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Post by Mr Nick09 on Sun Aug 28, 2011 6:21 am

How did we beat Wenger's Arsenal? By bullying them! by Gary Neville

Arsenal’s Invincibles were a truly brilliant football team but their attitude wound me up.

They acted as though the rest of the world was meant to sit back and admire their beautiful football. Sorry, count me out. Some of us had a mission to stop them by all legitimate means.

At Aston Villa last season Robert Pires did an interview and he was still banging on about how annoying I could be. He talked about me tripping him, insulting him, standing on his feet and being a general pain. ‘I thought more about having a row with Neville than playing football,’ Pires said. Music to my ears.

When Arsenal were in their pomp, I had him and Ashley Cole rampaging on the left flank and Thierry Henry doing those blistering runs from inside to out. It was like marking the Red Arrows.

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Stopping Arsenal was a job that required a defender to reach for all the tricks. Especially on the afternoon in October 2004 when the Invincibles rode into Old Trafford, hoping to notch up their 50th League game unbeaten. We were under massive pressure. Arsenal had stolen the title back from us in 2003-04 with their incredible run, finishing 15 points ahead of us. We couldn’t bear another humiliation. The idea of Arsenal celebrating 50 Premier League matches unbeaten in our backyard was unthinkable. It was all set up for the match forever to be remembered as the Battle of the Buffet.

It’s the only match when I’ve ever been accused of brutalising an opponent. So let me first make it clear that in almost 20 years at United the manager never asked me to kick anyone. I’ve no idea if other managers have issued instructions to ‘take out’ a player but I can promise you that wasn’t our boss’s style. But did he tell us to get tight, put a foot in and let Arsenal know they were in for a battle? Of course, he did.

The manager’s belief was that too many opponents had stood off Arsenal. They had allowed them to play, to strut around. Technically they were as good as anything we’ve seen in England in my time. But there are all kinds of attributes that make up a football side and they didn’t like it when the contest became physical.

ARSENAL HAD ALL THE SKILLS BUT THEY ALSO HAD A SOFT CENTRE

You could never say that of the 1998 Arsenal side. They were experienced and strong, both mentally and physically. They were tough. They didn’t have the touch of arrogance that would come in the Henry years when their attitude was ‘you can’t touch us, we’re French and we’re brilliant’.

We knew the Invincibles had all the skill in the world but they also had a soft centre. You always felt you had a chance against them because you could get about them, bully them.

‘If you let them play they’ll destroy you,’ the manager told us in his pre-match talk. ‘So you’d better be right up against them. It’s a football match. You’re allowed to tackle. And no other team tackles them so let’s make sure Mister Pires and Mister Henry know that today’s going to be hard. Today’s going to be different.

That didn’t mean going over the top. It didn’t mean reckless two-footed challenges. Who wants to get sent off ? That would be self-destructive. But we knew a lot of them hated aerial challenges, so what did we do? Clattered them in the air at every opportunity.

My job was to nullify the threat of Antonio Reyes.

My thought process was simple: ‘He’s a great player, a pacy, tricky winger. If I stand off him and don’t tackle, he’ll run rings round me and make me look an idiot. He’s got more skill, he’s got more speed. I might have more stamina but that’s not going to be much good if he’s ripped me apart in the first 30 minutes.’
You are like a boxer trying to work out whether to jab and run or get in close. And while I could try to intercept, using my experience and positional abilities, I knew that above all I had to get tight, get physical. I had to makes Reyes lose his confidence.

If there were question-marks about him — justified by what turned out to be a short spell in England — they were over his temperament. It was my job to expose that weakness.

Some say I crossed the line. How? Reyes was subbed after 70 minutes and it wasn’t for his own protection. He didn’t have a mark on his leg. Yes, there was a time in the first half when he knocked the ball through my legs and, chasing back, I went through him and tripped him. It wasn’t pretty but it’s something any defender does dozens of times a season: you concede a foul high up the pitch rather than risk worse trouble around the penalty area.

People said we ganged up on Reyes but my brother Phil’s collision with him was a nothing tackle. He got there a bit late and pushed Reyes off the ball, which wasn’t hard to do.

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REYES COULDN'T TAKE A BIT OF STICK, UNLIKE RONALDO

I’m not going to deny an element of intimidation but only because Reyes wasn’t tough enough to take it. Cristiano Ronaldo would get that sort of treatment all the time, until defenders realised it didn’t put him off, it just made him more determined. That sort of courage is part of being a great player.

