At the height of Arsenal and Manchester United’s fierce rivalry in the mid-2000s, there was one clash between the Premier League giants that saw tempers boil over. Arsenal, who were the reigning top-flight champions, would see their incredible 49-match unbeaten run ended, Cesc Fabregas launched pizza at Sir Alex Ferguson, and Arsene Wenger was fined for dubbing Ruud van Nistelrooy a ‘cheat’.
It was October 2004 and Arsenal were on a high, having just beaten the English league record for most consecutive matches without a defeat. United had endured a poor start to the 2004-05 campaign, had just been held to a goalless draw by Birmingham, and were sixth in the Premier League.
But a blood-and-thunder contest in which Arsenal were incensed at several decisions made by referee Mike Riley ended in a 2-0 win for United, and the Gunners lost their unbeaten run. Several unconfirmed reports have claimed that Wenger’s players sported “50 not out” t-shirts underneath their jerseys.
Riley was particularly lenient with several United tackles. Gary Neville avoided punishment after scything down Jose Antonio Reyes, while Van Nistelrooy appeared to run his studs down the shin of Ashley Cole.
Rio Ferdinand got away with bringing down Freddie Ljungberg when the Swede was through on goal. Riley then awarded United a penalty despite Wayne Rooney going down under minimal contact from Sol Campbell. Van Nistelrooy scored the spot-kick before Rooney added a second late on.
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“The first thing that occurred to me was to throw the pizza because I didn’t have the power or the courage to go into that fight. They were monsters in there. They were super, super big guys. Apparently it hit Sir Alex Ferguson.”
Former United defender Ferdinand said last year: “I don’t think he meant to throw it at the gaffer, I think he just dashed it out the door and the gaffer was walking past. It did hit him.
“The lasting memory for me was a security guard was having to hold him [Ferguson] back from trying to get into the changing room. That’s what I remember. You know what he’s like, if his head went that was it.”
Ferguson, meanwhile, went years without finding out who threw the pizza. The iconic manager wrote in his 2013 autobiography: “To this day, I have no idea who the culprit is.”
Arsenal boss Wenger used his post-match media duties to dub Van Nistelrooy a “cheat”, and accused Riley of bias. He pointed out that the official – who until recently was head of the PGMOL – had awarded United penalties in his previous eight fixtures at Old Trafford.
It remains to be seen if Sunday’s clash between the two sides will match The Battle of the Buffet for its incident-heavy nature. For the first time in two decades, Arsenal and United are both battling for the Premier League title, and it could be the most fiery meeting in years.