United's 10 best moments against Arsenal

Sunday 22 January 2023 14:22

Get in the mood for today's match against Arsenal with this nostalgic look back at our top 10 moments against the Gunners, from United Review...


United 2 Arsenal 1
Old Trafford
29 August 2009

In a nutshell: Scholarly Frenchman turns chastised schoolboy.

What went down? It seemed that United’s 2-1 win had exceeded its slapstick quotient with Abou Diaby’s emphatic own goal at the Stretford End, until one last 
dose of farce. When then-Arsenal striker Robin van Persie’s 96th-minute leveller was correctly disallowed for offside, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger kicked a water bottle in frustration and was ordered from the dugout by referee Mike Dean. Instead of leaving, he climbed on to the space between the dugouts and – despite knowing where to go – stood shrugging at his censors, thrilling Old Trafford and its assembled army of photographers.

Any aftermath? “I kicked a bottle. I didn’t know we were not allowed to do that,” said Wenger, revelling in his role of provocateur.


Arsenal 1 United 3
Emirates Stadium
2 December 2017

In a nutshell: De Gea enters the record books.

What went down? United roared ahead through Antonio Valencia and Jesse Lingard, but were soon pinned back by the hosts. To Arsenal’s chagrin, however, David De Gea had the answer for every question asked of him in the first period – including a stunning stop to keep out Romelu Lukaku’s errant clearance. The exposed Spaniard was helpless to deny Alexandre Lacazette soon after half-time, but then resumed repelling every Arsenal effort, including an unbelievable double stop to keep out Lacazette and future Red Alexis Sanchez, before Lingard wrapped up the win soon afterwards.

Any aftermath? “You feel unbeatable,” reflected De Gea, who finished the game with a Premier League record 14 saves.

Arsenal 1 United 3 Video

Arsenal 1 United 3

2 December 2017: David De Gea equalled the Premier League record for saves in a game during a 3-1 win at the Emirates...


United 3 Arsenal 2
Old Trafford 
28 February 2016

In a nutshell: Local lad torpedoes Gunners’ Premier League title charge.

What went down? Louis van Gaal’s injury-ravaged Reds welcomed title-chasing Arsenal to Old Trafford with an already-depleted squad further shorn of main attacker Anthony Martial, prompting a second senior outing for 18-year-old Marcus Rashford. The Reds’ no.39 had enjoyed a dream debut three days prior, netting twice in a Europa League comeback win over Midtjylland, but facing the on-song Gunners seemed a different proposition. Instead, he repeated the feat at a bouncing Old Trafford, first slotting in a loose ball from close range, then glancing in a Jesse Lingard cross. Furthermore, Rashford went one better after Danny Welbeck had halved the arrears, teeing up Ander Herrera to power in a deflected long-ranger after 65 minutes, which would ultimately decide the game. The deflated Gunners dropped five points behind league leaders Leicester and their title bid was dealt a huge blow.

Any aftermath? Old Trafford’s new hero immediately became a first-team fixture, and swiftly set about amassing appearance and scoring milestones in double-quick time, taking him past 300 outings and currently to the brink of 100 goals.


United 2 Arsenal 1
Old Trafford
3 November 2012

In a nutshell: RvP haunts his former side in glorious fashion at his new home.

What happened? “I’m here to win a 20th title with United,” explained Robin van Persie at his Reds unveiling in August 2012, after eight seasons with Arsenal. Although he stressed, “from my side and Arsenal’s side there are no hard feelings”, his first meeting with his former club prompted a choral onslaught in his direction from the visiting supporters at Old Trafford. The Dutchman, who had already made a seamless start to life with the table-topping Reds, was swift and brutal in his riposte. With less than three minutes on the clock, Rio Ferdinand’s powerful pass was neatly flicked to Rafael by Antonio Valencia and, though the Brazilian’s cross was mishit, it was skewed horribly by Thomas Vermaelen – van Persie’s replacement as Gunners skipper – and fell perfectly for United’s no.20 to fire his first touch of the game through his former team-mate’s legs and into the far corner. Though bedlam gripped Old Trafford, van Persie eschewed any gloating with a muted celebration. Pure class.

Any aftermath? Only the accomplishment of Robin’s mission. When he returned to the Emirates as a champion – through a guard of honour, no less – he was booed again... and scored again.


Arsenal 2 United 2
16 April 2003

In a nutshell: Sir Alex plants a flag in the psychological high ground.

