Martin Keown reveals his conversation with Arsene Wenger after infamous Ruud van Nistelrooy clash

Ruud van Nistelrooy and Martin Keown come to blows as Manchester United and Arsenal drew at Old Trafford
Ruud van Nistelrooy and Martin Keown came to blows as Manchester United and Arsenal drew at Old Trafford (Picture: Getty)

Martin Keown says Arsene Wenger remained ‘100 per cent’ on his side in public and in private after his infamous clash with Ruud van Nistelrooy during ‘The Battle of Old Trafford’ back in 2003.

The defender was at the centre of one of the most iconic moments in Premier League history after Van Nistelrooy spurned a glorious chance to halt Arsenal’s unbeaten record by striking the crossbar with a last-gasp penalty at the Theatre of Dreams.

Arsenal’s players blamed Manchester United forward Van Nistelrooy for Patrick Vieira’s earlier sending off and Keown reacted to the missed spot-kick by jumping on the Dutchman’s back and spitting venom in his face.

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BAD WALTERSDORF, AUSTRIA - JULY 31: Arsene Wenger of Arsenal Manager chats to Martin Keown during an Arsenal pre season training session on July 31, 2002 in Bad Waltersdorf, Austria. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Wenger spoke with Keown two days after the altercation (Picture: Getty)

It was Keown who had committed the late foul on Diego Forlan and the centre-back, who was understandably ecstatic when Van Nistelrooy thumped the woodwork, insists he has no regrets about his behaviour that afternoon.

Discussing the incident during a chat with Gary Lineker for BBC Sport, Keown explained: ‘Let’s just say there had been a few spats [with Van Nistelrooy] before.

‘He cost me a little bit of money the year before. We were never quite sure or could trust him.

‘When he got Patrick Vieira sent off we were enraged by that because something similar had happened before and he just got it, we just gave him what for.

‘Do I regret that? I don’t know. I don’t tend to have regrets in life. I tried to tell my kids in the years afterwards that you can’t behave in that way. That was a bit of a problem!’

After a frank conversation with Wenger, Keown was able to put the incident behind him and he went on to win his third league title with the north London club that season.

‘Two days later we met and he asked me, “Martin, what happened?” basically, with a smile on his face, he got me to tell him what I had done wrong,’ the former England international added.

‘And he said, “Yes, I agree with you. Maybe we go to far but, okay, everyone is human and we’ll try to sort it out” and he stayed 100 per cent on my side publicly which was all-important. Something [Sir Alex] Ferguson did as well for his players.

‘But when you look back… the amount of fines, the number of players that were suspended… and it was still the season we went unbeaten, it didn’t affect us, it actually bonded us together.

‘And if he had scored that penalty we wouldn’t have gone on to achieve that unbeaten season which was quite a remarkable feat.’

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