We examine a particular season of Arsenal's glorious history, what happened, when and where, the stats and facts.
Arsène Wenger gears up for his first full season as manager by making a clutch of new signings, including midfielder Emmanuel Petit, Dutch winger Marc Overmars, young Luton defender Matthew Upson and French utility man Gilles Grimandi. The squad has an increasingly cosmopolitan – some might say French – feel, with Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka and Remi Garde already at Highbury. Although defending champions Manchester United start the season as title favourites, Wenger tips his side for glory. The Gunners grab a draw at George Graham’s Leeds in the opening game, brush aside Coventry thanks to a brace from Ian Wright – who’s edging ever closer to Cliff Bastin’s goalscoring record – before Dennis Bergkamp shows some scintillating late- summer form. The Dutchman scores a superb double at Southampton, before surpassing that with a breathtaking hat-trick at Leicester in a 3-3 draw. Frustratingly, Ian Wright fails to make history in a 0-0 draw in the north London derby at Highbury.
In mid-September, Ian Wright finally breaks Bastin’s record with a hat-trick against Bolton at Highbury. The decisive strike – his second – is one of the simplest tap-ins he will ever score. “The Arsenal fans sucked the ball in, I think,” Wright says afterwards. Bergkamp nets another sublime double in Arsenal’s dramatic 3-2 win at Chelsea, but it’s left back Nigel Winterburn who deserves the plaudits for a thunderous winner from 30 yards in the dying seconds. A few days later, Bergkamp’s Dutch compatriot Marc Overmars finds his shooting boots with a two-goal haul in Arsenal’s 4-0 hammering of West Ham, and the Gunners remain top of the pile. There’s early-season disappointment in the UEFA Cup however, as Wenger’s team bow out in the first round to Greek side PAOK. The Gunners lose 2-1 on aggregate.
There’s another wonderful day in the sun at Highbury as Arsenal thrash newly promoted Barnsley 5-0. Dennis Bergkamp appears to be creating his own Goal of the Season competition with another blissful curling shot, and it’s little wonder that Arsène Wenger explains: "Whenever Dennis gets the ball now I feel that something positive is going to happen." But then the jitters set in. There’s a bad-tempered goalless draw at Crystal Palace, and a scratchy 0-0 draw at home to Aston Villa, with Emmanuel Petit sent off. Bergkamp faces a suspension after kicking out at Palace marker Hermann Hreidarsson and Wright simply looks out of sorts. There’s some respite in the League Cup, with Luis Boa Morte scoring twice in a 4-1 win over Birmingham.
Bar one scintillating match, it’s a grim month for Arsenal. It starts with a horrendous 3-0 beating at Derby, with Anelka and Wright looking ill at ease together up front, but a week later comes arguably the most thrilling match of the season as Arsenal run out 3-2 winners over title rivals Manchester United. Anelka scores his first Arsenal goal, and Patrick Vieira’s swerving effort past Schmeichel makes it 2-0. Teddy Sheringham levels it up before half time, before a cracking David Platt header gives the Gunners a 3-2 win. Then, with injuries to both Petit and Vieira, Arsenal are easily swept aside 2-0 by Sheffield Wednesday, and Steve McManaman’s goal for Liverpool gives his side a 1-0 win at Highbury.
They’re some way from their brilliant summer best, but at least the Gunners eke out a 1-0 win at Newcastle. Ian Wright scores – as it turns out – his last-ever league goal for the Gunners, and unveils the logo “At Last” underneath, showing his growing concern with his own poor form. A week later, Arsenal are undone at home by an excellent Blackburn side, going down 3-1 at home. Skipper Tony Adams is visibly struggling with a leg injury, and Wenger describes it as “the poorest we’ve played since I arrived here”. Tempers are frayed, with Wright exchanging insults with supporters afterwards. “You’re in danger of throwing your entire season away,” warns Wenger afterwards. After their match at Wimbledon is abandoned when the floodlights fail at Selhurst Park, Arsenal regroup with a Boxing Day victory over Leicester and a second draw with Tottenham. "I still think that we can enjoy a fulfilling New Year," Wenger insists, although with the team adrift in sixth place, it seems optimistic to suggest that his team can overhaul United at the top.