What happened? United travelled to Highbury three points clear, but mindful that the defending champions had a game in hand. Victory for either side was predicted to be decisive in the final reckoning, while a draw would provide little clue as to what would unfold over the few remaining games. In the event, United dominated and should have led by more than Ruud van Nistelrooy’s brilliant finish. Arsenal hit back when Thierry Henry deflected in a leveller, then exploited a hideous non-offside call to put the hosts ahead, only for Ryan Giggs to head United back on terms just 66 seconds later. The final whistle looked to have decided nothing, only for Sir Alex Ferguson to stride on to centre stage, celebrating with the travelling supporters as if victorious. In the words of BBC reporter Phil McNulty: ‘Ferguson finished with an imperious spring in his step – and the air of a man who feels his players can now win the sprint finish to the title-finishing tape.’ Sure enough, Arsenal capitulated and the Reds wrapped up the title with a game to spare. Mind-games 101.

Any aftermath? Plenty. Within two seasons, the rivalry had spawned two games filled with enough incident to warrant their own Wikipedia pages.


United 6 Arsenal 1
Old Trafford
25 February 2001

In a nutshell: Premier League title race destroyed with months to spare.

What happened? Arsenal travelled north 13 points behind United, yet looked like being the only team capable of keeping the domestic season interesting beyond the end of winter. Within half an hour, those hopes lay in tatters, thanks to the brilliance of Dwight Yorke. In his third campaign at Old Trafford, the Trinidad and Tobago striker’s goalscoring form had dipped, but he rediscovered his shooting boots in sensational fashion against a Gunners defence plagued by injury, indecision and, at times, comical ineptitude. Yorke bundled home a Paul Scholes cross within three minutes, only for Thierry Henry to prod home after a fine Arsenal move. Thereafter, however, the visiting backline went AWOL, twice allowing Yorke to slot in after exposing ragged offside traps, then watching on as United’s no.19 crossed for Roy Keane to thunder home a fourth. With 26 minutes on the clock, the first realists in the away section began to make for home, long before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hooked in United’s fifth and Teddy Sheringham swept in a late sixth goal for good measure.

Any aftermath? Not of note. The 16-point lead kept growing and the 2000/01 Premier League title race was done with five games to spare.

United 6 Arsenal 1 Video

United 6 Arsenal 1

25 February 2001: A true Premier League classic as the rampant Reds took Arsenal apart at Old Trafford.


United 2 Arsenal 0
Old Trafford
24 October 2004

In a nutshell: The most gloriously emotional penalty – and celebration – ever to grace M16.

What happened? There was, of course, a fair bit of previous between United and Arsenal, amassed over the previous seven years of being the Premier League’s top dogs. The culmination appeared to come when Ruud van Nistelrooy squandered an injury-time penalty during the sides’ Old Trafford meeting early in 2003/04 – a miss which prompted delirious celebrations from Arsenal players and a spate of FA punishments for those involved. So, little over a year on, the corresponding fixture in M16 was unavoidably tasty from the off, and the long-unbeaten Gunners (49 league games and counting) were furious when Wayne Rooney was awarded a contentious penalty midway through the second period. Fronted with ever-vocal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann once again, van Nistelrooy took a deep breath, sprinted forward and tucked away his finish before screaming indiscriminately (below) – into the ground, at the sky, wherever – in celebration. Rooney slotted home a late second and the Gunners were finally beaten.

Any aftermath? Safe to say, the visitors were displeased at both their defeat and the nature of it. Cue accusations, scuffling, projectile pizza in the tunnel and a gloriously tetchy return game at Highbury later that season.

3 - COME IN, NO.18

United 0 Arsenal 0
Old Trafford 
16 May 2009

In a nutshell: That rare treat: a league title-clincher at Old Trafford.

What happened? On the field, precious little occurred on a horribly tense afternoon in M16, but it was the glorious culmination of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Reds legacy to that point. United and Arsenal had already met three times in 2008/09, with the Gunners nabbing a deserved 2-1 win at the Emirates before Sir Alex Ferguson’s men served up a two-legged obliteration, winning home and away in the Champions League semi-final just weeks before Arsene Wenger’s side were due to round off the Old Trafford season. United had one more league game to go, at Hull, but also the spectre of a looming Champions League final meeting with Barcelona in Rome. What had appeared a straightforward canter had become a stressful affair after a late-season blip, but the Reds hosted the Gunners knowing that a solitary point would wrap up league crown number 18 and move United alongside Liverpool as the country’s leading title-winners. With the stakes so high, an excruciating 90 minutes unfolded, bereft of meaningful goalmouth action until, finally, referee Mike Dean wrapped up the action and set the party off and running. “I do take a lot of pride from equalling Liverpool,” said a delighted Sir Alex. “When I came down here they were the top guns. My job was to try to change that.”

