Prior to Monday's quarter final, I was at Old Trafford the last time we beat Manchester United, eight and half years ago, 17th September 2006. This was eighteen months before the 2008 global financial meltdown, Tony Blair was PM, and the Scissor Sisters were number 1.
Failure to win at the Theatre of Muppets in ten previous visits has meat that the fabled rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United has faded considerably. However, United's inability to replace Alex Ferguson, has led to the preferred choice of the under-40 glory hunter, finding themselves in the territory of the "fight for fourth", Arsenal's chosen stomping ground, since, well about 2006, the last time we had won at Old Trafford.
This is a real shame, Arsenal and Manchester United are two of England's greatest teams and although at the moment, it seems that City and Chelsea, the southern and northern lottery winners have things their own way, there are signs, from north London at least, that momentum is starting to build, albeit at a stealthy pace.
In a spirit of nostalgia, however, let's consider two games, from a time long ago, which would define a 20 year rivalry between two giants. I went to both, and paid £5 and £6 respectively to stand throughout both matches.
20th February 1988 - Arsenal 2 Manchester United 1 - FA Cup 5th Round
It's easy to forget that George Graham had been in situ at Highbury for six months before Ferguson took over the reigns at Old Trafford. United had beaten Arsenal in the league a fortnight before this FA Cup tie and the score was 2-1 to Arsenal when the referee awarded the visitors a penalty, warranted as well, Micky Thomas clipped Norman Whiteside. Before this, an Alan Smith header and an own goal courtesy of Gordon Strachan had given Arsenal a two goal lead. United had got back into the game via a Brian McClair volley.
Three minutes before the final whistle, who should step up to take the penalty, but goal scorer Choccy McClair. McClair composed himself, took a five pace run up and blasted the ball over the bar, well over the bar, it actually sailed just feet under the gantries of the North Bank. Arsenal's left back, Nigel Winterburn (Nutty) decided to console McClair with a few kind words:
"You're shit you are..."
There were further words exchanged, but a fuse was lit, with the inevitable explosion occurring two years later.
20th October 1990 - Manchester United 0 Arsenal 1 - League Division One
At this point in the journey of both clubs, Arsenal had won the league less than 18 months before at Anfield, but United's long wait for the elusive league title went on. By the time Alex Ferguson would get his hands on the trophy, two and a half years later, it had changed shape, and name.
This match is remembered exclusively for the 21 man brawl in the 2nd half, but the winner that day was scored by Anders Limpar. A fabulous solo goal where he brought the ball in along the goal line and beat the keeper at the near post from a tight angle, right in front of the away supporters. In those days, we used to be squeezed in behind the goal with the home supporters directly behind us, so they could throw sharpened coins at our backs and necks for 90 minutes.
The "infamous" brawl was ignited by Winterburn, going in late on Denis Irwin - to be fair, these days the challenge could have resulted in a red card, unless your name is Oscar, or Gary Cahill. As Winterburn and Irwin tried to disentangle themselves, admittedly while screaming and goading each other, who should arrive, but emotionally bruised Choccy McClair. This time his aim was deadly accurate, as a succession of kicks connected perfectly with the prone figure of Nigel Winterburn, In fact, he was doing so well, it was probably unnecessary for Irwin to join in, but he did.
Players piled in from all over the pitch and the referee Keith Hackett battled to restore order. The pushing and shoving (which is actually what it was), went on for about half a minute. Hackett then booked Winterburn and bizarrely, Limpar. Arsenal were docked two points, United one. Work that out if you can.
An interesting footnote, this was the "almost" invincible season and sadly the fact that Arsenal lost only one game that year, 2-1 away at Chelsea, is often overlooked. Arsenal's error was to come within 90 minutes of an unbeaten season two years before the creation of The Premiership and the arrival of BSkyB, who would have us believe that football before 1993 was as popular as floodlit competitive hopscotch.
By Ian Byrne
Follow me @RightAtTheEnd