In part two of our feature, we look at the Ferguson-Wenger rivalry...
Arsenal's renaissance helped relight this fire, as Arsène Wenger breathed new life into the team. And after the Gunners reeled in an 11-point United lead in spring 1998, and a late Marc Overmars strike resulted in the Dutchman celebrating in front of the East Stand, United knew this was the most formidable challenge yet to our Premier League dominance.
The Gunners did the Double and began the following season with a convincing 3-0 win in the Charity Shield. They won by the same score at Highbury in the league in September, and the media was full of tales of a sea change at the top in England. Wenger, all studious continental sophistication, was apparently the master of Alex Ferguson, the old-school Glaswegian firebrand.
Yet forecasts of the great Scot’s demise looked premature come April, once both teams were battling it out for the title and in the FA Cup semi-finals. Over 240 minutes of football, a disallowed goal, Roy Keane’s dismissal and Peter Schmeichel’s penalty save cranked up the drama – but the tie will always be remembered for an individual goal from Ryan Giggs in extra time which is one of the greatest in our history. United took the title at a canter in the next two seasons, and a 6-1 drubbing at Old Trafford in February 2001 confirmed how far this mighty foe had now fallen. United fans’ joy at seeing them off was reflected in a new terrace song, to the tune of Volare: “Vieira, woah-oh, Vieira, he gave Giggsy the ball...” You know the rest.
The following season saw the southerners rise again, however, as United were put to the sword in the Worthington Cup and, in November 2001, in the Premier League, with seven goals shipped, the worst coming from a Fabien Barthez howler which put further focus on the failings of United’s rearguard. Worse was to come. In May 2002 Arsenal came north needing a draw to clinch the title, and Sylvain Wiltord’s late winner ensured the sobering spectacle of Wenger’s men celebrating the title on our turf.