunnel after the match, tempers boiled over between staff of both clubs. A slice of pizza was thrown at Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson by Cesc Fabregas, which wasn’t confirmed by the perpetrator until 2017 when he confessed on the Sky One panel show “A League of Their Own.” Wenger was fined £15,000 for comments made about Van Nistelrooy who himself was banned for three games for his challenge on Cole.