Money, betrayal and taunting – Premier League’s next big rivalry

Emmanuel Adebayor, arms outstretched, on his knees in front of a packed Arsenal away end.

But instead of adoring him as they once did, a plastic stool comes flying in his direction amid scenes of anger and rage.

His goal for Manchester City and subsequent celebration became the abiding image of what once promised to be the Premier League’s next big rivalry.

Whilst most big rivalries are attributed purely to geography, others are born out of circumstance.

When Arsene Wenger arrived from France, Manchester United were the dominant force.

Over the next decade, an iconic rivalry formed, built around fierce on-field leaders such as Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira in the images of their two legendary managers.

Fast forward to the late noughties and a new rivalry emerged for Arsenal with the blue half of Manchester – only this time played out in the boardroom and the negotiating table.

In the space of two years between 2009 and 2011, Manchester City handed over in excess of £70million to Arsenal to poach four of their prized assets.

This is the story of money, betrayal, taunting and the Premier League’s next big rivalry which quickly fizzled out.

It was the summer of 2018 when Manchester City’s takeover stunned the Premier League.

On the same day Sheikh Mansour took control of the club, they landed Robinho and attempted to snatch Dimitar Berbatov from under the noses of Manchester United.

They finished 10th in the 2008/09 season with Arsenal comfortably in the top four despite a title challenge fading away.

But that off-season, the big-spending spree started with the Gunners in the firing line.

Emmanuel Adebayor, who scored 16 goals the previous season, was tempted to ditch Arsenal for the Etihad in a £25million move.

Less than a fortnight later, star centre-back Kolo Toure followed suit for £16million.

To rub salt in the wounds, club legend Patrick Vieira joined their new rivals from Inter Milan, whilst Sylvinho returned to the Premier League from Barcelona.

After City’s raid of Arsenal, the gap was closing at an alarming rate.

They narrowly missed out on the top four in 2009/10 with 67 points, but finished up just five behind Arsenal.

The previous season, the gap had been 22 points.

It was in December 2009 that the flashpoint occurred and the rivalry between the two clubs kicked up a notch.

After scoring a header against his former club, Adebayor infamously ran the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans.

Toure looked bemused and apologetic behind the striker, who later apologised, but the damage was done.

In the same game, Robin van Persie accused Adebayor of deliberately kicking him in the face, an accusation which eventually earned the Manchester City man a three-game ban for violent conduct.

Alex Song also alleged he was slapped in the face by Adebayor in the 4-2 City win with Cesc Fabregas claiming he tried to stamp on him.

Tempers had clearly boiled over and the ill-feeling between the two sides hit fever pitch.

"What was going through my head? A prisoner is out. A prisoner is free,” Adebayor later said of his celebration.

"I played for the club for three-and-a-half years, you bought me for £3m, I still have five years of my contract and you let me go for £20m more and you are telling me I am the one leaving for money and abusing me.

"I am not taking that so it was just to show them that the person you are insulting still has something in his locker.”

The following season, City finished two points ahead of Arsenal and made the Champions League.

Then came the second raid on north London – a £10million move for left-back Gael Clichy and, most notably, the £24million addition of Samir Nasri.

Nasri’s departure in particular caused an outcry at Arsenal.

He was perceived to have turned his back on the club that brought him to the Premier League and the manager, Arsene Wenger, who nurtured him into a top talent.

When his move was inevitable but not confirmed, Arsenal fans accused Nasri of greed and disrespect in terrace chants.

Banners were unfurled targeting the Frenchman once City got their man.

When the deal was done, he took a leaf out of Adebayor’s book and lit the touch paper.

"The City supporters are really passionate and it reminds me of [playing for] Marseille," the Frenchman declared.

"Arsenal have good fans but they are not that passionate since they moved from Highbury to the Emirates.

"The crowd at City are amazing and that's what you want as a player – a good atmosphere.”

There was another confrontation in the Carabao Cup from an unlikely source as youngster Emmanuel Frimpong confronted and clashed with Nasri at full-time when the sides met.

“Even if he gives me five billion dollars, I will still not like him,” Frimpong later told The Athletic.

A few years down the line, right-back Bacary Sagna became the latest to move from Arsenal to Manchester City.

Like those before him, he insisted publicly that money was not a factor.

“It was not about money like people think or any way of leaving to win trophies. No, I was happy at Arsenal,” he said.

“But my head was gone. I was upset. I remember the fans singing ‘we want you to stay’, but I couldn’t stay because I was upset and I couldn’t play with my head.”

Publicly, Arsene Wenger tended to keep his composure, but his feelings crept out on occasion.

In 2012, he said: “A club can buy players like PSG has done or Manchester City or Chelsea, with unlimited resources, but overall football suffers.”

Whilst Arsenal and City looked destined for a bitter rivalry at the top of the table, things soon fizzled out.

The signings did the trick for City, who stormed to their first Premier League title in 2011/12 in dramatic circumstances.

For Arsenal, however, momentum was lost.

Since 2010, the Gunners have finished ahead of City in the Premier League just once.

On the pitch, City have become perennial title contenders, whilst Arsenal have instead been scrapping for the top four.

Off the pitch, the two clubs are also now playing on different levels, rarely competing in the transfer market due to the financial gulf.

The situation has mellowed. Even Nasri, the man who sparked so much outrage and accusations of betrayal, was able to reflect calmly on the situation some years later, albeit recognising the state of his relationship with Gunners fans.

"Manchester City were a better team – that's why I went there. It was my ambition, not because of the money,” he told Goal in 2016.

"Whether you're a fan or not, people should understand that if a bigger company calls you, if you're ambitious, you're going to go there.

"I had so much love for this club [Arsenal] because the fans were amazing towards me. But then, after when I saw all of that [Arsenal fans' anger towards him], I became a little hateful because I was like 'Come on, why are they doing this? I haven't done anything wrong.'

"So, it became this bad relationship, from love to hate.

"It's a bit sad because I spent three amazing years [at Arsenal]. They brought me from Marseille and Arsene Wenger was like a father figure to me; he did everything for me.

"I'm still on really good terms with him but it's sad to have this relationship now with the club."

With Mikel Arteta now in charge of Arsenal, a disciple of Pep Guardiola as his former assistant at Manchester City, there is no doubt that the rivalry which once threatened to explode between the two clubs is now dead in the water.

They meet in the Premier League today (Sunday) with City 10 places ahead and 19 points clear in the Premier League table.

At this point, it’s just another game on the calendar for both clubs.

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