Trouble in the Tunnel
|Event||2004–05 FA Premier League|
|Date||1 February 2005|
|Venue||Arsenal Stadium, London|
"Trouble in the Tunnel" was a Premier League match between arch rivals Arsenal and Manchester United that took place on 1 February 2005. The match is remembered for an infamous tunnel spat between United captain Roy Keane and Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, as well as for being a high-quality, entertaining contest. United ran out 4–2 winners.
After several years of battling each other for domestic honours and for the Premier League title, the rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United was at its fiercest peak at the time of the match. The league title had been won by one of the two teams in each of the last nine seasons (six for Manchester United and three for Arsenal), and meetings between the two clubs had become the biggest matches of the season. Reigning champions Arsenal were dubbed "The Invincibles" after finishing the entire previous campaign undefeated in the league, although earlier in the season (October 2004), the reverse fixture between the two sides had seen another feisty affair, as United ended Arsenal's record 49-match unbeaten run with a 2–0 win at Old Trafford. There had also been another tunnel incident, on this occasion after the match instead of before, with tales of soup and pizza allegedly being thrown by incensed Arsenal players.
The incident the game is most remembered for came in the minutes leading up to kick off, in the tunnel between the changing rooms and the pitch, the first part of which was unseen by the cameras. Keane was unhappy about Vieira's behaviour towards Gary Neville and the two captains had to be separated by fellow players and officials. On camera Vieira is seen being lead away by team-mates Pascal Cygan and Dennis Bergkamp, before Keane is seen making his way down the tunnel and through the crowd of players whilst berating Vieira and telling him "We'll see you out there!" and then angrily explaining himself to referee Graham Poll who blocked Keane's path to Vieira and restored calm until the match had kicked off.
Neville said of the incident, "Roy obviously turned back, heard Vieira shouting and started having a go at him. He (Vieira) sort of squirted his water bottle towards Roy, then all hell broke loose." Whilst Keane later reflected in his book The Second Half, "I just felt they were bullying Gary, I don't think it was intimidation; it was bullying. I was there to do a job. Win the game – get in and get out. But it was a bit like the build-up to a boxing match – the weigh-in, the press conferences – when people forget that there'll actually be a fight. He added: "I think football might lack that energy now, a bit; that tension. It was great. But years later people bring up the tunnel and they don't remember the match that came after it."
The atmosphere and tension of the Tuesday evening kick-off increased after just eight minutes, when Arsenal captain Vieira headed Thierry Henry's corner past Roy Carroll for the opening goal. United struck back on 18 minutes, when Paul Scholes won possession in midfield and found Wayne Rooney, whose single touch laid the ball off for Ryan Giggs to strike a first-time half-volley that deflected off Ashley Cole for the equaliser. Arsenal were back in front after 36 minutes, when Vieira surged forward and found Henry, who teed up Bergkamp to fire a low drive past Carroll into the back of the net.
In the second half, United again hit back on 54 minutes with a counter-attack in which four United players took no more than two touches of the ball. The move started with United skipper Keane taking a quick free kick inside his own half and finding Rooney, who took a touch before passing on to Giggs who in turn sent Cristiano Ronaldo away down the left and through on goal. The 19-year-old used his right foot to control before rifling a left foot shot across Manuel Almunia into the far corner, after which he made a shushing gesture towards the Arsenal fans in celebration. United went in front for the first time just four minutes later, when Keane dispossessed Robert Pires in midfield and played in Giggs down the right. Almunia made the decision to come off his line to meet Giggs but the Welshman got to the ball first, and after rounding the onrushing keeper crossed from the byline for Ronaldo to tap into the unguarded net from a yard out.
On 69 minutes, a brawl broke out between the two sets of players, with Mikaël Silvestre earning a straight red card after it was deemed he had headbutted Freddie Ljungberg, but United kept hold of their lead and sealed victory with a minute of normal time left to play. Gabriel Heinze burst down the left flank and squared to Louis Saha, he then found Scholes who played a perfect first time ball with the outside of his foot to find John O'Shea in space, for the Irishman to coolly chip the ball over the oncoming Almunia from the edge of the box. O'Shea then produced a celebration reminiscent of former United forward Eric Cantona, walking away calmly with his arms out, showing little emotion.
Ronaldo 54', 58'
Aftermath and legacy
The match also marked the end of an era of Premier League dominance from the two clubs, as new challengers Chelsea stormed to the Premier League title in Jose Mourinho's first season in English football. This was the first time a club other than United or Arsenal had won the title since Blackburn Rovers in 1995. The significance of the rivalry between the two clubs also diminished somewhat in the coming years, as United and Chelsea shared five league titles and runners-up places over the next six seasons, with Arsenal's challenge gradually declining and after winning the FA Cup in 2005 the club went nine seasons without any silverware before finally winning the FA Cup in 2014.
With Vieira making a switch to Juventus at the end of the season and Keane eventually leaving United in November 2005 before retiring eight months later, the match also signalled the end of the Keane-Vieira rivalry, as the two players would face each other only once more, in the 2005 FA Cup Final, a 0–0 draw that United largely dominated but Arsenal won on penalties.
The match was also the second to last meeting between Arsenal and United at Highbury, with Arsenal moving to the Emirates Stadium for the start of the 2006–07 season (the last match between the two sides at Highbury was a 0–0 draw in January 2006).
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