Top 10 Arsenal-Man United games: buffets, brawling and the Busby Babes' last hurrah
Fisticuffs, fines, penalty shootouts, extra-time winners: fixtures between Arsenal and Manchester United have been heavy on needle for nearly 30 years. The climax of their grudge seemingly arrived in what was nicknamed The Battle Of The Buffet – a backstage scrap following United's 2-0 win at Old Trafford in October 2004. Back then, a score was settled by an unnamed Arsenal player who lobbed a pizza at the bonce of Sir Alex Ferguson as both teams returned to the dressing rooms. "They say it was Cesc Fabregas who threw the pizza at me," said the Scot. "But to this day, I have no idea who the culprit was."
The resentment has hardly abated since then, though the fact that this unseemly scrap hasn't made it into our top 10 of clashes between these two sides – nor the 8-2 humiliation of Arsenal in 2011 – says a lot about the calibre of their footballing rivalry...
1. Arsenal 4-5 Man United, Feb 1958
This was the last fixture played by the Busby Babes before the Munich air disaster. Five young men in United's starting line-up at Highbury that day were killed – Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman and skipper Roger Byrne. Both Taylor (twice) and Edwards scored in this epic fixture that also featured goals from Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet.
While this was a match that always seemed beyond Arsenal's grasp (they were 3-0 down at half-time, which included an impressive strike from Edwards), they did at least bring drama to the tie. Jimmy Bloomfield scored twice to draw the scores level at 3-3 before Viollet and Taylor put the match beyond their hosts in what was a dramatic and fitting farewell to English football.
2. Arsenal 3-2 Man United, May 1979
An FA Cup final decided in five minutes of brain-melting chaos. With Arsenal leading 2-0 at half-time, a side which featured the likes of Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton and Pat Jennings looked to have laid rest to the ghosts of their previous FA Cup campaign, where they'd lost at Wembley to Bobby Robson's Ipswich Town.
That exorcism quickly took on Derek Acorah levels of credibility when United drew level in inexplicable circumstances, scoring in the 86th and 88th minutes with goals from Gordon McQueen and Sammy McIlroy. Arsenal's panic was calmed at the death by broccoli-haired striker Alan Sunderland whose winning goal – a lunging strike at the back post – inspired one of the most memorable celebrations in cup final history, all fist pumps and wobbling barnet.
3. Man United 2-0 Arsenal, Jan 1987
The match that lit the gasoline. When table-toppers Arsenal lost at Old Trafford in grumpy circumstances, the result destabilised a promising title charge; the ensuing fisticuffs kick-started nearly 30 years of bad blood thanks to a robust performance from midfielder Norman Whiteside, who was later described by defender David O'Leary as "a wild nutter".
The Northern Ireland international landed his boot on the arse of just about everyone not in a United shirt as they kicked their way to a 2-0 victory. That Whiteside escaped the ref's notebook was an aberration; 19-year-old Arsenal midfielder David Rocastle didn't, sent off for lashing out in retaliation.
"There was a big row coming off the pitch," said Arsenal gaffer George Graham. "Alex Ferguson and his assistant Archie Knox were right in our faces and I thought, 'Jesus Christ! That'll be the first and last time they intimidate us. We're not going to be bullied anymore.'"