Arsenal’s rivalry with Manchester United around the turn of the century had a number of leading figures, with Roy Keane chief among them.

The former United captain, who was allegedly assaulted by a member of the public after his former club’s defeat at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, skippered the Red Devils in many clashes with the London side during that period, with mixed results.

Keane’s relationship with the fixture continued after his retirement, with the former Ireland international regularly calling out the Gunners while on punditry duties. Here, Mirror Football looks at the history of Roy Keane and Arsenal over the years.


After clinching the treble in 1999, with Keane sitting out the Champions League final through suspension, the Irishman was tasked with leading the title defence. One of the big early tests came at Highbury, in August, and Freddie Ljungberg’s opener had given the Gunners a half-time lead.

Thanks to Keane, though, it wouldn’t last. First came the equaliser, with Keane bursting into the box and exchanging passes with Andrew Cole before rolling the ball into the net.

The winner came much, much, later. Keane collected a deflected Ryan Giggs effort before calmly beating Alex Manninger to seal United’s comeback just two minutes from time.

United would go on to win the title, finishing some 18 points clear of Arsenal. And the pain would continue 18 months later.

A statement win

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Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira faced off more than once in high-profile games Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira faced off more than once in high-profile games (


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Keane’s captaincy of United also involved one of their biggest ever Premier League wins, and certainly one of their biggest against a title rival. In February 2001, United ran out 6-1 winners when Arsenal came to Old Trafford.

Arsenal were coming off three straight wins, and four games without conceding a goal, when they travelled north. Within half an hour, though, it was game over.

Dwight Yorke hit a 22-minute hat-trick, with Keane laying on the second of those goals with a defence-splitting pass, and Thierry Henry’s equaliser had the visitors level for just two minutes

Keane himself scored United’s fourth, arriving late to put away a Yorke cross, United cruised to another title, with Arsenal a distant second once again.

Keane at his ‘angriest’

One of the biggest flashpoints in United and Arsenal fixtures came early in the 2003-04 season. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s penalty miss and Martin Keown’s reaction will live long in the memory, but Keane stayed out of the drama in that 2003 clash.

If that seems out of character, Keane thought so too. Later, he would shed light on the mindset he held going into those clashes.

“I had a lot of hatred for Arsenal,” Keane told the BBC. “I can’t think of any other word when I was getting ready to do battle with Arsenal. Hatred was the word. I don’t remember liking anybody at Arsenal.

“I knew I had to be at my angriest against them. I didn’t feel like that about any other team, but Arsenal brought out something different in me - I behaved myself that day and I regret it.”

Vieira tunnel bust-up

When he wasn’t contributing goals and assists, Keane was involved in a long-running battle with Patrick Vieira. There were plenty of on-pitch flashpoints, but nothing compared to the tunnel bust-up between the pair in 2005.

“I could hear these footsteps behind me and Vieira shouting, ‘Neville! Neville! You’re not going to kick our players out on this pitch today’,” Gary Neville - another member of United’s squad that day - would later recall.

Keane was involved in an infamous tunnel incident in 2005 Keane was involved in an infamous tunnel incident in 2005 (


Sky Sports Retro/Youtube)

“Roy obviously turned back, heard him and started having a go at him. He [Vieira] sort of squirted his water bottle towards Roy, then all hell broke loose.”

United had ceded the title to Arsenal in the previous season, with Arsene Wenger’s side going the whole campaign unbeaten. A contentious win in October 2004 gave United first blood that season, though, and the tunnel incident was followed by a 4-2 win to complete a valuable double - even if Chelsea would be the ones to win the league.

“People say you often win the game in the tunnel, I’m not sure it’s that far wrong,” Neville added. “We went out onto the pitch knowing we were the better team, knowing we were physically quite tough and wouldn’t be pushed around.

“The handshake was quite prolonged [with Vieira] but what I was saying to him was you can shout all you like but there’s a football game to be played and I won’t be influenced by what you’re saying.”

Reflections on a rivalry

Keane's Arsenal rivalry has continued during his punditry career Keane’s Arsenal rivalry has continued during his punditry career (



Since trading the pitch for the punditry sofa, Keane has made no secret of how he felt about those moments from his playing days. And the Arsenal clashes often had an extra edge compared to your average game - especially when Vieira was involved.

“That’s what you want with the big clubs [a rivalry],” Keane admitted. “When I was playing Patrick [Vieira] we had a rivalry, obviously because you’re trying to win championships.

“We played the same position so there was always going to be clashes. Big personalities at the big clubs, you’re trying to win the big prizes. You’re showing clips there of what it was like back in our time and it was brilliant.”

The questions continue

After watching Arsenal fall short of the Premier League title last season, Keane was asked - on the eve of this season - whether his feelings about their staying power had changed. Once again, he didn’t pull any punches.

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“When the going gets tough, we will see if they are in the same position and if they can learn from it,” he said in August. “The next step for Arsenal is to [win the Premier League], that’s the biggest step, getting yourself into the top-four is fine like United last year, there was going to be an improvement. But if you talk about winning league titles, that’s always going to be the hardest one. Close is not good enough.”

“I’m not sure yet [if they can win the title]. Just because they finished second last year and strengthened their squad with good signings, doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to make that next step. They’ll learn from their mistakes of course and they’ve now got strength in depth.”

Sunday’s win was Arsenal’s first attempt at showing Keane they were ready for that challenge. They finished nine points above United last term, and now it’s about how the table looks come May.

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