Emmanuel Petit elaborates on relationship between Ferguson and Wenger
'It's not the same anymore'
The Premier League has changed over the years. The big four became the big six, the duopoly of Manchester United and Arsenal was spoiled by oil money invested in Manchester City and Chelsea, and ludicrous TV revenue allowed even the smallest clubs in the league to spend big bucks on players from abroad.
And you could argue that these are positive changes - it is by far the most commercially successful league in the world.
But few will argue that the Premier League's vintage era came around the turn of the millennium, when the rivalry between Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson was at its most intense. There was nothing quite like a match between United and Arsenal back then. You'd be hard pushed to find a game post-Wenger and Ferguson with such intensity, such passion and also such a high level of quality.
Speaking exclusively to JOE, former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit recalled what it was like to be in the heat of one of those battles, and the mutual respect between the two managers that fuelled the rivalry.
"The rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal, back in the day, was symbolised through the two managers. They hated each other but they loved each other so much," Petit says.
Since the departure of both managers, matches between the two sides have lacked that edge, according to Petit.
"It's not the same anymore. It was quite similar to when we [Arsenal] used to play against Spurs. But I think it has changed a lot, even for the fans," Petit laments.
Last season, before Wenger's final match against United as Arsenal manager, he reunited with his old foe for a presentation on the pitch. Wenger was presented with a gift on behalf of everyone at Manchester United, congratulating him on a glittering career.
It was a moment that warmed Petit's heart and demonstrated the mutual respect between the two icons.
"They have such respect for each other. When I look at what Manchester United did for Arsène Wenger after he announced he was leaving, I remember Alex Ferguson after his brain haemorrhage, he went onto to the pitch, even Mourinho! I loved his behaviour that day. You could feel the respect between the three managers.
"I loved it because at the end of the day we're talking about the football. I know it’s very important, it changes lives, but it's not war. I felt humanity between managers that day and I loved it."
Petit was not best pleased with how Arsenal bid farewell to their longest serving manager at the end of last season though.
"What Arsenal did on the last game of the season, I was there on the pitch and I thought it was so fast. After 20 years I thought to myself, something bigger or different was going to happen. But no, it’s just a game, then a 10 minute speech, then you take a walk on the pitch and that's it, see you later? After 20 years?"
Comparing Wenger's departure to separating with a partner, Petit was bitterly disappointed with the lack of fuss made for the man who oversaw the club's most successful period ever.
"Maybe I'm old-fashioned, maybe I see things different but when you have such a big history between a man and institution, I think it's like a divorce with a wife. How can you treat your wife you loved at the beginning and after 20, 25 years you divorce and all of a sudden she's the worst thing in the world? Come on!"
Manchester United travel down to the Emirates on Friday night to take on Arsenal in the FA Cup fourth round tie. It is poised to be an exciting game, but it won't be like it once was.
Emmanuel Petit is a Paddy Power ambassador.