It’s October 1999. Chelsea are coming into their next fixture against Arsenal after dismantling treble winners Manchester United 5-0 and losing to Liverpool 1-0, both inside the space of two weeks.
Gianluca Vialli was bullish in his assessment that his Chelsea side could challenge the Premier League’s elite and the evidence on show appeared to suggest so.
Summer signing Chris Sutton had added quality to a squad that already boasted Gianfranco Zola, Gus Poyet and Tore Andre Flo, and t
It started so well for Chelsea as Flo and Dan Petrescu gave the home side a two-goal advantage before a remarkable 15-minute hat-trick from Nwankwo Kanu ensured the visitors left with all three points.
Key Talking Point
Chelsea were two points behind the Gunners and a further six behind league leaders Leeds. Vialli had brought a continental flavour with a refreshing approach that made his side unique in the Premier League at the time.
Chelsea hadn’t conceded a goal at home in either the league or the Champions League so there were plenty of signs that this side might have the quality to challenge the league’s elite.
However, the manner in which they collapsed – perfectly characterised by Ed de Goey’s bizarre decision to close down Kanu for his third goal – meant Chelsea would not be challenging for the Premier League title that season.
Chelsea Player Ratings
Starting XI: De Goey (5); Ferrer (6), Lebeouf (5), Desailly (5), Babayaro (6); Petrescu (8), Deschamps (6) Wise (7), Le Saux (7); Sutton (7); Andre Flo (8).
Substitutes: Poyet (6), Zola (7).
Tore Andre Flo
The Norwegian striker only played at Chelsea for three years but made an impression during his time at Stamford Bridge.
In this game, he was a constant threat in a side that focused on getting the ball in the box from crosses – both of Chelsea’s goals came from headers.
Flo missed an opportunity to clinch the game just before the hour, with his side two goals to the good, but there were certainly more culpable individuals than the languid striker.
Key Talking Point
The 1998/99 season is rightly remembered for the treble-winning exploits of Manchester United. However, it is forgotten that Arsenal came exceptionally close to winning a double of their own, only to come away with absolutely nothing.
They lost the Premier League on the last day of the season as the Red Devils came from behind to beat Tottenham and clinch the title, while
Arsenal were hoping to bounce back and they believed that they had the squad to challenge their great rivals.
Ultimately, the loss of Nicolas Anelka meant this side was in a transitional period. The end of the season saw both Petit and Overmars leave as Barcelona came calling with the Gunners finishing 18 points behind Manchester United.
Arsenal Player Ratings
Starting XI: Seaman (5); Dixon (6), Adams (6), Keown (5), Sylvinho (6); Ljungberg (6), Parlour (5) Petit (7), Overmars (7); Suker (6); Kanu (9).
Substitutes: Vivas (5), Vernazza (5), Henry (6).
A classy player throughout his career, Kanu won wherever he went. The Nigerian had an incredible feint and outstanding technical abilities. This day was an improbable win against a good Chelsea side in torrential rain – a game that no Arsenal fan will ever forget.
Things That Aged The Worst
Rewatching the game, possession football appears to be quite a long way away. The conditions might have contributed to this – the pitch notably had areas of sodden ground – but both sides had difficulty keeping the ball.
Long balls were very much the order of the day. While possession is overrated, it’s surprising to see how these two quality teams couldn’t keep the ball.
Also, Croatian Davor Suker started ahead of Thierry Henry.
Things That Aged The Best
Kanu’s moustache. Emmanuel Petit. Chelsea’s Autoglass home kit. Full blood and thunder tackling.
Players You Completely Forgot Existed
World Cup-winning manager Didier Deschamps lining up alongside Dennis Wise is definitely weird to think of nowadays. Golden Boot winner Suker ambling across the pitch also provided plenty of evidence why he didn’t last very long in north London.
Brazilian left-back Sylvinho and the iconic Nelson Vivas also made sure there were plenty of ‘Oh, remember him?’ moments.
What Happened Next?
Arsenal went up to second place in the league, a point behind Leeds, but unfortunately this season wasn’t particularly memorable for their fans.
The most notable part of their season was the loss in the UEFA Cup final on penalties to Galatasaray as Wenger lost in his first opportunity for European glory.
Chelsea won the FA Cup against Aston Villa thanks to a wonder strike from Roberto Di Matteo, finished fifth in the Premier League and qualified for the UEFA Cup.
How could Davor Suker start ahead of Thierry Henry? Why did Barcelona always have to buy Arsenal’s best players – Overmars, Petit, Fabregas, Hleb, Song, etc?
Why did Vialli not start Zola and Poyet? Was playing a direct style of football the best approach with great technical players in the Chelsea squad?
Plenty of questions, not many answers.