Arsenal man who got biggest ban from ‘battle of Old Trafford’ would do it again

There's plenty to love about Arsenal's 'Invincibles' side.

But they had a nasty streak too, best summed up by ugly scenes during what was later dubbed 'the battle of Old Trafford'.

The Gunners completely lost their heads in the closing stages of their infamous 0-0 draw against Manchester United in September 2003 – right at the height of their fierce rivalry.

Tempers had been boiling over all afternoon and Arsenal were incensed when skipper Patrick Vieira was sent off for kicking out at Ruud van Nistelrooy, and problems worsened when United were awarded a penalty with seconds left to play.

Van Nistelrooy stepped up and crashed the spot kick against the bar before being swarmed by goading Arsenal players.

When the full-time whistle blew seconds later, things turned nasty. Martin Keown launched himself at the United striker, screeching in his face as players from both sides raced over to join the melee.

Seven players were subsequently fined by the FA for the incident, with four of them receiving bans, but Arsenal defender Lauren – who was seen shoving van Nistelrooy and grabbing Phil Neville by the neck – says he has no regrets.

"I faced the toughest punishment in the aftermath of that game – the highest fine and the longest ban, but even when I look back on it today, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have done anything differently," the Cameroonian said speaking exclusively to Ladbrokes at its launch of the 5-A-Side Bet on Tottenham v Arsenal.

"I have always protected my teammates, and that’s all I was doing on that day. It’s not a reaction I’m proud of, nor is it one I would show to kids, but I have no regrets at all."

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Lauren likened the situation to defending a family member, and insisted things got so heated because of the intense rivalry the two clubs shared at the time.

"Arsenal is my family. If I was in the same position, I would always defend the people I care for," he stressed.

"What happened on that day was the consequence of many games that had come before; you could always sense something like that was going to happen because of the rivalry between the two sides.

"The fact that Ruud van Nistelrooy missed his penalty, and the way Vieira was sent off, there was just an explosion at full-time."

The ugliness was a blot on an otherwise glorious season for Arsene Wenger's side, who would go on to not only win the title, but to do so without losing a single league game.

As such, van Nistelrooy's last minute miss is one heck of a 'sliding doors' moment.

"We were obviously very happy in the dressing room with the fact we avoided defeat and our unbeaten run was still going strong," Lauren continued.

"Results and moments like that absolutely bring the team together. Those situations and every other difficult moment in that season played a huge part in the unity of the squad.

"That team had such a strong bond. We cared about each other on and off the pitch – we all fought for the same purpose."


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