Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson.
Arsene Wenger was “superior tactically” to Alex Ferguson, according to former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.
Towards the end of Schmeichel’s time at Man United, an intense rivalry was forming between the Red Devils and Wenger’s Arsenal side, with the two clubs battling for honours on a regular basis.
The epic 1998/99 battle.
It was rarely more exciting than the climax to the 1998/99 season, when United defeated Arsenal in an unforgettable FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park while also pipping them to the Premier League title by a solitary point.
Ferguson’s side added the Champions League to complete an unprecedented treble and while the Scot had the better of Wenger that season, Schmeichel has stated that the Frenchman’s tactical acumen had Ferguson in a sweat.
“I don’t think I’m revealing any secrets in confirming that Fergie did not love Arsene Wenger at that time,” the Danish stopper writes in his autobiography One.
“Wenger was superior tactically.”
“I think he was worried Wenger would be considered a better coach than him. Wenger was superior tactically and came from a background where football was played in a more subtle way, so when we played Arsenal, Fergie had an extra intensity about him.
“We knew how good they were and they knew how good we were.”
Man United v Arsenal rivalry.
While needle between Man United and Arsenal had been present through the latter part of the 20th century, it really intensified once Wenger arrived at the North London club in 1996.
United’s more traditional rivals, Liverpool, were going through a transitional phase and it was the Gunners who emerged as the biggest threat to Ferguson bringing silverware to Old Trafford.
Schmeichel recalls games of “highest quality.”
Reflecting on his clashes with Arsenal, Schmeichel recalls the games being of the highest quality, as he continues:
“At the time, United v Arsenal never had the edge meetings with Liverpool did but they were of the highest quality. The hype was probably right: winner was going to take all.
“Had we lost the 1999 FA Cup semi-final, I believe it would have stopped the roll we were on and the momentum to win the league but instead, after winning such an epic, we felt unstoppable.”
The intense rivalry between the two sides would remain for a few more years before cooling off around the late-2000s, when Wenger’s side fell behind, largely due to the departures of key players in his squad.
Arsenal’s last Premier League title was in 2004 and with Man United’s most recent one coming in 2013, how supporters of both sides must long for the days of Ferguson v Wenger.