The former Manchester United striker says the Gunners were “obsessed” with him during their heated early 2000s rivalry
Ruud van Nistelrooy believes Arsenal were “a little obsessed” with him and Manchester United during his time at Old Trafford, but admits he misses the rivalry.
The former United striker was involved in a number of on-pitch altercations when the two Premier League title rivals clashed, most memorably the melee that followed his last-minute penalty miss at Old Trafford in 2003.
A then-record fine of £175,000 was handed down by the Football Association to Arsenal for failing to control their players and Martin Keown, Lauren, Ray Parlour and Patrick Vieira were suspended in the aftermath of that game.
Addressing the Oxford Union, Van Nistelrooy is quoted as saying by the Daily Mirror: “That game was incredible. It was this unbeaten Arsenal side, a last-minute penalty and I hit the bar. Then it went crazy, loads happened.
“The truth is, I wasn’t aware because I was so gutted about missing the penalty. I couldn’t care less what they were doing. I was in shock, thinking ‘I missed, I missed’.
“Patrick Vieira was sent off, he was waiting in the tunnel but I couldn’t care less. I walked past him.
“I barely ever missed. I was in the dressing room and trying to analyse what I did wrong. I took it too quickly. In those big moments, you have to take more care. I didn’t settle and focus. I think Arsenal were a little obsessed with United at the time and with me.
“I was never as involved with them as they were with me. There was always big build-up and media talk but on the pitch, I kept my calm usually. I don’t have a problem with them. I miss the rivalry of course.”
Van Nistelrooy, though, went on to make amends for the penalty miss by scoring in the 2-0 win in October the year after, ending Arsenal’s 49-match unbeaten run.
That match also hit the headlines for the wrong reasons following the ‘Battle of the Buffet’ incident that saw pizza thrown in the tunnel at Old Trafford.