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Manchester United vs. Arsenal '99: the greatest FA Cup match ever

Words by Nathan Irvine

"And Giggs has won it..."

21 years ago today, on April 14, 1999, the greatest FA Cup match took place. It starred two of the titans of the Premier League era - Manchester United and Arsenal. These weren't the somewhat depleted forces that you see scraping a win at Burnley these days.

The grit and steel of Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Tony Adams and Dennis Bergkamp was complimented with the skill and flair of David Beckham and Dennis Bergkamp. Whenever they went head-to-head there were fireworks - pure edge of your seat entertainment. And this FA Cup tussle, arguably, had it all.

Marc Overmars tormented the Manchester United backline.

It's war

No really, it had everything.

Over the course of 120 minutes at Villa Park was a wonderstrike, a deflected goal, a disallowed one, a sending off, a penalty save and a goal so magnificent it's a permanent fixture on FA Cup highlight reels.

Punctuating these key moments were two teams playing the type of football that would blow most current EPL sides off the park. Cute lobbed passes, thunderous challenges and intricate play masterminded by two of the greats, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

But there was one moment that defined the entire fixture. And it came from a fleet-footed, 25 year old Ryan Giggs.

Super sub

He may have had the most memorable moment of the fixture, but it’s often forgot that Ryan Giggs was a bystander for the first hour of the fixture. Jesper Blomqvist was given the nod ahead of the Welshman in Ferguson’s starting eleven. This was thanks to the fixture pile-up that saw United challenge for, and win, the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup in a historic season.

When he came on United held a slender 1-0 lead thanks to a thunderbolt from 35 yards from Beckham. But the ebb and flow of the game meant it could’ve gone either way as gilt edged chances came and went for both sides.

It was soon 1-1. Dennis Bergkamp had a pair of kind deflections to thank for his equaliser that rocketed past a despairing Peter Schmeichel. And then things went from bad to worse.

Already on a yellow card for an earlier foul, Roy Keane mistimed a challenge on Marc Overmars and was given his marching orders. Arsenal were suddenly in the ascendancy and looked more likely to nab a spot in the final.

And in stoppage time, as Phil Neville brought down Ray Parlour inside the box, Arsenal had a chance to kill of United at the death. However, two giant palms from United's great Dane denied Bergkamp and extra time was needed.

Hairy tornado

United appeared to be on the ropes. The attacking intensity died as Arsenal pressed for a winner and Ferguson’s ten men looked to cling on for penalties. But Ryan Giggs had other ideas.

On the 109th minute, with his team mates looking leggy, Giggs picked up the ball deep in his own half. He sprinted down the left wing as challenges from the opposition flew in. By the time he made it to David Seaman’s 18-yard box the scene he’d left behind was like that bit at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan - bodies lying everywhere.

With one thwack of his left boot the ball flew past the Gunners keeper and into the top of the net. Cue a shirt off celebration and Ryan Giggs’ hairy chest racing back toward his team-mates in celebration.

For United fans, the match ends there. Curtain falls, lights up. But the fixture still had more to give. Arsenal threw the proverbial kitchen sink at United but Anelka and co. just couldn’t find a way back in. It was gripping stuff from start to finish and a real display of FA Cup magic.

There have been many more classic matches in the competition, sure, but Manchester United vs. Arsenal in the 1999 semi-final had the lot.

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