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Man United vs. Arsenal: Once the biggest game of the season, this is now the clash of the also-rans

15 May | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Man United vs. Arsenal: Once the biggest game of the season, this is now the clash of the also-rans

For so many years the biggest clubs in the land, now the Red Devils and the Gunners are playing for second place

A little over a decade ago, this fixture was THE game of the season.

For nine years between 1996 and 2004, only Man United and Arsenal were champions of England. And given how few points they would drop to other teams, the matches between these two giants of the game often became title deciders.

There were great rivalries everywhere you looked: Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Martin Keown, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ashley Cole, Ryan Giggs and the entire Arsenal defence.

Keane described his playing style as “going to war” – and these games were always the battle royale of the campaign. Ferocious and fast-paced, they were full of thunderous challenges, snarling managers, rows, fights, red cards, and occasionally even some football.

From “pizza-gate” to Keown’s bizarre pterodactyl impression in Van Nistelrooy’s face, to Giggs’ chest hair, the game was always entertaining, always fiercely contested and always the two matches in the season you could not miss.

And then a Russian billionaire rolled into town and turned Chelsea into the new big-hitters. Then the Abu Dhabi royal family did the same with Manchester City.

Meanwhile, Arsenal had to finance their new stadium, limiting Wenger’s ability to buy top class talent and they struggled to keep up with the spending power centre at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad.

Then Sir Alex retired and the spell was finally broken: Manchester United became just another team.

A quick look at the Premier League table shows Arsenal and United in third and fourth, behind Chelsea and Man City. The new order. The old guard dethroned.

These days, Arsenal vs. United feels a bit like a couple of ageing prize fighters stepping back into the ring in an old gym, while younger, leaner boxers battle it out for the heavyweight title in Las Vegas.

So, if not the title, what is at stake at Old Trafford on Sunday?

United need just one point to clinch a pace in the top four, but if they can overhaul the Gunners and finish third, they will automatically qualify for the Champions League and avoid having to go through the qualifying round.

But Louis van Gaal’s side come into this game well out of form. After three consecutive defeats they did record a win at Crystal Palace on Saturday, but they looked far from convincing for much of the match and will have to play a lot better to beat Arsenal, who had been on a superb run until their shock defeat at the hands of Swansea City at the Emirates on Monday night.

Van Gaal got his first away win as United boss at Arsenal back in November with a 2-1 success, but Arsenal got their revenge on their last visit to Old Trafford – a 2-1 victory in March, where Danny Welbeck scored the winner to knock his old side out of the FA Cup.

It may no longer be the biggest game of the season, but there’s enough spice in this fixture to make it worth a watch – and a punt.

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