I planned the Arsenal tunnel bust-up because I hated Gary Neville – but I had my reasons

Temperatures boiled over before a ball was kicked when Arsenal hosted Manchester United in February 2005
-Credit: (Image: Sky Sports Retro/Youtube)

Arsenal great Patrick Vieira has admitted he "couldn't stand" Gary Neville during their years as on-field rivals.

Highbury hosted a clash between the Gunners and Manchester United in 2005 when a notorious shouting match between the two football analysts took centre stage. Red Devils captain Roy Keane led an edgy face-off against Arsenal skipper Vieira as they stood in line in anticipation of a match that saw the former claim a famous 4-2 victory.

However, Neville was the catalyst and helped instigate the row after Vieira warned him prior to kick-off that he wouldn't "kick [Arsenal's] f*****g players today." Those words got back to Keane in the away dressing room and ultimately fired the Irishman up even more.

Keane has previously shared his compulsion to defend his Neville, and the fracas possibly only stoked United's resolve further. Nevertheless, Vieira offered his perspective and explained why he confronted Neville in the first place.

"That was planned by me. Because of the nine years I spent at Arsenal, I didn't like you at all," the Frenchman confessed to his past adversary in the latest segment of the Stick to Football podcast (via the Mirror), presented by Sky Bet. He went on to admit: "It is true, I couldn't stand you at all, because you were kicking everybody, and especially Robert [Pires] when he was there. In that game I was like I must make you aware that today you are not going to touch Robert - I knew that was the plan for you because you struggled against Robert."

Regardless of personal opinions on the matter, Vieira's candidness in addressing his old adversary cannot be faulted. At the time, Arsene Wenger's squad was arguably the most technically proficient in the Premier League, while Sir Alex Ferguson's United were known for their more physical style of play.

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Vieira, 47, also took a swipe at United's perceived favouritism from referees during the Ferguson era, stating: "That day I had to tell you to leave him alone. I felt that you were over the top against him. Robert was nice, he was too nice to complain, and I felt at that time you went over the top, it was too much, and it was too obvious.

"Obviously, because of Manchester United controlling all the referees, you had so much power you were allowed to do what you really wanted to do, so I had it planned in my mind. In the warm-up, if I saw you going into the tunnel, I would run after you. I saw you running, and i just ran behind you and wanted to make you aware that today would be different and something that wasn't going to happen."

The 1998 World Cup champion chuckled at his own remark that Neville, 49, "struggled against" Pires, giving Jamie Carragher a knowing nudge. Some might argue the reverse was true given Pires only triumphed in four of his 17 clashes with United, with Neville being his main opponent in most of those matches.

Indeed, Neville had a better record against Arsenal during Pires' tenure in north London. Four of the full-back's nine Premier League losses to the Gunners occurred between 1995 and 1998, compared to only two defeats from 2000 to 2006 when Pires was playing under Wenger.