"Easy there Pat, all I said was one day you'll play for City"
Manchester United Greatest XI vs Arsenal Greatest XI as chosen by a fan of each team
Manchester United Greatest XI
GK: Peter Schmeichel – Signed as a virtual unknown in 1991, his size, prodigious throwing and mammoth kicks immediately marked him down as something very different. As much the first point of attack as last line of defence. After an early roughing up from Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang he quickly toughened up and went on to become United’s greatest ever. “Prone to the odd error” critics may point out, but when he saved as many games as he did during a season, who cares? 9
RB: Roger Byrne – Local lad who was captain and elder statesman of the incomparable Busby Babes. Perhaps not the best technically but more than made up for any deficiency with his reading of the game. An England regular, fatefully he never made it to the 1958 World Cup. 7
CB: Martin Buchan – “The Fonz is cool but Buchan is cooler” ran the Stretford End’s chant, summing up the ice-cool nature of United’s best ever defender. Having just the one FA Cup to show for his time at Old Trafford is a criminal return for a player who was almost as integral to the team in the ‘70s as Robson was in the ‘80s. 8
LB: Denis Irwin – Incredibly underrated player who, after a somewhat inauspicious start after his arrival from Oldham, went on to become the club’s most consistent and decorated player of the 1990s. Also weighed in with more than his fair share of goals. 7
His transition from George Graham’s hard drinking, blue collar lieutenant to Arsene Wenger’s poetry loving free thinking, roving skipper was remarkable.
RM: Cristiano Ronaldo – From 2006–2009 he was as dominant a presence in United’s team as any of his predecessors. His goals dragged the side to a hat-trick of titles and successive European Cup finals - he was well worthy of the 2008 Ballon d’Or. Probably the first player on whom United supporters could legitimately bestow the title “best player in the world”. 9
CM: Duncan Edwards – Many young players are hyped up beyond justification, yet anyone wondering whether the recognition Edwards received is truly justified for a player who died when only 21 years old only has to consider the range and knowledge of those within the game who cite him as one of the game’s true greats. 10
CM: Bryan Robson – The rock on which Atkinson’s United was built, his absences to injury were the reason Ron’s team so often failed. The phrase ‘one-man team’ is self-evidently an exaggeration when applied in a team sport, but with Robson it was as close to reality as it could come. 8
CM: Roy Keane – The driving force behind Ferguson’s greatest side, he continually set the tone for the team, whether through his metronomic passing, fearsome tackling, lung-busting effort or never-say-die determination. A winner amongst winners, the rock on which the 1999 Treble was won. 8
LM: George Best – The one, the only. Playing alongside both him and Ronaldo would probably have had Charlton tearing out what little remained of his once-flowing blonde locks but it would’ve been worth it. There’d probably have to be two balls on the pitch, mind. 10
CF: Bobby Charlton – Still holds the record for the most starts and goals of any United player. No ‘rests’ for this stalwart despite countless battles on the bogs that passed for pitches in the 1950s and ‘60s. As two-footed as they come, he could play anywhere in midfield or attack. Officially acknowledged as the continent’s best player in 1966, he’s one of only three Englishmen to win the European and World Cups. 10
CF: Denis Law – Often the overlooked member of United’s Holy Trinity but back in the day was the Stretford End’s favourite, its very own King. And with good reason. Fearless, brave and aggressive, he played as the fans would like to. Scored every sort of goal, from 20-yard headers to acrobatic overhead kicks to six yard tap-ins. Ballon d’Or winner in 1964, he regularly topped the scoring charts before injuries started to take their toll on his slender frame. 10
Manager: Matt Busby – Built the club up from nothing. Twice. To do it the first time was special, to repeat the feat after the pain, devastation and his own near-death at Munich was almost unbelievable. Never compromised on his ideals, be it for attacking football or anything else. 9
Total Score: 105
Arsenal Greatest XI
GK: David Seaman – Forget his leaden footed displays at the tail end of his career. During most of the 1990s, Spunky’s peerless displays between the sticks made him the ultimate big game stopper for the Gunners. 8
RB: Lee Dixon – Feisty, sharp in the tackle and unfussy in his approach, Dixon was just the man you wanted in your back line, especially back in the days when you could boot the opposition winger into the stand without punishment from the ref. 7
CB: Tony Adams – His transition from George Graham’s hard drinking, blue collar lieutenant to Arsene Wenger’s poetry loving free thinking, roving skipper was remarkable. What didn’t change was his undimmed will to win. Fergie admitted he couldn’t wait for him to retire. 9
CB: Martin Keown – This grizzled warrior certainly came good during his second spell at the Gunners. Later combined an indomitable desire for combat with much improved distribution at the back. His clash with Van Nistelrooy in 2003 may not have been pretty, but you’d always want him in your team. 8
LB: Ashley Cole – Whatever Arsenal fans think of “Cashley” these days, it cannot be denied that during his six year first team career, he provided excellent service, with his surging runs down the left. His link play with Pires in the “Invincibles” season was a joy to behold. 8
LM: Liam Brady – Arguably the cleverest play maker of his generation in the 1970s, he would glide past opponents with unerring ease, and hit shots with minimal backlift. A genius. 10
CM: Patrick Vieira – A titan of Arsenal’s midfield for nearly a decade, the Frenchman appeared to relish clashed with United more than anyone, if his “fire and brimstone” clashes with rival skipper Roy Keane both on the pitch and in the tunnel are anything to go by. 9
Fearless, brave and aggressive, he played as the fans would like to. Scored every sort of goal, from 20-yard headers to acrobatic overhead kicks to six yard tap-ins.
CM: Cesc Fabregas – There is little that the Spanish diamond couldn’t do, and in the Premiership, there was no one who can match his artfulness, vision and creativity. 9
RW: Robert Pires – A goal scoring wide player, defences simply had no answer to the Frenchman’s direct running and setting up of chances for the likes of Henry and Bergkamp during the noughties. 8
CF: Ian Wright – Quite simply the most natural goal scorer seen at Highbury since Bastin in the 1930s. Aggressive and self centred on the pitch, the team’s reliance on his goal poaching under GG effectively made it “Ian Wright FC” for several years. 9
CF: Thierry Henry – “We’ve got the best player in the world” chanted Arsenal fans when Henry (more often than not) was on song. The Gunners’ record goal scorer was, on his day, quite simply unplayable. 10
Manager: Arsene Wenger - The boss would have to be Arsene, given the way he has revolutionised the club and the playing style. However, at the moment, I'd want George Graham in charge. He'd stifle United and go and hit them on the counter. 9
Total Score: 104
Even without Luke Chadwick, Manchester United take it by the narrowest of margins. One can only assume that deep into "Fergie Time", somewhere around the 97th minute, Georgie Best has just slipped away from Lee Dixon long enough to fire a cross onto the well styled head of Cristiano Ronaldo. Que pandemonium amongst the fans and a now bare-chested Ronnie waving his shirt above his head. Just like Ryan Giggs, minus the rug.
Unlucky Arsenal fans, but perhaps you'll get your revenge this weekend...
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