How United ended Arsenal's Treble bid

Wednesday 03 April 2024 10:53

Twenty years ago to the day, Manchester United faced a fixture we dared not lose.

Arsenal, unbeaten in the league all season, were on course for emulating our 1999 Treble and entered the FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park as strong favourites to reach Cardiff, as Wembley was being rebuilt.

The Gunners had lifted the trophy in the previous two campaigns, were clear in the Premier League title race and, with no disrespect, the fact Championship clubs Millwall or Sunderland were awaiting the victors added to the do-or-die nature of this encounter.

The scene of the last-ever semi-final replay, the all-time classic five years previously, United regarded the Midlands stadium as a happy hunting ground and the fans refused to accept to a defeat that would, effectively, end our campaign.

Scholes sinks the Gunners in semi-final Video

Scholes sinks the Gunners in semi-final

It's 20 years to the day since Paul Scholes accounted for Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park...

World-class talents Rio Ferdinand and Ruud van Nistelrooy were sidelined and attended the game in suits, frustrated at not being able to aid the cause on the pitch.

Thierry Henry was only a substitute for Arsene Wenger's men but they started with the greater purpose and pressed in the early stages. Wes Brown headed a Dennis Bergkamp effort off the line and Edu's chip hit the bar, with Roy Carroll making a miraculous stop from Kolo Toure's rebound.

However, United refused to yield and conjured up the opening goal, just past the half-hour mark. Ryan Giggs glided into a promising position to collect a Gary Neville pass and squared for Paul Scholes to rifle past Jens Lehmann.

Cue mad celebrations from the Reds inside the ground as the first blow was struck to enable Sir Alex Ferguson's side to have a real foothold in the semi-final.

Roy Carroll continued to enjoy a marvellous performance as United were forced to defend at times, with Henry coming on with over 30 minutes remaining. It was nervy and edgy but the will shown by the white-shirted Reds proved decisive.

As the Arsenal players trudged off, they did so in front of our jubilant supporters, as the chance to win some silverware and rescue our disappointing season remained. Van Nistelrooy and Ferdinand joined in the celebrations as this felt like a massive backs-to-the-wall effort by Sir Alex's team.

"It is probably one of the best grounds in terms of the vocalness of our fans and they were unbelievable that day," said Phil Neville. "They gave Arsenal more tickets than us but we still outsung them."

Of course, the north Londoners finished the league term unbeaten, earning the 'Invincibles' tag, and ended up 11 points clear of second-placed Chelsea. They were knocked out of the Champions League by the Blues in the quarter-finals, three days after this fixture.

United finished the job against Millwall at the Millennium Stadium, recording a 3-0 victory and laying the foundation for more success to come from this side.