The fixture evokes some of the most passionate encounters in Premier League history but recent editions have been more subdued
Mikel Arteta admits Arsenal’s rivalry with Manchester United is not as high-tempered as it once was but, with VAR keeping a tighter leash on players’ on-pitch behaviour, he says it is not a unique phenomenon.
Particularly during Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson’s respective times in charge of the two clubs, Arsenal against United became one of the most heated fixtures in English football.
Events such as the 2003 ‘Battle of Old Trafford’ and Cesc Fabregas’s infamous ‘Pizzagate’ incident fuelled the flames as the two clubs jostled for supremacy under two legendary managers.
Both clubs have, of course, experienced leaner years in terms of on-field success in recent seasons.
Arsenal last won the title in 2004 and United in 2013, so clashes between the two clubs haven’t carried quite the same level of season-defining significance.
Yet, Arteta feels that players across the board are now expected to behave differently than in the rivalry’s heyday, particularly with the knowledge that any on-field indiscretion will be picked up by VAR.
“It has calmed down, but not only with Arsenal and United fixtures,” Arteta said ahead of the next instalment on Saturday.
“In general, you see the way the derbies used to get played and it’s not the same right now. The game is evolving. We are educating the players in a different way and for sure now they are not allowed to do some of the things they used to do.
“With VAR, even less. You are much more controlled and policed so you know you’re not going to get away with certain things.”
Ten points separate the two sides going into Saturday’s game, but Arteta expects his side to bare their teeth in what could yet be an important fixture.
“You need that passion to defend your position and show how much you want to win,” Arteta said.
Arsenal have been on good form in 2021, winning five of their last six league games, while United are licking their wounds after a shock defeat at home to bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last four games against United, winning the reverse fixture 1-0 at Old Trafford in November through a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang penalty.