Manchester United can look to previous successes at Arsenal for hope
Even if Southampton had continued to give United fans hope and held on for a few more seconds against Manchester City on Wednesday, City's home form wouldn't be as good as United's.
Jose Mourinho's side have won all seven league games, scoring 20 and conceding just once. There's only one other team with a 100 percent home record, Arsenal. That's where United play on Saturday.
To underline their strength, City have a 100 percent away record. Something has to give in the Manchester derby on Dec. 9, but for now Arsenal away is United's priority. It's another huge match and Mourinho's men need to do what no team has done this season and take at least a point from the Gunners at home.
Tuesday's win at Watford was a boost, but United's own away record is patchy. Taking on Arsenal on their own turf isn't easy for any big club, but there have still been some outstanding moments for United there. Here are some of the best, followed by one that United fans would rather forget.
Nov. 28 1990, Rumbelows Cup. Won 6-2
A United team who'd finished 13th in the league six months earlier and had been beaten 1-0 at home by Arsenal a month earlier when the teams fought on the pitch, a team that had lost 3-2 at home to Chelsea three days earlier, went to Highbury to take on the league champions The omens were awful, more so when fans heard captain Neil Webb had been dropped.
What happened? Resplendent in an acid blue away shirt, United inflicted Arsenal's worst home defeat in 50 years. Lee Sharpe, 19, scored a hat trick, sending the 4,000 reds in the Clock End and along the side crazy.
"I was flying that year," Sharpe told me. "When I scored that hat trick against Arsenal it was like I'd achieved my life's ambition... and then I went back to my cold digs in Salford to reflect on it. I did a few interviews with papers, which the manager bollocked me for."
Diminutive striker Danny Wallace also scored.
"That was my best United game," said Wallace. "Me on the left, Sharpey on the right. He scored three, and was involved in four other goals."
"The most amazing performance in my time at Manchester United," said Sir Alex Ferguson after the match. "Wallace's finest display for us and Lee Sharpe was irresistible."
A few days later, Mancunian grafters were peddling "Highbury massacre" t-shirts outside the away end at Everton's Goodison Park. United won that one, too, with another Sharpe goal, two key results in Ferguson's time at Old Trafford as he showed that a team with young wingers could win away at the best opponents.
Feb. 1 2005, Premier League. Won 4-2
Somewhat bizarrely given the London address and status of Arsenal, Highbury was one of the cheapest grounds for away fans in the nineties and noughties. Fans saw some epic Arsenal v United matches, with the Feb. 2005 contest the best-ever game since the Premiership began according to Sir Alex Ferguson.
Roy Keane was United's captain, Patrick Vieira Arsenal's, though no United players knew that United had tried to sign Vieira four years earlier.
"We were firmly rebuffed," recalled chairman Martin Edwards. "Vieira would have been a great addition to the side. It's true to say that over the years he and Roy Keane had enjoyed a heated rivalry, most notably their infamous spat in the tunnel before a game at Highbury that was caught on camera, but what a formidable midfield pairing they would have made together."
Spat? When United lined up in the cramped Highbury tunnel that night, Keane accused 6'4" Vieira of trying to intimidate 5'11"Gary Neville.
Vieira had felt that Neville had kicked winger Jose Antonio Reyes in a previous match. Keane, who long considered Arsenal United's biggest rivals, saw this and squared up to the Frenchman and told him in his gentle Cork brogue to pick on someone his own size. Like him. Roy is the same height as Gary Neville.
United beat Arsenal 4-2 with goals from Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo (2),and John O'Shea. Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp got their two. United looked formidable in all black, not that anyone knew what colour United would even be wearing. In five seasons between 2000 and 2005 United played at Highbury in shirts of five different hues.
"There's no wimps in my team," said Ferguson after the match. Arsenal would get their revenge by beating United in the FA Cup final three months later.
May 5 2009, Champions League Semi-Final Second Leg. Won 3-1
European champions United went to Arsenal in the semi-final, having won the first leg 1-0 at Old Trafford, with the dream of becoming the first team since Milan in 1990 to retain the European Cup.
Arsene Wenger had promised a "magnificent' performance, yet his side were stunned as United went two up after 11 minutes with goals from Park Ji-sung, who Ferguson loved to play at Arsenal, and Cristiano Ronaldo, with a free kick from distance.
Man of the match Ronaldo made it 3-1 after 61 minutes with a counter-attacking goal that took 12 seconds and seven touches after Nemanja Vidic heading clear. Arsenal had to score five times. They managed one when Robin van Persie converted a 76th-minute penalty.
There was a negative. Darren Fletcher was harshly sent off on 75 minutes after a clash with Cesc Fabregas and would miss the Rome final against Barcelona.
"I had my little sisters and mum crying on the phone," said Fletcher after. "They were not at the game, but I called them straight after. I saw the missed calls on my phone. Mum and dad and my three little sisters. They were distraught."
A shame for Fletcher, but an epic night for a United side who would beat Arsenal away by the same 3-1 scoreline the following season with another beautiful counter-attacking performance.
Nov. 22 2014, Premier League. Won 2-1.
When he wasn't telling this writer to watch out for a "young striker called Marcus Rashford," former United defender Tyler Blackett looked back on his time as a United player.
"My toughest opponents were Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain," opined the native Manucnian Blackett, "Attacking players who were all inter-changeable and ran at you from different angles. It was hard."
Players who all lined up against him in the same game, when Arsenal flew at United from the first whistle in that Nov. 2014 encounter. It was expected. United were seventh in the table and had yet to win one of their five away games. The team was hit by injuries which meant Blackett and Paddy McNair started in a vulnerable defence as part of a 3-4-1-2 system, yet Arsenal had only beaten United once in the previous 15 encounters.
David De Gea was outstanding, Kieran Gibbs put the ball in his own goal after 56 minutes. United were leading without having a single shot.
Rooney made it two from a counter attack on 85 minutes. It was hilarious. Oliver Giroud's 95th-minute goal was a small consolation. United have lost the two subsequent games at Arsenal since, 2-0 and 3-0. An improvement is expected on Saturday.
And one to forget...
Feb. 2 1988, FA Cup 5th round. Lost 2-1.
Before Highbury's capacity was cut, Arsenal would occasionally attract crowds of 50,000, the majority of them standing in either the North Bank terrace or the open Clock End opposite. Reaching the FA Cup 5th round was something to celebrate in the bleak early Ferguson years and 17,000 Reds headed south in a crowd of 54,161. Only 29,392 had attended the same league fixture a month before.
Unfortunately, it wasn't to be for United. But it could have been had Brian McClair converted a penalty on top of the goal he scored in a 2-1 defeat. After he missed, Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn chased McClair, taunting him for missing the penalty. If would be the start of a long feud which culminated in the infamous "Battle of Old Trafford" in 1990.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.