Wenger approached me, raised his hand and signaled, “Now how do you want to handle this?” Sir Alex Ferguson recalled what happened, one year after the most famous and controversial battle in Premier League history. “He stood there, criticizing my players, calling them scammers, so I told him to leave my boys alone and behave himself!”
That alone is enough for those who witnessed the Old Trafford classic match in October 2004 to feel excited. It was a game that represented the golden age of Manchester United and Arsenal, a match with so many milestones and dramatic stories inside and out. That match is called “The Great Buffet War”.
Right on this day 12 years ago, football fans shifted their focus to Old Trafford. Arsenal’s victorious run in the Premier League had reached 49 matches, and United had become the number one hope for blocking Arsene Wenger’s record. They had been Arsenal’s biggest counterpart for nearly a decade, and had also been the only team not to lose in both games against Arsenal in their 2003/2004 unbeaten run. Meanwhile, the Gunners of London also had a determination to defeat Manchester United. What better way to celebrate the milestone of 50 unbeaten matches than in the holy ground of the great rival?
However, there was another reason to expect this classic encounter, which were the dramatic memories of the Battle of the Old Trafford. A lack of goals but full of tension and hatred. Ruud Van Nistelrooy missed the goal from 11m, and then was surrounded by his opponents and took a cold kick from Martin Keown.
The 0-0 draw was the eighth match in Arsenal’s unbeaten run, and if Van Gol would had succeeded a last-minute penalty shoot, maybe a record would have been set. Now Nistelrooy and United faced another opportunity to stop the rival’s record, while fans were looking forward to another big war at the Theater of Dreams.
But other than the home ground advantage, every element seemed to be against Sir Alex Ferguson. While Arsenal took home a 3-1 win over Aston Villa, Man United had a 0-0 draw by Birmingham, less than up to 11 points on the chart. In addition, they also suffered major personnel losses when captain Roy Keane was sick and unable to play. However, it was that situation that allowed Sir Alex Ferguson to launch his secret weapon, which was Phil Neville. By playing aggressively, the Neville brothers had repeatedly given Patrick Vieira difficulties in the previous match. At the same time, Phil along with Gary also had another important mission assigned by Ferguson: Jose Antonio Reyes.
Came to Arsenal in 2004 from Sevilla, Reyes gave a brilliant performance and was considered the key to the Gunners’ success. Before the Great Match against United, they all expected that he would pair up with Thierry Henry on the striker. But finally, Wenger pushed him to the left instead of Robert Pires, and Dennis Bergkamp returned to the starting lineup. The goal was nothing else other than to prevent Reyes not to fall into the pincer that Ferguson had already set up.
Expertsput their money on Arsenal, but fans were looking forward to a uprising from Manchester United.