Reyes couldn’t handle the rough and tumble, which is why Wenger ended up selling him back to Spain. He had the skills but he fell short of being a top player because he couldn’t take a bit of stick.

Brilliantly talented as Arsenal were, there was a mental fragility about quite a few of their players. Still is, to be honest. Wenger is always liable to start complaining about a physical approach but it’s sour grapes because his skilful players have been outfought.

He described Darren Fletcher as an anti-footballer once, which couldn’t be more ridiculous. Physical toughness is part of the game and our boss has always known it.

At Old Trafford we couldn’t believe the naivety of people complaining about Stoke and Blackburn having a physical approach to the game. Anyone who talks like that is advertising a weakness.

We learned from our days in the youth team, where we had Nobby Stiles and Eric Harrison as our coaches, that the first lesson of football is that you compete.

How many defenders do you see rough up Giggsy? He’ll get kicked but he’ll never get physically dominated by a defender. Look at the way Giggsy went through Lee Bowyer at Birmingham last season after Bowyer had put in a bad tackle. It was a challenge that carried a message: ‘Don’t think we’re gonna get bullied.’ Every team can be outplayed but the idea of walking into the dressing room if you’ve been pushed around – well, that’s just unthinkable.

Strength isn’t enough on its own but there’s no doubt Arsenal have underestimated the importance of being able to compete physically.

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ARSENAL WANTED TO BE ADMIRED, NOT CHALLENGED

Rough up the Invincibles and they’d act as though it was an affront. They believed — and this must have come from their manager — that their beautiful, intricate passing game deserved to be admired, not challenged. They had a superiority complex.

Henry would look at you as if to say, ‘How dare you try to to tackle me!’ United have never really tolerated prima donnas. You get kicked, you get up and get on with the match. Look at how Ronaldo cut out a lot of his histrionics — that’s because we told him to stop rolling on the floor. He benefited massively from the toughening-up process that came with playing in England.

In the end we beat Arsenal’s Invincibles 2–0, with a bit of help from a dubious penalty when Wazza [Wayne Rooney] went over Sol Campbell’s leg. But we deserved it because we’d thrown them off their game.

And the way they they reacted afterwards told you everything about their inability to see football as a battle of skill and courage.

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They had become become bad losers and they threw a really big tantrum, when pizza was lobbed from the away changing room, with one slice landing on our manager and splattering his jacket with tomato and pepperoni.

Apparently it had all gone off in a hail of pizza and sausage rolls but I missed the fun as I had been out on the pitch celebrating.

When I got to the dressing room, a few of our lads were arming themselves and planning to launch a raid back. The manager quickly put an end to it.

It was all set up for a feisty return at Highbury four months later and the contest lived up to expectations. This time there was almost a fight before kick-off.

I’d been out for the warm-up and was heading back to the dressing room when I heard Patrick Vieira behind me running up the tunnel behind me. I don’t know if he’d been waiting for me but he wasn’t in the best of moods.

‘Neville, you won’t be kicking anybody out there today,’ he said.

‘What the f*** are you on about? You need to calm yourself down, pal. The game hasn’t even started yet.’
The next thing I knew he was coming at me, looming over me. A policeman stepped in to separate us. I went off to the dressing room where I was sat next to Roy.

‘F****** hell, Vieira’s wound up,’ I said. ‘He’s just come at me in the tunnel.’

This got Roy’s juices flowing. He couldn’t stand Vieira anyway. So when we got out into the tunnel ahead of the game and Vieira started on at me again, telling me who I was allowed to tackle, it all got very lively. A policeman tried to intervene again and when Roy saw what was happening, he was straight back down the tunnel into the thick of it. ‘You, Vieira, come and pick on me.’


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That’s when Vieira squirted him with water out of his bottle and Roy got seriously angry. I know we are grown men and you’d shout at your kids if they behaved like that. But we were revved up before a massive game and we weren’t going to back down for anyone.

Roy started jabbing his finger at Vieira. By now the temperature in the tunnel was at boiling point. Wisely, Graham Poll and the other officials stepped in to stop things escalating. They pushed us back into line, ready to go out on to the pitch, but Roy was still giving Vieira stick.

He started laying into him about split loyalties, how he played for France even though he was always talking about his charity work back in Senegal.

Out we went on to the pitch and when Vieira walked down the line to shake my hand I made sure I looked him right in the eye. Playing for United had taught me not to be intimidated. And we weren’t going to be cowed by Arsenal, even when they raced into an early lead through Vieira — a goal that prompted Ashley Cole to run past me, screaming in my face. They were wound up beyond belief.

