Ruud van Nistelrooy was never a popular character amongst Arsenal fans but this hatred climaxed at Old Trafford at the start of the 2003/2004 season.

Patrick Vieira was on a yellow card when from the floor, he kicked out at Ruud, and was shown a second yellow and sent off. Ruud made a meal of it and this incensed the Arsenal players and fans. According to them, Ruud’s play-acting got their captain sent off. I find this as bizarre now as I did then. Whether Vieira took Ruud’s knee-cap off or made no contact whatsoever, intentionally trying to kick someone is at the least a yellow card.

I’d love to hear what the ever sanctimonious Wenger would make of such a kick these days. The Wenger who talks of Paul Scholes’ “dark side” and Stoke’s “rugby tactics” surely would have to rip Vieira to shreds for kicking out at a player’s knee, however, more likely, he wouldn’t “see it”. Arsenal were criticised for their poor discipline that day, particularly following Ruud’s penalty miss. Their players surrounded Ruud, jumping at him, pushing him and shouting in his face.

Martin Keown, who was fined £5k by the FA for his embarrassing behaviour that day, has reflected on Sir Alex Ferguson’s reaction to him next time they met.

“After my run-in with Ruud van Nistelrooy at Old Trafford in 2003, the rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United had never been greater,” said Keown. “But I was still surprised by the way Ferguson behaved when I next saw him. We were in the marble hall at Highbury before the game and he was greeting people he knew. But he did his level best to ignore me, which he hadn’t done before. He usually shook my hand so I was a bit put out.”




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