ARSENAL V MAN UNITED, 1999 FA CUP SEMI-FINAL REPLAY
My abiding memory of the Arsenal-Manchester United rivalry is that f*cking FA Cup semi-final we lost 20 years ago!
I remember that in the 90th minute we had a penalty to win the game, and Dennis Bergkamp missed it – or rather, Peter Schmeichel saved it.
Then came Ryan Giggs’ miracle goal, which destroyed the game. That was one of the most memorable moments in the FA Cup’s history, and the match itself was one of the most entertaining in which I played at Arsenal.
My memory of that goal is very simple. Patrick Vieira lost the ball in the midfield area and all of a sudden Giggs was running just like Forrest Gump with it at his feet. I thought to myself, “Tintin [Lee Dixon] and Martin Keown will stop him. They’ll kick him.”
But Giggs was too fast. His pace was unbelievable and he was totally in control of the ball. There was nothing our defence could have done to stop him, except maybe break his leg! Our defenders at the time were not afraid of a tackle, but he was impossible to stop. His strike was beautiful as well.
After the game, we were very frustrated but if you asked football fans which was the best moment between these two clubs, this match would be up there.
OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER AS A PLAYER…
The Baby-Faced Assassin! It’s weird sometimes: you have people who look so sweet, but beneath the surface is the instinct of a killer.
We all knew that the 1999 United team was probably one of the best the club had had. The quality was everywhere, from back to front and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was part of that. He had a reputation of being the perfect substitute – every time he came onto the pitch he would score.
Maybe there were better players than him, but his best quality was his mentality. He had only one desire: to score goals and win the game. When they won against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final that year, you could see that. The way they won that game, with Solskjaer scoring the winning goal, it was just meant to be.
He had a great career. We all knew his quality in front of goal, but also that his mental ability was key. He had such confidence in himself, you could feel it. When you have this temperament, it’s easier for a forward to move around the pitch and be in the right position and the right time. You could feel that he had this in his blood.
This is something that will benefit him in his coaching career.
…AND AS A MANAGER
You can’t argue against the fact that the confidence is back at Manchester United. The players’ body language has changed under Solskjaer. I can see players smiling – I can’t remember the last time I saw Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford playing with smiles on their faces.
It’s a new era, and Solskjaer is probably responsible for that. His management and his relationship with the players is different to Jose Mourinho’s, and on top of this he knows the club and has managerial experience elsewhere.
Sometimes things just work out. I don’t know if he’ll become the permanent manager at Old Trafford, but who would have thought when he first arrived as caretaker that his team would go and win seven games in a row?
Who would have bet on that? No-one. I think Solskjaer and United are meant to be, and sometimes you don’t need to find a reason for that.