21 September: The Battle of Old Trafford


Sunday, 21 September 2003: The Battle of Old Trafford

Arsenal went into this game without Sol Campbell, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord, while Manchester United brought out a very physical defensive midfield to hold Arsenal at bay.

The referee’s idea was to control the match by calling fouls whenever he could – usually once every two and a half minutes although he hardly touched the yellow card – until the last minute of the game.

But what really turned a rough match into one that we all particularly recall came with ten minutes to go and Van Nistelrooy jumped onto Patrick Vieira’s back. Vieira fell to the ground and as he did his foot moved towards Van Nistelrooy.  Van Nistelrooy made as much of it as he could by jumping backwards as if being attacked by an army of hooligans wielding horsewhips while returning from a night out in Millwall.

Although Patrick Vieira’s foot made no contact whatsoever with Van Nistelrooy, the Man U player reacted as if the aforementioned imaginary hooligans had actually manhandled him and the referee fell for it, inevitably sending Vieira off for a second yellow card offence.

Then to add insult to injury Diego Forlan fell over in the penalty area as Martin Keown moved in, and once more with the inevitably that seems to best certain officials at certain grounds, the referee gave a penalty.

Lehmann in goal did his usual thing of jumping around from side to side and the penalty hit the bar.   Martin Keown approached Van Nistelrooy and gave him a few handy tips on honesty, integrity, decent behaviour, etiquette and how one should not cheat in a match in England.

Lauren, Parlour, Cole and Toure added a few other hints on what is expected on a football pitch in England, before Van Nistelrooy was taken away by Roy Keane.   Giggs, Ronaldo, Neville G, Silvestre, Fortune and Ferdinand all sought to defend the indefensible.

Arsenal however were unbeaten in the match – as indeed they were all season.   The league table after the game read

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Arsenal 6 4 2 0 11 3 8 14
2 Chelsea 5 4 1 0 15 6 9 13
3 Manchester United 6 4 1 1 9 2 7 13
4 Southampton 6 3 3 0 8 3 5 12


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