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04th Sep 2022

Roy Keane cracks classic joke as he recalls epic Man United vs Arsenal rivalry

Patrick McCarry

This one always ran that bit deeper.

Roy Keane said it at the time, when he was Manchester United captain, and he is not veering from that course.

Between the 1995/96 season and the end of 2003/04, United and Arsenal were the Premier League kingpins. The two clubs – managed at the time by Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger – won nine league trophies, with United getting the 6:3 split.

Back in his final days at United, before his short move to Celtic and his retirement, Keane spoke with Geoff Shreeves about who he always considered to be the club’s No.1 rivals, during his time at Old Trafford.

“A lot of players will maybe look at Man City, Leeds, Liverpool as our main rivals, but I’ve always felt it was Arsenal that I looked at as our main ones. They are the club we’ve been closest to over the last 10, 12 years.”

‘I always said Vieira had a bit of a temper’

During a recent episode of Gary Neville’s Soccerbox, on Sky Sports, Roy Keane was going back over his Premier League career with Manchester United.

One game the episode focused a lot of time on was the August 1999 encounter between United and Arsenal, at Highbury. Keane scored both goals in a 2-1 United win, that day, and also went went to literal head of Gunners midfielder Patrick Vieira. On that clash, the Cork native said:

“Oh, I forgot about this… I’ve gone a little bit there.

“I was still a bit worry at the time that [referee Graham Poll] would go red, and lay down a bit of a marker. And then a head-butt [from Vieira], see? Always said he had a bit of a temper, Patrick. No-one ever believes me!”

Roy Keane of Manchester United clashes with Patrick Vieira of Arsenal at Highbury, in 1999. (Credit:Clive Brunskill /Allsport)

Roy Keane expands on why Arsenal were his main rivals, at United

During that league clash, at Highbury, Frederick Ljungberg had put Arsenal 1-0 ahead, only for Roy Keane to respond with two second half goals to seal the victory. Keane joked:

“I was in the last year of my contract, so I was thinking, ‘This will help’. This will help in negotiations, yeah.”

Gary Neville recalled that was the season when Keane was threatening to leave on a ‘Bosman’ free transfer, and was willing to let his contract run down if he did not receive a decent offer. Asked if Alex Ferguson was doing some negotiating a the season wound down, Keane said the Scot used to be doing it during passing and possession drills at the club’s Carrington training facilities.

“We drove each other on,” said Keane of going up against Arsenal. “Big personalities. Going to Highbury was always difficult, games played at a pace, the pitch was always tight. They were good battles.

“In my time at United – and I know you used to say Liverpool – but I’d say Man City or Arsenal. They were the biggest games.

“Arsenal were the nearest rivals. City weren’t that strong, but you knew it was a derby game.”

United were defending three trophies, that 1999/00 season, after winning the Treble. They lost the Charity Shield to Arsenal but beat them 2-1 in that Highbury encounter, drew with them 1-1 at home and ended up beating them to another Premier League trophy by 18 points.

During that re-watch, Keane looked back on one clear foul on Vieira, to stop an Arsenal counter-attack, and remarked, “That was never a foul. C’mon Patrick, get up! … No, it was a good foul to give away.”

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