In the week that the Premier League saw another clash between Manchester United and Arsenal and the FA Cup fourth round approaching, let me take you back to the 14th April 1999.
After a goalless draw in the first game, the two teams returned to Villa Park for one of the most memorable semi-final replays of them all, and the last one.
Arsenal, who had won the double the previous season and were Man United’s closest challengers for the title, were looking to stop an unprecedented treble for United.
The two key men for both teams were Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane. They were the two best midfielders in the league. The late nineties were a period when English football was dominated by the pair. The aggressive and passionate way they played was made even more interesting by the fact there was obvious tension between the two personally.
The games first fifteen minutes passed with little incident. Then a long kick from Schmeichel sparked a Man U attack. The ball fell to the one man you do not want it to from twenty five yards out, David Beckham. He bent a beautiful strike past the helpless Seamen. As soon as you see it leave his boot you could it see was going to nestle perfectly in the far corner. First blood to United.
It took Arsenal the best part of an hour to get back on level terms. The ball dropped to Denis Bergkamp who struck it from just outside the penalty box. Not the Dutchman’s cleanest strike ever as it took a wicked deflection of his fellow countrymen Jaap Stam. Schmeichel was stranded and Arsenal were level.
Soon after, real drama as Anelka pounced on a rebounded shot. He rounds Schmeichel and slots into the back of the net with ease. The Arsenal fans are celebrating. Arsene Wenger is celebrating. The Arsenal players are celebrating. The referee is trying to get the ball back to the centre circle for the restart. These are the only people inside Villa Park who haven’t seen the assistant’s flag. The goal is correctly called off-side and the game resumes.
As Overmars was sprinting down the left wing, across comes the already booked Roy Keane. He clatters the Dutchman. He doesn’t even look and walks straight down the tunnel. David Ellary sends him off, not for the first time in his career, and United have to play the rest of the game without their influential captain.
Were into stoppage time as Ray Parlour gets the ball and drives at Man U full back Phil Neville. It is one of the least composed bits of defending you will ever see as he brings down Parlour and the referee has no choice but to award the penalty.
You have to be backing Bergkamp under this pressure. His nickname is not the Ice Man for no reason. He steps up…… AND SCHMEICHEL HAS SAVED IT! The Great Dane flies to his left to stop the penalty truly cementing his place in Man United History. Arsenal are shell shocked as we go into extra time.
One more twist in this remarkable game. Vieira, so unlike him, gives away the ball to Ryan Giggs on the half way line. Ryan Giggs starts to run down the left wing. He skips past Vieira. He skips past Lee Dixon. He skips past Tony Adams. He finds himself through on goal and smashes into the roof of the net past David Seamen to send Manchester United to Wembley and keep the Treble alive. The last ever goal in a n FA Cup semi-final replay and one of the best the competition has ever seen. Certainly the hairiest chest the competition has ever seen.
This game was truly wonderful with drama of the highest level. I also believe it was the best ever game between the two clubs who have provided the biggest rivalry during the Premier League era. They have both competed fiercely with each other, and succeeded in the Premier League. Maybe not so much over the last few years but Man United are continuing to do so and I am sure that one day Arsenal will be back amongst them.
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