In 1952, Manchester United lifted the league trophy for the third time in their history. The following season it was Arsenal who won the championship, so unsurprisingly any match between Matt Busby's men and Tom Whittaker's team were always keenly contested. Fifty five years on, as the history between the two teams develops, the rivalry has lost none of its passion or significance.
The first league meeting between the two sides took place on Saturday 13 October 1894 on Bank Street, Clayton (a suburb located to the east of Manchester). At the time United were known as Newton Heath, the Gunners as Woolwich Arsenal. The teams played out a 3-3 draw. Since then, they have met 176 times, with the Mancunians winning 71 matches to Arsenal's 65.
Statisticians also agree that the biggest ever Football League match attendance was for a match between Manchester United and Arsenal in 1948. A full house of 83,260 crammed into Maine Road to watch the game. United were sharing neighbours Manchester City's ground because Old Trafford was still recovering from bomb damage inflicted during the Second World War.
Since the advent of the FA Premier League in 1992/93, the Red Devils and the Gunners, have established themselves as the two most successful Premiership sides. Although memories of Arsenal's three championship successes have recently been overshadowed by Chelsea's consecutive successes in 2005 and 2006, it is Arsene Wenger's men who have continually challenged for honours over the past 14 seasons. Indeed, in the all-time Premiership table, the Gunners are in second place behind Manchester United, who have eight titles and over 1,000 Premiership goals to their name.
The catalyst for the success of the two teams in recent years has been the appointment of arguably two of the most talented managers in European football: Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, appointed in 1986 and 1996 respectively.
Ferguson has won more trophies than any other manager in the history of English football and been in charge of Manchester United for more than 1,000 matches. With 20 years under his belt, he is the second-longest serving manager in the club's history. At Old Trafford, he has guided the team to eight league championships. In 1999, he became the first manager to lead an English team to the treble of league championship, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League.
Meanwhile in London, Wenger has also become the club's most successful manager, in terms of trophies, and the longest-serving; approaching 600 matches in the Arsenal hot seat. Wenger is also the only non-British manager to have won the double (league championship and FA Cup) in England, which he has managed twice, in 1998 and 2002. In 2004, he became the only manager in FA Premier League history to go through the entire season without a defeat.
Yet, although these managers are celebrated for their talent, the rivalry between them is also well known. The strained atmosphere between the two sides reached its zenith in October 2004 during the now infamous 'Pizzagate' incident at Old Trafford.
It was a game which saw Sir Alex Ferguson's men end Arsenal's 49-game unbeaten sequence in the Premiership. United won 2-0 in a match that has since been nicknamed the 'battle of the buffet.' The action was tempestuous enough on the field, with former Arsenal forward and Spain international Jose Antonio Reyes reflecting: "In all my sporting life, I have never received so many kicks as I did in Manchester. It was the hardest match I have played." The game swung United's way after a disputed penalty award but it was after the match that the sparks, and the food, really flew.
In a scuffle in the tunnel between players and staff on both sides, a slice of pizza was thrown at Ferguson. The former Arsenal defender Ashley Cole describes the shock of the incident in his autobiography: "This slice of pizza came flying over my head and hit Fergie straight in the face ... all mouths gawped to see this pizza slip off his famous face and roll down his nice black suit!"
Three months after the event, both men promised to end their war of words, with The FA, the Premier League, the UK's Minister for Sport and even the Metropolitan Police urging the men to resolve their conflict. Since 20 January 2005, it has been agreed that public comments from Ferguson and Wenger will be limited to pre-match and post-match analysis of games between the respective sides.
A new location
Sunday's match between the two teams was the first at a new location: Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, but the new backdrop provided just as much drama as Highbury did as Arsenal stormed back from a goal down to beat Manchester United 2-1.
Wayne Rooney's diving header after 53 minutes looked set to extend United's lead at the top to nine points but Robin Van Persie levelled after 82 minutes and Thierry Henry headed a dramatic winner in stoppage time.
The result was enough to give the Gunners the 'double' over their north west rivals. Back in September over 75,000 saw Arsenal claim their first Premiership victory of the season, thanks to Emmanuel Adebayor's late goal. Cesc Fabregas caught United's Cristiano Ronaldo in possession and Adebayor scored from his threaded pass.
After the match Wenger paid tribute to his "lions" for fighting back from a goal down to beat United.
"We won by never giving up," he said. "We began nervously and United started with maturity but I knew after the break we would have a go. They got their goal with their only chance of the half but we fought back because we have lions in our team. We needed to be direct with our play, although I think we were direct a little too often. But I think we mixed our play well and there was so much spirit in the squad. Of course, this will be a big disappointment for Manchester United - but do not expect them to crumble because of it."
Likewise, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson expects his side to bounce back from their third loss of the Premiership campaign.
"Teams at the top always drop points on the run-in. It happens - but how you cope is important," he said. "Only true champions come out and show their worth - and I expect us to do that. We defended well - they resorted to long balls and we were coping great. Then we lost two goals from positions we didn't think we would lose goals. We have some important away games and the team will be back to winning ways very soon. Rest assured, we won't lose like that again."