Manchester United and Arsenal were the Premier League’s dominant forces between 1997 and 2004 (Picture: Getty)

Sir Alex Ferguson used to motivate his Manchester United players for battles against Arsenal by taking subtle digs at the main men in Arsene Wenger’s iconic side.

Between 1997 and 2004, the two Premier League giants dominated the domestic scene and contested one of the fiercest rivals in the history of English football.

Arsenal won the title three times in that period under Arsene Wenger and famously went unbeaten through the 2003/04 campaign, but it was United who tended to have the upper hand, particularly in battles at Old Trafford.

Ferguson’s mastery of the psychological mind games undoubtedly played a part in his side’s success and Neville revealed his old manager knew exactly how to push his buttons by pointing out flaws or traits in the players he was likely to be in direct competition with.

‘Sir Alex always felt that players like Thierry Henry and Robert Pires had an air about them that they couldn’t be tackled,’ he said.

Arsenal and Manchester United contested a fierce rivalry which culminated in the Pizza-gate controversy in 2004 (Picture: Getty)

‘He said he didn’t see players getting around them or tackling them. He said the opposition were too busy planning how to swap shirts with them. That would psychologically get into our heads.

‘He’d say things like ‘I don’t want Vieira refereeing this game today, or Adams, or Keown’ – he’d say little things like that without ever encouraging us to intimidate the referee. People thought that happened but it didn’t.

‘But those little things were the difference in matches. Sir Alex always said ‘find a way to win’ – there was an element of madness to us in the final 10 minutes of matches but that’s the risks he took to win matches.

‘Not just in title run-ins, Sir Alex would identify weaknesses in the opposition, work out what kind of records we’d have under certain referees, at certain grounds – he would really pinpoint the areas of weakness in the opposition.

‘If there was one player you could get at. When we played against Arsenal during their ‘Invincible’ era, we played completely different than how we would ordinarily play. He adapted us to certain situations.

‘There were certain points he’d identify mentality issues with certain people within the game that would contribute to the game. He was very much into the detail of the battle on matchdays – the mental battle.’

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