Any aftermath? Just another couple of titles to take sole perch occupancy.

United 2 Arsenal 0 Video

United 2 Arsenal 0

24 October 2004: United looked to end the Gunners record-breaking 49-match unbeaten run in the league...


United 8 Arsenal 2
Old Trafford
28 August 2011

In a nutshell: An unfathomable late-summer afternoon gets better. And better. And better...

What happened? Fresh from a 19th title and buoyed by an influx of young talent, United’s opening to the 2011/12 campaign would prove nothing short of sensational, and Arsenal – with a raft of absentees – copped a very public skewering in front of a thrilled capacity crowd. Danny Welbeck’s early header, David De Gea’s penalty save, Ashley Young’s barnstorming curler and Wayne Rooney’s clipped effort had the Reds three ahead before Theo Walcott restored an element of competition on the stroke of half-time. Rather than close out the win, however, the bloodthirsty hosts were remorseless in the second period. Rooney completed a hat-trick, Nani chipped impishly home and Ji-sung Park fired in, as did visiting skipper Robin van Persie, leaving the scoreline at a barely credible 7-2 as injury-time began. Still United pressed on, aiming to further break a side reduced to 10 men by Carl Jenkinson’s dismissal, and the crowd’s demands of an eighth goal were satisfied when Young curled in another stunner to wrap up a record win in this fixture – Premier League or otherwise.

Any aftermath? Ripping up the form book, Sir Alex used his post-match interview to offer his support to Wenger. “The job he’s done for 15 years has been phenomenal,” said the Scot. “He’s been a big adversary to me and he’ll continue to be one.”


Arsenal 2 United 4
1 February 2005

In a nutshell: The rivalry’s glorious, unmissable peak.

What happened? Though Chelsea were already virtually assured of a Premier League trophy which had spent 11 of the previous 12 years residing at either Old Trafford or Highbury, the Reds’ midweek trip to north London remained required viewing. The world awaited, popcorn at the ready. Sure enough, it delivered. Mindful of United’s physical approach at Old Trafford earlier in the season, Gunners skipper Patrick Vieira assured Gary Neville that the hosts wouldn’t stand for any roughhousing again, jostling the Reds defender inside the Highbury corridors after the warm-up, then again as the sides lined up to enter the arena. Not advisable. Not on Roy Keane’s watch. “They were trying to bully him,” the Irishman later reflected. “So, I said to myself, ‘all right, let’s go.’” Keane sprung into action, calling out Vieira and launching into a full-blown, finger-jabbing row in front of the Sky Sports cameras. “Grown men, bitching,” he later labelled it with a smile but, at the time, the United skipper was point-scoring for his team. As referee Graham Poll calmed matters, Keane produced the iconic line: “I’ll see you out there.” Whether menacing or tantalising, depending on your allegiance, the United captain had set the stage beautifully. “When Roy’s done that, you’re already ahead,” Darren Fletcher later grinned. Over the next 90 minutes, in Keane’s words: “We went out and played like Brazil.” Vieira’s opener fuelled a raucous atmosphere, as did Dennis Bergkamp’s second after Ashley Cole had deflected in a Ryan Giggs shot, but United bossed the physical battle and, before long, the football too. Cristiano Ronaldo’s quickfire double put the visitors ahead, Mikael Silvestre departed early after inexplicably headbutting Freddie Ljungberg, before substitute John O’Shea provided a startling late cameo by chipping in a fourth. A breathless encounter, infused with bad blood and great football in equal measure, and an instant classic to define the Premier League’s definitive rivalry.

Any aftermath? From the peak, the only way is down, and the rivalry’s ferocity was soon consigned to the history books. Though a spectacle invariably ensues when the two sides meet, there has long been an absence of added needle. With the current Arsenal squad appearing settled under manager Mikel Arteta, and United looking to improve on last season under Erik ten Hag’s rule, however, the two sides both have their sights set on a successful campaign ahead. Get the popcorn ready for Premier League meeting no.61 between the teams, and a 237th head-to-head overall...

This feature was originally published in our matchday programme United Review, for the clash against Arsenal at Old Trafford in September 2022.