Ruud: The Arsenal rivalry got personal
Manchester United legend Ruud van Nistelrooy recalls the intense rivalry with Arsenal from his time at Old Trafford, in the upcoming episode of UTD Podcast.
The Dutch goal machine, who found the back of the net 150 times in five seasons at the Theatre of Dreams, is the latest Red to speak on our official club podcast - and you can listen to the episode on Monday from 17:00 BST.
In a fascinating chat with co-presenters Helen Evans, Sam Homewood and ex-Red David May, van Nistelrooy revisits the battles for the Premier League title between United and the Gunners in the early 2000s.
"That was the rivalry of the top contender at the time, I guess," Ruud said.
"It became a rivalry of individuals and incidents and, I don’t know… Traditionally, I don’t know if United and Arsenal were that much of a rivalry, historically."
While Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger’s sides provided some blockbuster matches at the start of the millennium, one of the most memorable battles was, in fact, a goalless draw in September 2003.
It was an afternoon in M16 filled with heavy challenges, a sending off for Patrick Vieira and a late van Nistelrooy penalty miss resulting in altercations between the players. The game is often fittingly referred to as the "Battle of Old Trafford".
"That afternoon ignited sort of the... That was more personal towards me I recall," Ruud reflected.
"That day and that afternoon, with the penalty miss and the red card and after the game incidents. It made it all go ballistic a little bit."
Despite all the drama that unfolded during and after the match 18 years ago, the former striker only had one thing in mind.
"Yeah, I couldn’t care less, I was just so sick of the penalty miss," the Dutchman explained.
"It was 0-0 for God’s sake, you know, in the last minute against Arsenal… It was a huge penalty and I smacked it off the crossbar and I didn’t win the game for the club and for the team.
"Obviously, with the sending off and the end being… Of course, the Arsenal players were still unbeaten because of that also. That reaction was also there. It went to me because of the yellow card of Vieira. I was just running inside to sit in the corner of the dressing room."
The miss made sure Arsenal’s unbeaten run continued, a sequence which, of course, would later be broken by United at Old Trafford the following campaign. Following Ruud’s miss, Gunners’ defender Martin Keown infamously let his feelings known in all-too-physical manner when he clashed with the prolific Dutchman
"It was a great image of him flying above me but the thing is that he is actually the nicest man you’ll meet outside a football pitch," the former Red revealed.
"When things gets fired up and pressure is on, you’re capable of doing things that don’t look the best when you look back on it. It was the same for me, for him and for everybody that played I guess."
Ruud did not hold any grudges towards Keown, but he had more of a competition with then Arsenal striker Thierry Henry. The two of them battled it out annually for the Premier League Golden Boot while playing in the English top flight.
"I just wanted to be the top scorer in the league and of course it was… Of course, Thierry was always there, high in the goalscoring in the league," he said.
"I checked if he scored and how things were going, yes I did, definitely. That rivalry pushes you to perform."
UTD Podcast with Ruud van Nistelrooy is available on the streaming platform of your preference from 17:00 BST on Monday 26 April.