A month dominated by the domestic cup competitions, as Arsenal squeak past Port Vale on penalties after a replay at Vale Park (“This was the game that taught me about the passion of the FA Cup,” Wenger said years later) and then edge out Middlesbrough 2-1 at the Riverside – with old-boy Paul Merson grabbing a consolation for Boro. On January 6 Ian Wright scores his last-ever goal for Arsenal in a League Cup quarter-final win at West Ham. And Mark Overmars continues to maintain the upward momentum in the league with a fine brace in a 2-1 victory over Leeds at Highbury. Without playing anywhere near their best, the Gunners have now gone seven matches without defeat and end the month with strong displays against Southampton (3-0 in the league) and a 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final.
Final Premiership table
|8||West Ham United||38||16||8||14||56||57||56|
Arsenal bow out of the League Cup 4-3 on aggregate after losing 3-1 at Chelsea, but win arguably the more important clash against the Blues in a 2-0 league win at Highbury, with Stephen Hughes scoring a brace. Thanks to Manchester United dropping points against struggling sides, the gulf between the two sides narrows. Crystal Palace prove obdurate opponents in both the FA Cup and the league, but a fortuitous Gilles Grimandi strike sees them off in the latter, and leaves them nine points adrift of United with two games in hand.
A dull goalless draw at Upton Park in the league gives little clue as to what’s about to happen to Arsenal’s season, and neither does a sterile 1-1 draw at home to West Ham in the FA Cup. But Christopher Wreh’s superb winner in the rescheduled league match against Wimbledon proves the real catalyst for Arsenal’s late-season run. A few days later, the season’s pendulum swings decisively Arsenal’s way as Marc Overmars’ goal secures a 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford, with Alex Manninger playing a starring role in goal for Arsenal. Alex Ferguson claims the Gunners will buckle under the pressure: “They will start dropping points towards the end of the season. We’ll see what happens now,” he says. Arsenal knock West Ham in the FA Cup – a match notorious for Bergkamp’s red card – but the Dutchman nets a winner against Sheffield Wednesday at the very tail end of the month.
“One defeat and we could blow it all,” admits Nigel Winterburn after seeing another great Wreh strike see off Bolton at the Reebok but, with Arsenal’s sights firmly on Manchester United, Wenger’s team hit top form at precisely the right time, crushing Newcastle, Blackburn, and Wimbledon. Manu Petit scores his first Arsenal goal against the Dons, and Vieira’s stunning 30-yarder is the pick of the bunch at home to Newcastle. The Gunners reach their first FA Cup Final in five years after defeating Wolves, and a solid 2-0 win at Barnsley means that if Arsenal win their next two home games, they will be champions. On a tense night at Highbury, the Gunners secure one of those vital 1-0 wins that courses through the Club’s veins. Petit delivers a rocket past Mart Poom after the Rams had fought as if their lives depended on it. Three points needed...
On perhaps the greatest-ever Highbury afternoon, Arsenal lift the title with a majestic destruction of relegation-haunted Everton. An own goal from Slaven Bilic starts the rout, before Marc Overmars weighs in with two more. Pick of the goals is Tony Adams’ cracking half volley after being put through by Steve Bould. In that moment, his transformation from blue-collar skipper under George Graham to marauding captain under Wenger is complete. The Gunners lose their final two games of the campaign, and Ian Wright makes his last appearance for the Club at Aston Villa, but on May 16 Wenger’s side become the second team to complete a double Double after a 2-0 win against Newcastle at Wembley. Overmars and Anelka grab the glory on a memorable afternoon.