Arsenal legend Martin Keown has claimed Manchester United have ‘lost their aura’ and ‘nobody fears Old Trafford anymore’ ahead of the next Premier League clash between the old rivals.
Monday’s match is a repeat of the infamous ‘Battle of Old Trafford’ of 2003, although there will be precious little at stake other than pride in this edition of the historic meeting.
That fixture has gone down in history as one of the most ferocious matches the Premier League has ever seen.
There were eight bookings dished out by the referee and Gunners players furiously confronting United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy at the full-time whistle after he missed a late penalty and, they felt, had earlier got captain Patrick Vieira sent off.
It ended in a 0-0 draw, a crucial result for Arsenal who were later crowned league champions with an undefeated record – ‘The Invincibles’ were born.
However, both sides will go into this game in very different circumstances.
Arsenal and United are no longer fighting at the very top of English football, and haven’t been those teams for quite some time.
Instead, they appear to have become mere spectators as title challengers Manchester City and Liverpool gallop into the distance, with managers Unai Emery and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer both feeling the strain in their respective dugouts.
Victory on Monday night will bring a timely lift to either club – the Gunners looking to continue winning ways after showing grit in their comeback win over Aston Villa, while United will be out there to prove to fans there is some fight left after needing penalties to beat League One Rochdale in the League Cup.
But Keown, who took centre stage in 2003 for his ongoing battle with Van Nistelrooy, says Arsenal will not fear going to Old Trafford as they once did.
Reminiscing about his old battles with a United side in their pomp under Sir Alex Ferguson, Keown told talkSPORT: “You talk about aura, just picture it: players who were almost like football Gods and you’re stood in the tunnel and there’s like a halo around them.
“We’re playing them at Old Trafford and we’ve got to go into that cauldron, the fans are expecting them to win, the players are expecting to win…
“…that aura has gone I’m afraid.
“It’s disappeared, it’s stripped away and it takes years to get back.
“You can get it back by doing it in a certain way, you have certain types of individuals, winners, people who will stop at nothing to get there.
“But that’s what’s missing from Manchester United. There’s no fear anymore.
“You go to Old Trafford… if Rochdale can go to Old Trafford expecting to get a result, and they lost 6-0 recently in a league game [against Peterborough in League One], then anyone can go there and get a result.
“Back in the day, people were expecting the ball in the back of the net in the first minute, in the second minute. We were going toe-to-toe with Manchester United so we didn’t have any fears when we went there, but we were worried about the rest of the teams in the league because of the aura, but that’s now gone.
“The aura is back for Liverpool, it’s back for Manchester City, and that’s the task for Manchester United, to get it back.”