Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can recall his playing days to inspire Manchester United players against Arsenal – Tyrone Marshall
A lot of former players who go into management try not to use too many anecdotes from their playing days to inspire their squad.
The tactic can quickly get worn and the message can lose its impact, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could be forgiven for regaling this United squad with a few tales of his own encounters with Arsenal before Friday’s FA Cup fourth round meeting at the Emirates.
United v Arsenal always comes with an edge, but if any current United players think it’s a heated rivalry in 2019, they might just sit open mouthed when Solskjaer tells them about the toxicity that accompanied these games when he was playing.
If Solskjaer uses his team talks this week to tell a few stories from some of the epic, unforgettable games involving the two sides then his players should be feeling suitably inspired in north London on Friday night.
These two teams were regularly duelling for honours when the rivalry reached its peak in the late 90s and early 2000s, and there was nothing friendly about it. Keane’s Highbury tunnel bust-up at the Emirates with Vieira, Pizza-gate at Old Trafford, that barnstorming FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park. There have been some great moments between these two sides.
The Arsenal defender was adamant he hadn’t made contact with the Norwegian with his elbow and appealed the decision, but when the FA upheld the sending off Campbell missed Arsenal’s final three league games of the season and the FA Cup final win over Southampton. It was the type of aggressive incident that characterised these fixtures at the time.
A year later Solskjaer started in a semi-final that United won 1-0, but he missed the entire 2004/05 season that ended with Arsenal winning the cup final on penalties after United had dominated a goalless draw.
There have been three FA Cup meetings between the two teams since that 2004/05 final and this is always a cup tie that stirs the emotions. It seems you don’t have to wait too many seasons for a renewal of hostilities in the cup between United and the Gunners.
Solskjaer was around when Ferguson was labelling Arsenal ‘scrappers’, calling Wenger a ‘disgrace’. After the pizza throwing incident the United boss said the behaviour of Arsenal’s players ‘was the worst thing I have seen in this sport’.
In a clip from a pre-match team talk before United faced Arsenal that was aired in the Fergie v Wenger: The Feud documentary, the Scot tell his players:
“Don’t f***ing attempt to let him f***ing bully you. I don’t care if you do it verbally or physically, you just f***ing make sure you’re ready for him.”
But Ferguson was always sure his side were the best. “I don’t think they’ve a chance against us. I don’t think they have a chance,” he said in the dressing room.
This was an era when United v Arsenal needed no build-up. The rivalry has cooled since then, but Solskjaer has already shown he understands this club and he understands United’s fans. He knows how important beating Arsenal is and with a few stories from his own playing days, his players soon will as well.