The Bitter Rivalry Of Manchester United And Arsenal

Published by Chris Jenkins
10th Feb 2023

Over the years, the English Premier League has been blessed with having some of the most unforgettable rivalries that will live long in the memories of football fans. What is considered to be the most competitive rivalry is the bitter rivalry of Manchester United and Arsenal. In our latest post, we will analyse what made this one of the biggest rivalries in English football.


The Origins Of The Bitter Rivalry:

Despite competing in the same division since 1919, and amassing a plethora of domestic successes along the way - multiple iconic players including the two most influential managers equate to the rivalries starting at different moments. For instance, Sir Alex Ferguson recalls the rivalry beginning in January 1987 thanks to a red card sent off following a foul to Norman Whiteside by David Rocastle.

However, animosity can be felt dating back to 1979 following a sensational FA Cup Final with both sides playing amongst a packed 99,000 Wembley Stadium. During this fixture, The Gunners were able to capitalise on their chances as they went into the tunnel at half-time 2-0 up thanks to goals by Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton respectively.

Despite Arsenal’s healthy lead heading into the second half, animosity and anxiety from the Arsenal faithful started to rise. This feeling of unease reached critical mass following the 86th minute following a goal from Gordon McQueen, however, tensions rose even further merely minutes later thanks to a stunning equaliser by Sammy Mcllroy.

All of the momentum was poised for the Red Devils to claim another goal. Alas, Manchester United fans were left stunned as a minute after the equaliser - Arsenal was able to make it 3-2 following a stunning strike by Alan Sunderland. It was Alan’s goal which ultimately led to the Gunners lifting the prestigious FA Cup over Manchester United. With this in mind, given how the result played out - it’s easy to see why individuals point to this game as the origin of the bitter rivalry.


The Old Trafford Brawl:

The fiery nature of this rivalry escalated so highly in the 1990s that the name “The Old Trafford Brawl” was given. During the 1990-91 season, on the 20th of October, Manchester United hosted Arsenal for a First Division clash at Old Trafford - it was this game that generated the name.

The only goal to come from the game was a winning strike by Arsenal’s Anders Limpar, although most people remember this fixture for the brawl itself. In the second half of the much-heated fixture - Limpar was involved in a contest for the ball with Manchester United legend, Denis Irwin. Following this scuffle, Nigel Winterburn made a tackle on Irwin that spurred a brawl between both sets of players. Before long, there were twenty-one players engaging in this brawl, with David Seaman being the only player to not take part. After the game, both clubs took immediate action by fining a number of players - including Arsenal punishing the Manager George Graham as well.

Inevitably, both clubs were fined £50,000 for bringing the game into disrepute. To this day, this brawl was the only incident in the beautiful game which has led to clubs being docked points.

Another notable occurrence was featured at Highbury Stadium, resulting in one of the most famous ‘bust ups’ in Premier League history when Roy Keane engaged in a verbal altercation with Patrick Viera whilst defending Gary Neville in the tunnel.


Arsene Wenger And Sir Alex Ferguson:

In addition to these iconic fixtures, the rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United can be equated to both managers, Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson respectively. Both managers are lorded for their impact on the game of football and are widely considered to be two of the greatest managers in the Premier League era.

Sir Alex Ferguson is synonymous with the Premier League, having lifted 13 Premier League titles during his tenure as Manchester United manager - whilst in total lifting 38 trophies altogether across his 26 years as manager of the Red Devils. Featured in his 38 trophies are the aforementioned 13 Premier League trophies, as well as five FA Cups, as well as two UEFA Champions League trophies to boot.

In comparison, Arsene Wenger was able to lift a total of 17 trophies with Arsenal. Despite the number of trophies not being as plentiful as Alex Ferguson and United, Arsenal is known for its revolutionary style of play, garnering a style of play after him that is known as ‘Wengerball’.

Wengerball consisted of straying away from the traditional 4-4-2 formation, rather opting for a 4-5-1 formation that focuses on keeping hold of the ball rather than lightning-fast counter-attacks. In addition to the formation change, players were granted the freedom to be more flexible in their positions to allow themselves to be available to receive the football at any point in time.



Both clubs are staples of the Premier League, resulting in some of the most memorable moments in the beautiful game. Including a clinical 8-2 win for Manchester United in 2011 at Old Trafford - including a sensational hattrick for Wayne Rooney. Today, both clubs continue their fierce rivalry and this will likely not change anytime soon.