WENGER'S TEAM WON'T WIN UNTIL THEY WISE UP

It made it all the more satisfying when we hammered them 4–2, even though Mikael Silvestre was sent off 20 minutes from the end. Defeat must have hurt them double. To be honest, I think they’d lost it even before the game. There’s a fine line between being wired up for a match and losing the plot. And Vieira had crossed it.

After 2005 we never feared Arsenal because we knew exactly what to expect. The manager’s approach to them was always the same: stop them, match them, then the football will come, and their heads will go.

It was exactly what happened in the European Cup semi-final. They are just too naive. And they won’t win trophies unless they wise up.

KEWELL TAKES A COURAGE PILL

The crunch match for me was always Liverpool. That’s why I charged up and down the pitch celebrating every win over them. It’s why I kissed the United badge in front of them, like any true fan.

My passion would eventually cost me £5,000, when the FA fined me for celebrating a winning goal at Old Trafford. A month after that, we walked out at Anfield. I expected plenty of abuse but I hadn’t foreseen Harry Kewell, of all people, clattering into me almost straight from the kick-off.

Kewell was trying to get in with the Liverpool crowd who’d never warmed to him and he’d decided to get stuck in for the first time in his life.

‘F*** me, you’re a right hard-man now,’ I said, picking myself up off the floor. ‘Has someone given you a courage pill?’

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Sound familiar? Very Happy





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Post by The Madrid One on Sun Aug 28, 2011 7:09 am

Ya but barcelona dont have a soft center.

we all know how barcelona act and think and none of us agree with them, i more than anyone have made this clear countless of time through out the forum.

they will go down sooner or later.

"All too often arrogance accompanies strength, and we must never assume that justice is on the side of the strong. The use of power must always be accompanied by moral choice. "

"18 Pride leads to destruction, and arrogance to downfall. 19 It is better to be humble and stay poor than to be one of the arrogant and get a share of their loot."

just wait for it nick, football is like life, and in life anything can happen. Have Faith.
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Post by The Madrid One on Sun Aug 28, 2011 7:15 am

barcelona have a bit more of substance, they have a strong belief that all of their followers believe in, thats what their institution is based upon.

the belief in how they play and how they think and operate is what makes them successful, but that leads to extreme arrogance, and no one is perfect enough to sustain anything forever they will go down but its gonna be MUCH more harder. great article.
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Post by H.A. on Sun Aug 28, 2011 7:40 am

It does sound familiar lol.

The problem barcelona don't just have the players who will throw tantrums, but the players, the fans, the whole club and most off all to some extent UEFA.

It will be way harder to break them than the invisibles to be honest. Let's just wait and see if we can do it this year Very Happy

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Post by The Madrid One on Sun Aug 28, 2011 7:48 am

basically not only are they all strong but the whole world seems to be with them but that seems to be changing after different events.

i hope we do it this year.

all we can do is actually compete with them and beat them while at it.

they will have to crumble on their own.
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Post by Guest on Sun Aug 28, 2011 9:40 am

This strategy is very old and very effective.... it started as a way to deal with the Dutch back in the 70s. Germany and Italy perfected it back then.

This was my biggest criticism of Pelle: His tactical planning was very poor.

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Post by EarlyPrototype on Sun Aug 28, 2011 12:37 pm

Nice read, the thing with Barcelona is that they are a Spanish team and we all know how crap Spanish referees are and they would punish us for playing the way United did. Even in Europe Platini will make sure we get punished.
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Post by Doc on Sun Aug 28, 2011 1:49 pm

Barcelona, this current version of Barcelona to be exact, are made of tougher material than Arsenal could only hope to have. However, I think I like Gary Neville now that he is retired...

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Post by Doc on Sun Aug 28, 2011 5:31 pm

It's 6-1 as I type and I think Neville may have a point...

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Post by Mr Nick09 on Sun Aug 28, 2011 5:42 pm

Laughing

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Post by Doc on Sun Aug 28, 2011 6:01 pm

So Arsenal experience what Real Madrid experienced. Hope they recover quickly enough. Wouldn't be this season but I actually have a bit of faith in Wenger. Maybe not his medical staff though...

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Post by BarrileteCosmico on Sun Aug 28, 2011 8:08 pm

Great article, enjoyed it a lot. I'd like to read more things from the perspective of the players - shame most of them are awful writers do they don't even try.

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