Sir Alex Ferguson gave a unique insight into the workings of United and Arsenal’s long-held rivalry, just hours before the teams do battle in the Champions League semi-final.
For the winner (over two legs, of course), a place in the final in Rome awaits, and it’s somewhat ironic that the stakes are perhaps higher than they’ve ever been, as both managers and teams have shown a notable cooling in previous exchanges that, at best, could be described as heated.
However, while it’s perhaps less about the fire and brimstone of Keane and Vieira battles, and more the speed and guile of Ronaldo and Walcott, this two-legged affair should still have quite a kick to it.
“The history and traditions of both clubs have been of the highest standing,” says Sir Alex respectfully. “For years, we always looked over our shoulder at Arsenal and they looked over their shoulder at us. Now we have Chelsea banging on the door, and this season Liverpool have made a big effort. It’s a very competitive league, but ourselves and Arsenal over a long period have certainly been the dominant forces in English football.
“I like the way Arsenal play,” he adds. “There are similarities with ourselves in that respect, and also in the way we both believe in young players. We’ve now given eight young players from the Academy debuts in the first-team this season. I think that’s fantastic for a team challenging for honours in the way that we have to. So the similarities are there strongly.”
These matches, Sir Alex insists, are not about the resumption of going tete-a-tete with Arsene Wenger. “I don’t think my relationship with Arsene matters,” he says. “Neither does the relationship between the players make a difference – a lot of them know each other, of course, Mikael Silvestre being the prime example. It’s a game of football and two teams who want to win are going head to head. That’s the nature of the competition we’re in. I’m looking forward to it.”
Arsenal may not be challenging for United’s Barclays Premier League title this season – though they could have their say in its destination when they visit Old Trafford in the league in May. But they are in excellent form at the right end of the season.
“There is always a danger in Europe when a team is not challenging for the league title,” says Sir Alex, aware of the Gunners’ threat. “They’ve got