Battle of the Buffet
|Event||2004–05 FA Premier League|
|Date||24 October 2004|
|Venue||Old Trafford, Greater Manchester|
|Man of the Match||Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)|
|Referee||Mike Riley (West Yorkshire)|
|Weather||Light rain showers, Scattered clouds
14 °C (57 °F)
The "Battle of the Buffet" is a name used by the British press to refer to a memorable Premier League match played on Sunday, 24 October 2004 between Manchester United and Arsenal. Originally this fixture was known as "The Battle of Old Trafford II", in reference to a previous fixture which gained the name, but this quickly fell out of common use before it became better known at the time of the match as the "Battle of the Buffet".
The appointment of Arsène Wenger as manager of Arsenal in 1996 brought about a period of great success for the club. In Wenger's first full season, Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup, thereby completing a domestic double. Though the club failed to win another trophy in the next three seasons, they vied for domestic honours with Manchester United managed by then-coach Sir Alex Ferguson. Arsenal won their second double in 2001–02, before Manchester United regained the league the following season. In 2003–04, Arsenal won the league without a single defeat – a record of 26 wins and 12 draws.
Meetings between Arsenal and Manchester United were considered pinnacle of English football; journalist Paul Wilson summarised: "Their rivalry is not simply about winning trophies, it is an adornment to the wider game." The matches were also popular amongst British viewers – a Premier League game between the two in April 2003 was watched by 3.4 million viewers, making it the top-rated programme on multichannel television for that week. Football summariser Andy Gray who previously worked for Sky Sports said of the channel's fixtures: "In some ways it's maybe not surprising that our major clashes have been with United and Arsenal. They've been the Premiership's two dominant clubs and so the pressure is greatest on them."
The equivalent fixture the previous season was a goalless draw, notable for Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy missing a last-minute penalty before a confrontation involving himself and several Arsenal players, in particular Martin Keown. The ill feeling was originally sparked by an incident between Van Nistelrooy and Patrick Vieira; having been fouled by Van Nistelrooy, Vieira aimed a kick in retaliation, although did not make contact, he was still sent off for a second bookable offence. Van Nistelrooy was accused by both Vieira and Wenger, of feigning contact to get Vieira sent off, while Ferguson defended his player and denied he had dived. In the wake of the match, four Arsenal players received bans after the incident and were given fines totalling £275,000 by The Football Association (FA). Two Manchester United players were also fined for improper conduct, with a third warned about his future behaviour. The 2003 match was originally labelled "The Battle of Old Trafford" by the British press.
The significance of the fixture for the two clubs was amplified by the fact that, had Arsenal avoided defeat, they could have extended their unbeaten league run to 50 matches, while Manchester United – who were 11 points behind the league leaders at the time – wanted to prove they were title contenders and end Arsenal's run. In August, Arsenal beat Manchester United to win the 2004 FA Community Shield. The game was highlighted as the match of the season due to the rivalry between the two sides, despite neither team challenging Chelsea for the league.
Manchester United won the match 2–0, ending Arsenal's 49-match unbeaten run in the Premier League that had included the whole of the previous season (a first in Premier League history). It was played in front of a crowd of 67,862.
The match 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.
The match was goalless until the 72nd minute, when Wayne Rooney won a penalty under a challenge by Sol Campbell, despite the defender seeming to withdraw from the tackle. Ruud van Nistelrooy converted the penalty, and Rooney went on to score a second goal in the 90th minute.
24 October 2004
|Van Nistelrooy 73' (pen.)
|Shots on target||5||1|
|Shots off target||5||7|
Sol Campbell was seen to refuse to shake Wayne Rooney's hand at the final whistle and tempers were reported to have boiled over in the players' tunnel. There were accusations that certain foodstuffs – usually reported as pizza, but occasionally reported as coffee, tomato soup or pea soup – had been thrown at Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson by a then-unknown Arsenal player. Speculation that the player was Cesc Fàbregas was confirmed in November 2011 by former Arsenal player Martin Keown on a phone-in show on BBC Radio 5 Live. In his autobiography, Ferguson said: "They say it was Cesc Fabregas who threw the pizza at me but, to this day, I have no idea who the culprit is."
The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, later claimed that Rooney had dived to win the penalty. Mike Riley, who had attracted criticism as England's representative referee at Euro 2004 – specifically, for failing to award Latvia a penalty against Germany – was said to have made many mistakes during the match.
Ruud van Nistelrooy was charged with serious foul play after a challenge on Arsenal left-back Ashley Cole that had gone unnoticed by the referee. He pled guilty to the offence and received a three-match ban for his conduct during the match.
Former referee Jeff Winter said of Riley's performance, "It's more about winning than fair play now and if you get the decision then it's all part and parcel of the game but if you don't, the attitude is 'let's complain' and usually the referee is the easy target. But that game, with the baggage that goes with it, is almost becoming an impossible match to referee – and I speak from personal experience."
Premier League refereeing chief Keith Hackett said "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."
Arsène Wenger was less generous: "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." He also said of other incidents, "At some stages there were incidents, especially on [José Antonio] Reyes, where there was some deliberate kicking. The rules are there to be respected and only the referee can make the players respect them.
Arsenal's captain Patrick Vieira, whose rivalry with Manchester United's captain Roy Keane had become a key element of meetings between the two sides, said "You get used to it when you play at Old Trafford, we are used to it." Keane was seen to confront Vieira in the players tunnel before the return fixture later in the season, which Manchester United won 4–2 at Highbury. This came about by an incident during the pre-game warm up when Vieira had allegedly pushed Gary Neville after confronting the player about the challenges Robert Pirès suffered at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Once Keane found out back in the United locker room, he unleashed a verbal tirade on Vieira including telling the Arsenal skipper "I'll see you out there". The match that followed was another ill spirited affair with both sides guilty of poor challenges, which also saw Mikaël Silvestre sent off after a clash with Freddie Ljungberg. United however would go on to win the game, coming from behind twice before running away with it, despite being reduced to 10 men for the last third of the match.
In the League Cup, the clubs met in the quarter-finals at Old Trafford in December and even though both sides fielded weakened teams, the match nothing short of drama. David Bellion gave United the lead in just 19 seconds but it wasn't until the start of the second half, when tempers began to flare. A fracas between Robin van Persie and Kieran Richardson, following a late tackle by the Dutchman resulted in clashes from both sets of players, which concluded with both protagonists getting booked by match official Mark Halsey. The game finished 1–0. 
The teams then faced each other once more in the FA Cup Final at the end of the season. The match ended 0–0 after normal and extra time thus taking it to a shootout, the first in FA Cup Final history. Paul Scholes missed his penalty for Manchester United, and Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira converted the decisive kick to win the cup for Arsenal. Arsenal forward José Antonio Reyes became the second player to be sent off in cup final history, after his second yellow card in the 120th minute.
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