The Battle of Old Trafford II or The Battle of The Buffet, would be remembered for two significant things first of which is that it signals the end of an era for a group of Arsenal players as individuals like Patrick Vieira, Kanu among others made their last stand in an Arsenal shirt that season; the second and most important incident was that the match signal the end of Arsenal’s unbeaten run in the league as they lost to their fierce rival.
On Sunday, 24th of September, 2004, about a year after the first Battle of Old Trafford, EPL champions, Arsenal traveled to the theatre of dreams to take on Manchester United on the back of a 49 match unbeaten run in the league and the London side were hoping to make it 50.
The match was played in front of 67,862 Old Trafford fans and the Red Devils did not disappoint as they end the match 2-0 better than the visitors, however, the game itself was notable for a series of controversial incidents; not for the first time a meeting between the two sides was followed by claim and counter-claim of gamesmanship, bad refereeing decisions and diving.
Wayne Rooney was involved with both goals, the England striker won a penalty for the first in the 72nd minute after he went down on a challenge by Sol Campbell though replay showed there was no contact, and Rooney later scored the second goal on the 90th minute.
Tempers boiled in the player’s tunnel after the final whistle and it was reported that certain foodstuff were thrown at Sir Alex Ferguson by a then unknown Arsenal player which was recently confirmed to be Cesc Fabregas.
In his post-match interview, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger accused Rooney of diving and the match official of influencing the result.
“Riley decided the game, like we know he can do at Old Trafford. There was no contact at all for the penalty, even Rooney said so. It’s very difficult to take to see how lightly the referee gives the penalty. We can only master our own performance, not the referee’s performance. We got the usual penalty awarded against us when we come to Manchester United and they are in difficulty. It happened last season and it’s happened again.
“At some stages there were incidents, especially on Reyes, where there was some deliberate kicking. The rules are there to be respected and only the referee can make the players respect them,’’ Wenger said.
However, former Premier League referee Chief, Keith Hackett, stoutly came to the defense of Mike Riley stating that the embattled referee did his best under very difficult circumstances.
“We know this is one of the tough encounters of the season. Mike clearly had a game plan to try not to suppress the match. He wanted it to breathe and perhaps went in with the intention of getting through the game without having to dismiss any players. In the back of his mind was trying to get through a game without having a blow-up and I think Mike did extremely well to keep a lid on things,” Hackett said.