Donal Lucey looks back on the match that triggered one of the fiercest rivalries in Premiership history.
Arsenal 3-2 Man United, 09/11/1997
For the second week of Premier League Rewind, we are going to look at a crucial match from the 1997/98 season. Arsenal hosted Manchester United at Highbury, knowing that victory would bring them within one point of the reigning champions. It would prove to be a season-defining moment for the Gunners, driving them on their way to becoming champions for the first time in the Wenger era. It also marks the beginning of one of the fiercest rivalries in Premiership history.
This was Arsene Wenger’s first full season in North London, and the French revolution was in full swing. The Gunners had started the season in flying form, with just one defeat in their first 13 matches, but the visit of champions Manchester United to Highbury would be their biggest challenge to date.
The deadlock was broken early on by an eighteen-year-old named Nicolas Anelka. Marc Overmars went on one of his trademark runs and when his shot was blocked on the edge of the box, it fell right to Anelka to cut in and fire past Peter Schmeichel for his first ever Premier League goal. United were sluggish from the outset and they were further punished just before the half hour mark when Patrick Vieira swept in another goal.
Goals had been a worry for United ever since they lost Eric Cantona the summer before. The man they picked to replace him was possibly the most hated figure amongst Arsenal fans, ex-Spurs front man Teddy Sheringham. It was fitting that it was Sheringham who would drag United back into the game.
As the first half dragged on, Arsenal were unable to keep up the pressure that they began the game with, and United made use of the extra space. The comeback began when a cross from the right found Sheringham, who had drifted in between the centrebacks, and with a free header he made no mistake. United broke with pace once again just before half time and Sheringham scored his and United’s second with a shot from outside the area. As unlikely as it had looked early on, the teams entered the tunnel at half time all-square.
After his goal, Sheringham kissed the United crest and ran towards the Arsenal’s fans laughing – which only succeeded in raising the tensions on and off the pitch. But it was those same fans that had the last laugh thanks to David Platt’s late header. Nigel Winterburn’s 83rd minute corner picked out Platt, who rose above the United defense and sent a looping header past the big Dane in goal, securing the three points and bragging rights for the Londoners.
It was a game that earmarked Arsenal as the team that would challenge United for the title that season and for many more to come. Arsenal built on that win and grew in confidence game by game, finishing the season strongly. It will be interesting to see if Arsene Wenger can draw on that first title-winning season and inspire his team to emulate those performances and in doing so, end their trophy drought in the current campaign.
Pundit Arena, Donal Lucey.