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Gary Neville reveals Sir Alex Ferguson’s special plan for stopping Arsenal and Thierry Henry

Published by on April 29th, 2020.


Gary Neville revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson would deploy special tactics to ‘stop Arsenal playing’, while targeting the likes of Thierry Henry.

Manchester United’s rivalry with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal dominated the Premier League for several years at the start of this century, with the two teams going toe-to-toe to win the title.

Ferguson was known to be a master of mind games and Neville admitted he looked for every possible advantage by riling up his players ahead of big matches.

And he would send his team out with special messages ahead of clashes with the Gunners, to ensure they approached the game in the right mindset.

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‘There was probably two or three years against Arsenal, where we had a really good record against them, where purely the main tactic of the game was to stop them playing,’ Neville told Sky Sports.

‘He always had this feeling, Sir Alex, he felt like they couldn’t be tackled. He said, “Henry, [Robert] Pires… I see no other players tackling them. I see no other players getting around them. They’re all too busy thinking about trying to swap shirts with them”.

‘He used to say things like that. He said, “Forget about that nonsense!” and stuff like that before matches that would psychologically get into our heads about how we deal with these.

‘He’d say things like, “I don’t want [Patrick] Vieira refereeing this game today. I don’t want [Tony] Adams refereeing this game, I don’t want [Martin] Keown refereeing this game today”. Little things like that in the dressing room.

‘He would never say, “I want you to intimidate the referee”. People think that happened, that would never happen. But he would say things like, “Don’t let these little things happen. They’re differences in matches.”‘

Henry was singled out for special treatment, with Ferguson realising the French World Cup winner couldn’t be stoped by just one defender.

‘Against Arsenal, certainly for two or three years, Darren [Fletcher] would come into the team, my brother would go into midfield, I would be at right-back with John O’Shea at left-back… we really would go with a far more solid unit and make sure,’ Neville added.

‘He [Sir Alex] used to say, “You can’t mark Henry with one person. First one goes in and then the second one comes in and then the third one”.

‘We used to have three or four players around them on that left-hand side, it would be me, Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher, Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer] or Becks [David Beckham] or whoever it was and the first person used to sprint and tackle, the second one had to get behind him and close and eventually you’d stop them.

‘We had a very good record against them in that period when we started to adapt more. We couldn’t take them on punch for punch. Sir Alex’s view was, “Find a way”. He always used to say, “Find a way to win. It doesn’t matter how, just find a way.”

‘We’d have centre-halves up front for the last 10 minutes, four strikers, playing nobody at the back, goalkeepers going for corners… there was an element of madness to us in the last 10 minutes at times.

‘But he always took risks to win matches. Sometimes those risks were attacking risks, sometimes they were defensive where we actually forgot a lot of our footballing principles. He would definitely look at those types of things before matches, especially big matches.’

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