Arsenal travel to Manchester United next week in a game that both teams need to win to keep alive their hopes of finishing in the top four. It will be the latest chapter in one of the best rivalries in English that has kept football followers entertained for the last three decades.
In November 1990, the two teams met in one of the more controversial matches in English football and is a reminder that there was football before the Premier League. A second half flare-up saw United docked one point while the Gunners were deducted two points as they finished the season as champions.
It remains the last top flight game in England that saw points deduction for on-field disciplinary reasons. Looking back on the melee, the punishment seems a bit severe and Clayton Blackmore, United’s left-back that afternoon, admits VAR would not have coped if it had been around.
“VAR would have cleared the pitch had it been around in 1990,” Blackmore told Bookmakers.com.
“There would have been about five or six of us left and I’d have been one of them. I was playing left back that day but I didn’t go over to get involved. I was doing enough running during the game to bother to run and get involved and push someone.
”There were a few punches thrown and a couple of kicks etc. Looking back, there’s been a few bust-ups with Arsenal over the years. They were always aggressive games.
“The season or two before, Arsenal were on a good unbeaten run, and big Norman Whiteside had a bit of a fight with David Rocastle after I tackled Rocastle. There was proper punching and there was another fight going on between David O’Leary and Terry Gibson in the other half.
“Arsenal did not like losing, that’s for sure. And then there’s the time years later when Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a late penalty and Martin Keown was all over him. They had a serious problem losing to us. There was a big mental issue with the Arsenal team losing to us.
“I didn’t hate Arsenal. Liverpool was the big rivalry and there wasn’t much of a hatred with Manchester City. Liverpool were winning stuff all the time and we played well against them, but we just couldn’t get over the line in terms of winning the league.
“That brawl with Arsenal probably wouldn’t have happened had VAR been in the game back in 1990. Players are more aware of things now that there are more cameras following the action.
Keith Hackett was the referee that day and the only two players he booked following the melee were Arsenal pair Nigel Winterburn and Anders Limpar. Perhaps if VAR was around, more players would have been disciplined as Blackmore said.
The versatile Welshman welcomes the introduction of VAR to improve the game, but he would like to see former players involved in the decision making process.
“I’d have former players doing VAR, Blackmore said. “I’ve watched it in rugby union for years and their referees are better than our referees for a start. They know the game inside out and they know when players are cheating.
“Football needs people to run VAR who know the game because everybody will see it the same way. Players need to have a bigger say in the rules of the game. VAR is there to stop cheating but it’s not quite done yet. They need to show the footage again because they’ve stopped showing footage of the people making the decision and what they are looking at.
“VAR is there to get the right decisions. Every fan watching knows what the decision should be. Fans ask me how VAR can get it wrong so often. It’s not VAR, or the TV, it’s the person watching the footage.
“They are former referees and they have been doing that job for many years on the pitch. So they must have got a lot of things wrong as a referee.
“When I did my UEFA badges with Graeme Souness and Neville Southall, referees gave us scenarios and we got about 60 per cent of them right. We didn’t think that made sense as we had played the game. But because the way referees looked at things was different, we ended up arguing with the referee.
“How can referees get things wrong these days? With all the TV evidence, that should be straightforward. Even the offside trap is confusing. As Souness said the other week, he wants to see space between the players like the old days. If there is a gap between them, then he’s offside. It looks like they are trying to find a fingernail to rule them offside.
“Refereeing is the hardest job in football. Playing the game is easy. VAR is there to help them, but it’s like referees don’t want TV to help them. If they get a decision wrong, fine. I saw a game in Germany where the referee showed a player a red card, but then reviewed it on the TV by the side of the pitch and he’s come back and admitted he got the initial decision wrong. Fair play, that’s how it should be done.”
Blackmore has accused United's current squad of players of not being fit enough to challenge for the Premier League title under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Solskjaer was promptly sacked following United's 4-1 loss at Watford on Saturday and was replaced for the interim period by Michael Carrick.
Former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is favourite to get the job with leading bookmakers with Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers next on the list and Blackmore would have no issues with either man taking over at Old Trafford.
As for the short-term appointment of Carrick, who was part of Solskjaer's backroom staff, Blackmore has a concern over the previous training techniques.
“I hope Michael does well, but my worry is that he has been there at the club for a number of years,” Blackmore said.
