Wenger hails ‘fighters’ in van Nistelrooy attack.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits he feels proud of his players for showing they were ready for a fight when a number of Gunners stars targeted Ruud van Nistelrooy in a famous game against Manchester United in 2003, the Guardian reports.
Arsenal and United had just drawn 0-0 at Old Trafford in a hard-fought encounter, with van Nistelrooy getting Gunners captain Patrick Vieira sent off before missing a crucial penalty in stoppage time, in what proved to be a pivotal moment in both the title race and in Arsenal’s incredible achievement of going unbeaten for the whole campaign.
Although Arsenal’s players were widely criticised for ganging up on van Nistelrooy after the final whistle, Wenger says he was pleased with his side’s battling qualities back then, and has suggested his players were right to stick up for themselves.
Martin Keown was particularly prominent in those scenes, and Wenger sees the funny side now as the former England defender was ‘treated like a gangster’ for his brief moment of madness against the Dutch striker.
“I was very proud to see that,” he said. “They were guys who were ready for a fight. Sometimes when you want to see the solidity of someone, you think could I go for a street fight with this guy? In this team I tell you we had some. That was their strength, the kind of charisma they had.”
Wenger added that he wished he had sacrificed a game against United later that season, as his team were beaten in the FA Cup semi-final just days before facing Chelsea in the Champions League.
“We could have won the Champions League,” he said. “Three days before we played Chelsea in the Champions League we played Man United in the FA Cup. I did not want to sacrifice the FA Cup, so I thought I would play a team I thought could beat Man United.
“The game was at Villa Park and I remember Man United on the day kicked us. Reyes got kicked, we lost some players, we lost some mental strength, and three days later we lost against Chelsea in the final minutes of the game. I could see we were jaded. So I think if I made a mistake that season, that was not to sacrifice the game against Man United.”