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Manchester United vs Arsenal – All-time Premier League Combined XI

Manchester United and Arsenal have shared one of English football’s greatest rivalries. Clashes between the two defined the first two decades of the Premier League era, a feud filled with stars, spectacle and spite.

Things have changed significantly since their peak-Barclays bust-ups across the turn of the millennium, though there’s plenty on the line as the teams prepare to clash at Old Trafford this weekend.

Ahead of the latest showdown between two of the Premier League’s titans, we’ve attempted to put together a Combined XI from the talents to have represented both clubs in the modern era.

Manchester United vs Arsenal – All-time Premier League Combined XI:

Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel – Manchester United

Modern goalkeeping might have changed, but Peter Schmeichel is still often referred to as the benchmark for importance in goal. A monstrous presence, he was without peer at his best and instrumental to five title-winning teams.

His final season saw the Red Devils conquer Europe with treble success, as Schmeichel cartwheeled in celebration at the Camp Nou after winning the Champions League. Signed for just £505,000 from Brondy pre-Premier League, Alex Ferguson hailed the Great Dane as the ‘bargain of the century’.

Remembering Peter Schmeichel’s greatest ever performance in a Manchester United shirt

Right-back: Gary Neville – Manchester United

Long before he transformed into Sky Sports’ premier pundit/media mogul, Gary Neville was one of the most dependable defenders in the division. Part of Manchester United’s fabled Class of ’92, he spent his entire career with the club and made 602 appearances in all competitions.

Eight league titles and two Champions League winner’s medals were collected in a stacked selection of honours, alongside 85 England caps. For much of his career had little competition, for club, country, or in the Premier League.

Centre-back: Rio Ferdinand – Manchester United

Leeds United and Manchester United both saw fit to make Rio Ferdinand the world’s most expensive defender. Initially a reluctant centre-back, Ferdinand was moulded into a defender with grace, composure and comfortability on the ball, long before it became the norm.

Arguably the first, and most frequent, use of the term ‘Rolls-Royce defender’ was attributed to Ferdinand. Gliding across the pitch, snuffing out dangers, and not needing to wash grass stains out of his kit at full-time. That was Ferdinand to a tee.

Defensive Rocks: Rio ‘Rolls-Royce’ Ferdinand

Centre-back: Nemanja Vidic – Manchester United

If Ferdinand brought the poise, Nemanja Vidic brought the power. Tony Adams, Jaap Stam and Sol Campbell each have considerable claims to this role, but Vidic’s near-perfect partnership with Ferdinand earns him a place alongside his long-time teammate.

Vidic was a defender’s defender, a beast from the East, his crooked nose a badge of honour from an unflinching willingness to put his body on the line for the cause. The only defender to have won the Premier League Player of the Season award twice, his peak came in 2008/09 when Manchester United recorded a record run of 14 consecutive clean sheets to win the title.

Iconic Duos: Vidic and Ferdinand

Left-back: Ashley Cole – Arsenal

Acceptance that Ashley Cole is the Premier League’s greatest-ever left-back is almost universal. Few full-backs have ever frustrated the division’s top wingers quite like Cole, whose bombarding of the left flank alongside Robert Pires and Thierry Henry is one of the indelible images of Arsenal’s title-winning teams of the early noughties.

An Invincible at Arsenal before crossing the capital to sign for Chelsea, where he continued to collect major trophies at a rapid rate. Arguably the most complete full-back English football has produced.

Midfield: Patrick Vieira – Arsenal

The beating heart of Arsenal’s best-ever side, Patrick Vieira embodied a new era for the Gunners that saw them combine brawn and brilliance. Vieira’s humdingers with Manchester United counterpart Roy Keane are the stuff of Premier League legend but the Frenchman was far more than an enforcer.

He could bully opponents with strength, beat them with skill, was tenacious off the ball and technically under-appreciated with it. That familiar long-legged stride ate up the ground and helped hook the ball away from opponents, while a habit of delivering important goals enhanced his standing in North London.

In an era where the box-to-box midfielder was king, he could truly do it all.

Midfield Generals: Patrick Vieira – A Gunners great

Midfield: Paul Scholes – Manchester United

Just a glance over the testimonies directed towards Paul Scholes from some of the game’s greats is indicative of his standing.

Thierry Henry called him ‘one of the best, if not the best, I’ve played against’. Zinedine Zidane said Scholes was his ‘toughest opponent’.

High praise.

In a one-club career at Manchester United, Scholes became England’s most decorated footballer, with 11 league titles during a dynasty of domestic dominance at Old Trafford.

Golazo Merchants: Man United’s midfield maestro, Paul Scholes

Right-wing: Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United

In six seasons at Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo evolved from frustrating fancy-dan into the world’s finest footballer. The show-stopping, step-overing, twinkle-toed teenager worked and worked towards becoming the full package – and became it.

He scored 118 goals in 238 games, including a 42-goal campaign in 2007/08 that inspired Premier League and Champions League success and earned Ronaldo the Ballon d’Or. That this was pre-peak Ronaldo, a version enjoyed by Real Madrid after a world-record move to Spain in 2009, underlines his status as one of the greatest footballers of all time.

Left-wing: Ryan Giggs – Manchester United

Ryan Giggs broke into the Manchester United team as a teenager, remained there for over two decades, and departed as the most decorated footballer British football has ever seen.

The Welsh winger’s electric emergence saw him win back-to-back PFA Young Player of the Year awards, cement his place in the most successful side of the Premier League era, and rack up a record-breaking 963 appearances for the Red Devils.

To the tune of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, Giggs will tear you apart reverberated around Old Trafford. A nod to a winger who, according to his manager, left full-backs with ‘twisted blood’.

Forward: Wayne Rooney – Manchester United

Wayne Rooney’s arrival into English football was inimitable. A glorious last-gasp winner against defending champions Arsenal announced the 16-year-old Everton forward to the world stage and started a scramble for his services.

Manchester United won the race to sign Rooney, who at 18 was already one of the world’s most exciting talents. The Red Devils reaped the rewards of that investment as Rooney beat Bobby Charlton’s club record for goals and formed part of arguably the most formidable frontline of the Premier League era alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.

Just one player has ever scored 200+ goals in the Premier League and provided 100+ assists.

He goes by the name of Wayne Rooney.

Noughties Nines: Wayne Rooney – An inimitable emergence

Forward: Thierry Henry – Arsenal

Close your eyes and picture the peak of the Premier League. It won’t take long before the magnificence of Thierry Henry enters your thoughts.

The Frenchman is the defining footballer of the Premier League era, a forward who combined speed with stylishness, finesse with fluency, and potency with poise.

Henry had arrogance but in a good way. He was the best player in the Premier League, and he knew it. Enough to try, and execute, moments others wouldn’t even envisage. That turn and flick against Manchester United, solo stunners against Liverpool and Spurs, a beautiful back-heel through traffic to score against Charlton.

No player has won more Golden Boots or assisted more goals in a Premier League season. Arsenal’s evolution into an aesthetic masterpiece under Arsene Wenger just wouldn’t have happened without him.

Read – Thierry Henry’s poise, Roy Keane’s red mist and the most iconic Premier League imagery of the 2000s

See more – Iconic Performances: Thierry Henry’s irresistible display at Inter

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