By Brian Marsh
May 16 1998. Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0.
Season 1997-98 is memorable for so many reasons. It was Wenger’s first full campaign in charge. Fortunate to inherit arguably the best and longest serving defensive set-up known to man as the basis for his team, on that foundation he built a strong, skilful and mobile midfield by adding Vieira, Petit, and Overmars to the established David Platt and young Ray Parlour. Arsenal were irresistible up front, with Bergkamp and Wright; and 18 year old rookie Nic Anelka, who was (and probably remains) the quickest player I have seen in an Arsenal shirt.
Arsenal’s crumbling league season had spun around after December 13 1997, the day we lost at home to Blackburn Rovers, 1-3. This was our lowest point. Manchester United were already 11 points clear of us. Someone in the Arsenal set-up, rumoured to have been skipper Tony Adams, decided enough was enough, and that arses needed to be kicked, hard. It worked. Well, who would have dared argue with the man?
The run after the Blackburn defeat left us unbeaten in 17 league games, including 10 wins on the bounce up to and including May 3, when Arsenal were crowned Premiership Champions with two games to spare. The title was won in swaggering style in front of our home crowd, by beating Everton 4-0. The day was crowned by one of the most outrageous goals I have witnessed, a flighted pass from Steve Bould completely split the Everton defence, for the skipper to run onto and smash into the net, left footed. His stretched arms goal celebration is immortalised in bronze at the Emirates. The joy, the noise that filled Highbury after that goal, was truly deafening. YouTube search Tony Adams goal and it normally comes out on top.
Then the season turned again. After being applauded onto Anfield’s turf, by the guard of honour formed by Liverpool players, and their supporters, our new Champions were beaten soundly 4-0. Following that, we were beaten 1-0 in our final game away at Aston Villa in one of the most dismal games I can remember.
We should have been looking forward to the following week’s FA Cup Final with confidence and a little arrogance, but after the two league defeats, we were all of a sudden feeling low, anxious and touched with doubt. We learned that our best player Bergkamp was ruled out of the Final through injury, to be replaced by Christopher Wreh. And no Ian Wright. Wreh was to be partnered up front by Anelka.
Cup Final day 1998 was hot and sunny, again. The Union Flag came with me to London. Its first away outing had been in 1980, to Turin for the UEFA Cup Winners Cup semi-final second leg win over Juventus, so it had a lucky history. I strung it up between two street lamps outside the Sherlock Holmes pub in Baker Street. The pub was packed, Gooners and Geordies together, with scores of us spilling onto the street outside. A relaxed, friendly atmosphere, lots of banter and singing.
In 1998 I had been adopted into another Gooner family, made up from the people I was sat close to and had got to know so well, in the West Stand lower tier, after I had bought the second of my season tickets there in 1994-95. We continue to sit together now, twenty seasons later, at the Emirates. We all travelled to Wembley together on that brilliant May day in 1998, sat together to watch the Final, and to witness Arsenal achieve the Double.
Overmars scored first on 23 minutes, guiding the ball under the body of the onrushing Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given and into the goal. My impression is that Marc Overmars’ contribution to Arsenal’s success is underrated – or even ignored – by many of our supporters. I just loved the guy as a player. His stocky stature, with a long body and short legs (the closest we have now to that type of physique is Jack Wilshere), Marc was strong, fast, aggressive, skilful. And boy, did he know where the old onion bag was. His tally was something like 16 goals that season from midfield.
Newcastle had an attack. Martin Keown had a bit of a slip. Shearer took advantage and his shot hit the inside of the post and bounced out. Ho-hum. Shearer’s only other memorable contribution in the match was attempted murder on Tony Adams, using a desperate late challenge as a weapon.
On 69 minutes, Ray Parlour looped a ball forward, Anelka sprung the offside trap and ran on to steer the ball across Shay Given into the far corner. No pressure. Two-nil. Realise, this was an eighteen year old kid scoring in a Wembley final.
And so the League and FA Cup Double, a monumental and almost mythical achievement, was won by the Arsenal. For the second time.
Tell me Ma, me Ma
To put the Champagne on ice
We’ve won the Double twice
Tell me Ma, me Ma.
(to the tune of que sera sera)
The SG Blog
Gooners from Oklahoma share their views and insights about Arsenal Football Club!