“He’s been involved in the coaching when Ole has been in charge and the players are just not fit enough.
“I like Pochettino and I thought he would lead Tottenham to the title a few seasons ago when Leicester won it. But he did get Spurs to the final of the Champions League. Playing (their home games) at Wembley did them no favours as the opposition players lifted their game because they were playing in that stadium.
“But he’s proved he is a good manager capable of turning things around at United. I’d also take Brendan Rodgers because he likes to play two up front and I like to see that.
“Ole often opted for five defenders and two central midfielders rather than 4-4-2 which United should be playing especially at Old Trafford with Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani up front. Rodgers has done a great job at Leicester in the time he has been there.
“Whoever the new manager is, and if they can improve the fitness of the players, then it could be a quick turnaround to make United title contenders again.”
Mauricio Pochettino continues to lead the market to be the next manager of Manchester United with many of the leading bookmakers. The Argentine is currently manager at Paris St-Germain and insists he is happy in his current role, but the fact he has hinted in the past that he would like the United job keeps him top of the market.
It was reported that United were denied permission to speak to the former Tottenham manager about replacing Solskjaer which led to suggestions that former Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde could be the man to take the job in an interim role. Contact has been made with the 57-year-old Spaniard and it remains to be seen whether the two parties can agree terms.
Next Manchester United Manager Odds*
|Erik ten Hag||25/1|
*Odds correct at time of writing
Until then, Michael Carrick will continue in temporary charge of the team. Carrick's first game in charge could not have gone any better with a 2-0 win at Villarreal to secure a place in the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Other managers in the mix for the Old Trafford job include former Borussia Dortmund manager Lucien Favre, former RB Leipzig boss Ralf Rangnick and former Lyon boss Rudi Garcia. In terms of British managers, current Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers remains linked with the job although he insists his future remains with the Foxes.
Steve Bruce, recently sacked by Newcastle following their takeover, has confirmed his interest in the role, whether that's as interim manager or on a full-time basis. The 60-year-old knows the club very well having won three Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the European Cup Winners Cup as a player and captain. Whoever gets the job, they inherit a club through to the Champions League Round of 16 and in the mix to finish in the top four.
Blackmore, who was part of the United squad that were crowned champions at the end of the inaugural Premier League season in 1993, rubbished claims at the weekend by former players Chris Sutton and Jermaine Jenas that the United players ‘were not playing’ for Solskjaer.
The pair made their comments on Saturday when they watched Solskjaer’s side embarrassed 4-1 at Vicarage Road where the defeat could have been greater had the Hornets not missed a first-half penalty.
Blackmore believes Solskjaer’s tactics led to his downfall. And on the day the Premier League saw Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta square up to Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the sidelines at Anfield, Blackmore feels a lack of passion counted against the Norwegian and ultimately cost him his job.
“I think passion was another thing missing from Ole. He celebrated goals, but you have to be upset when things don’t go your way. Wouldn’t it be great to have Mark Hughes and Roy Keane in charge? There wouldn’t be a lack of passion then.
“When pundits say the United players were not playing for Ole, that’s rubbish. I hate it when people say that. They’ve been playing that way all season. If the players had lifted their energy levels and worked harder, Ole would still be in a job.
“Look at Manchester City, when they close their opponents down, they do so in numbers of five or six. United haven’t been doing that. The players need to get fitter so they can make more space on the pitch.
“They need to look at the likes of Ronaldo and do what he does. At his age, he is fitter than most of the players in the Premier League and that’s because he works hard physically and mentally - now and when he was first at the club.”
Blackmore, who spent eight years working at the club’s academy when Mason Greenwood was coming through the youth system, insists United’s struggles this season have not all been down to Solskjaer.
The former Welsh midfielder lays a lot of the blame for United’s poor start to the season at the feet of the players and hopes to see a major improvement from them in the weeks and months to come without Solskjaer in charge.
“It’s a pity for Ole the way things have finished for him,” Blackmore said.
“But supporters will always remember what he did for the club with that winning goal in the final of the Champions League at the Nou Camp in 1999.
“We haven’t been playing well for a while. But the players were not doing what they should have been doing. The fans are right in that the players need to stand up and be counted.
“It’s down to them as well. They know how to play the game and that’s why they are playing for a club like Manchester United."