Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney admits that the Red Devils used to change their playing style to accommodate Arsenal’s tactics.
The former striker, in a column for Times Sport, admits that on multiple occasions across his successful career with United, Sir Alex Ferguson was forced to abandon the Manchester United way to clinch all three points against the Gunners.
Looking ahead to United’s crunch tie on Sunday, he says, “When I joined the club the games against Arsenal were considered our ultimate test.”
“You knew they [Arsenal] were going to be hard games, tense, that you were going to come off exhausted with your shirt soaked in sweat. Arsenal made you run, they kept the ball, switched play from side to side and could kill you if you let them in behind.”
“You knew they would never change, but we developed a style against them that was successful — even if it was not ‘Manchester United-like’. It was the one game where Sir Alex Ferguson let the opposition take the initiative.”
“Arsenal would have possession — there was nothing we could do about that — so we’d sit in a mid-block, close the spaces, be hard to play through and hit them on the break.”
The 36-year-old hailed some of his former teammates who he branded as ‘unsung’.
He mentions Park-Ji-Sung, Phil Neville and Darren Fletcher as some of the players who would come to the fore in huge games such as Arsenal and make a considerable difference.
The highest goal scorer in United’s history emphasises the importance of physicality and roughing up the opponent early on – almost in a similar fashion to what United did against Liverpool in their 2-1 victory.
Another battle the United great reflects on is the 2009 Champions League semi-final at the Emirates, where he combined excellently in attack with a young Cristiano Ronaldo.
“We played our usual counterattacking way — and did it almost to perfection. The goals we scored were devastating and it was an evening that Ronaldo went up that final level to the player he would become.”
He admits that in recent times, the rivalry between the two English clubs has died down with other clubs now at the helm.
“By 2009, though, the fixture was not quite the test of old. First Chelsea then Manchester City became our closest rivals and Arsenal weren’t the Arsenal you used to play against.”
Fans will be hoping that United’s players will be successful in emulating Rooney’s former successes against Arsenal tomorrow.
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