There are certain games that never fail to pique excitement and get the blood pulsing, even those watching who have no affiliation to either side. These are games that have created their own unique identity down the years; much of it based on goals, drama and no small amount of folklore. They are a must-see for everyone because we just can’t shake the feeling that something unmissable might occur at any given moment.
Liverpool v Arsenal is certainly one such fixture, a match-up that evokes Robbie Fowler’s lightning-quick hat-trick in 1994 when still only a teen, or Arshavin running riot at Anfield. Then there was Michael Thomas with it all up for grabs.
Discounting derby clashes – for the obvious reason that they are obvious – and the hate-fest that is Liverpool v Manchester United here’s five pairings every man and his dog is chuffed to see pop up on the fixture radar.
With only one goalless stalemate this century this is a meeting that almost guarantees goals and lots of them. August’s seven goal thriller carried on where last season’s 3-3 draw left off and it’s entirely conceivable this Saturday could produce another classic to complete a modern trilogy.
Better yet, while both sides traditionally look to attack and entertain when it all kicks off it does so spectacularly, such as the fiery clash at Highbury back in 2000 that saw three dismissals, or the 98th and 110th minute penalties (one apiece) six years ago that led to Dalglish fulfilling the ambition of many by telling Wenger to ‘p*** off’.
Most memorable game – Liverpool 4 Arsenal 4 2009
It takes something very special to knock 1989’s title decider into second place but a decade later, Anfield hosted a quite remarkable ninety minutes complete with two last gasp strikes and a four-goal hero. Utter the name Andrei Arshavin on Merseyside and there is still a shudder to this day.
Maybe it’s the reminiscence of Ricky Villa slaloming through the City defence at Wembley way back when or perhaps it’s both clubs’ DNA that is rich in attractive football and cock-ups. Whatever the reason this has become the connoisseur’s choice when it comes to sitting back, favouring neither side, and just enjoying the spectacle.
43 goals in the last ten meetings are no doubt a factor, too, along with numerous controversial decisions ranging from unpunished stamps to clear off-sides that has given this aesthetically-pleasing match-up notable edge in recent seasons.
Most memorable game – Spurs 3 Manchester City 4 FA Cup 4th round 2004
Three goals and a man down at the break this remains the most incredible cup comeback of them all. Revisiting it now only two aspects fail to still surprise: that the player seeing red was Joey Barton and the man behind the miraculous turnaround was Kevin Keegan.
Since the recent role-reversal (of sorts) that’s seen Spurs transformed by Pochettino into genuine title contenders with United now the ones aspiring for a top four spot these encounters have noticeably dipped in drama and engrossment.
Perhaps the dynamic between them works best when it’s the London side cast as relative underdogs because unquestionably when that was the case fireworks often ensued.
Most memorable game – Tottenham 3 Manchester United 5 2001
At half-time United were officially a club in crisis with many believing Alex Ferguson’s summer dealings had been misguided and destined to lead to a trophyless campaign. A blistering second period showed beyond any doubt that it was in fact business as usual for the Reds with an attacking torrent so fierce even ABUs couldn’t help but begrudgingly admire.
When Manchester and Merseyside lock horns you expect high-intensity blood and thunder and this affair rarely disappoints. What it lacks in goals down the years is more than made up in animosity and there’s a reason Gary Neville once chose Goodison Park as his least favourite away ground.
Add a Wayne Rooney, light, and stand well back.
Most memorable game – Manchester United 4 Everton 4 2012
With four games remaining in an all-Manchester title race we’d already revelled in enough twists and turns to last a lifetime. Then came this extraordinary match with late drama so unexpected a nation’s jaw dropped. “We threw it away,” Ferguson said later, frustration roughening his voice. It’s hard to disagree.
From the 20 teams that presently make up the Premier League this is the match-up that has produced the most goals, an incredible 56 in 15 games. Looking further back a 9-0 thumping at Anfield was a formidable demonstration of arguably the finest club XI England has ever witnessed, an exhibition of brilliance that only six months later led to this….
Most memorable game – Liverpool 3 Crystal Palace 4 FA Cup semi-final 1990
Liverpool’s implosion in 2013/14 at Selhurst Park may well have stunned all and sundry but this was a team featuring Barnes, Beardsley, and Rush: nobody beat them and if they ever did it was through a smash-and-grab 1-0 after enduring endless pressure. This was also the FA Cup – a semi-final no less – at a time when it was still held in the highest esteem. Games like this come around once or twice in a generation.