Dan’s Arsenal memories #2: 1998/99 – Close second in Man United’s treble season

Man United Treble So Nearly Our Double Double by Dan Smith

They say you never remember who comes in second. Yet you do feel if Man United had not won the treble, Arsenal would have got more credit for their efforts in the 1998/99 season.

We finished just a point below the Champions and were a 90th minute penalty away from knocking them out of the FA Cup. Given this United side is often described as this country’s greatest, what does it say about us given how close we were?

When people compare rivalries in the modern era, it’s almost insulting to Arsenal at this time. You could argue that this was two clubs at their apex, two managers at their best, so many great players in their prime, in every position you could argue the other had its best. Both played the game the right way but they could fight you as well. They were both so good it got to the point where neither side really liked the other.

At Old Trafford, they didn’t think we were superior despite our Double the year before, and equally we felt unlucky in 1999, for so long their treble could have easily been our Double. It was the classic case of the line between success and failure being a very fine one.

It wasn’t like Arsenal were choking. We lost one of our last 19 games and we ended with the same points that were good enough for the title 12 months previously. The title race was TV gold as both took in turns to wow viewers.

We were scoring 6 at Middlesbrough, 3 at the Lane, Kanu was scoring outrageous goals ….It looked like it was a title winning season.

In what would always be an issue, Arsene Wenger couldn’t compete with Sir Alex in the transfer market. The Red Devils were responding by losing their title with big fees for the likes of Dwight Yorke and Stam, while we paid a fraction of that for Nelson Vivas and Freddie Ljungberg, waiting till February to bring in Kanu.

Given the chances we missed in the summer, you could argue that the eventual points difference would have been made up for if the Nigerian had come in earlier, but equally our boss liked his sports science. In what would become a tradition, a part of our pre-season was put aside for our staff to go on holiday and review what had gone well, areas to work on.

The Frenchman’s ideas were seen as revolutionary with players and bosses on international duty trying to find out his secrets. He put a big emphasis on fitness being at its peak in the second half of campaigns’.

Could it be a coincidence that so much of this season mirrored the previous one? Off the boil before Christmas, before managing a huge winning sequence (we even ended with the same points).
We had six 0-0 draws, so there are moments to look back on and say ‘what if’ but mentally when it counted, they had the edge in key moments.

For two years there wasn’t anything to separate the two, it was always going to come down to the smallest of margins. It wasn’t just Bergkamp failing from the spot that cost us the FA Cup, we played over 45 minutes with them down to 10 men. A week later we put 5 past Wimbledon so it’s not like we fell off the rails, but it was a chance missed to do psychological damage to United.

It’s weird growing up to call this as one of my favourite games as it was so gut wrenching. Yet it had everything and only defeats like this make you appreciate the good times more. We put ourselves in a position where in the final week of the season we were top on goal difference, something else we had clawed back in the run in. An 85th winner at Leeds broke our hearts.

It was a rare time Mr Wenger targeted one of his own players, saying Vivas should have done better at the far post. Others feel we were naive in chasing a winner, with a draw at least meaning United would have to win at Blackburn.

It left us needing to support Spurs for one day, and just for one moment when they scored at Old Trafford, we believed. But like Roy Keane reminded everyone ……”Lads it’s Tottenham!”

Dan Smith

20 Comments

  1. Counsel says:

    class of 1998-99 was the most successful for man uted and English football they won FA,EPL and eufa champions league we won nothing though we were competitive. But if you compare the modern rivalries the quality of football for both clubs is midtable level.

  2. Uwot? says:

    Yep the most sickening year in football ever.1999.we should have put them to the sword that year.a hairs width between them & us & never having to listen to their( Manure) bullshit of the treble.Never have I felt so gutted as to when giggs got that winner.should have been taken out on the halfway.nor when Bergkamp missed the penalty with seconds left.youd have put your house on him scoring.& Leeds turning us over in the 85th minute to deny us a certain title.with o’ Leary doing a jig( shameful) & last but not least.The jammiest European cup final win ever by the mancs who had been murdered the previous 90 plus minutes by Munich.They have to be the luckiest b’ starts ever.Ill never accept them as the greatest side ever.still sticks in the throat.

  3. jon fox says:

    Good article Dan. On KANU, I take a different line to most Gooners. I was not a big fan of his TBH and saw him as a luxury player with outrageous skill at times but slow and not hard working. What most bugs me , still, about him in that season was when at Saints he messed around with the ball on the Saints six yard box and when he , FINALLY, but too late, kicked it towards goal it was kicked off the line by Francis Benali, thus meaning we drew, instead of the win and the title that “should have been a goal” would have given us.

    To my mind that was typical Kanu and is the reason I do not put him in the real top strata. I always look for team effectiveness from every player, over and above aesthetic style only. GREAT PERSON , JUST A DECENT PLAYER THOUGH.

    1. Uchman says:

      Its quite hypocritical of u to say KANU IS JUST A DECENT PLAYER! What a load of rubbish, the fact u don’t know what class means doesn’t mean it Doesn’t exist,KANU is pure class, the fact that Ronaldo de Lima labelled him “his best striking partner! And thiery henry made glowing commendations about him shows his class, for the fact that KANU doesn’t do kun fu on the pitch or always run like a headless chicken on the pitch doesn’t take away his true qualities,he’s always strikers delight,he knows when to slow the game down,when to lay the pass and when to shoot, Atlanta Olympic semi final heroic against Brazil best described whom he is, he’s one of those magical players that r capable of doing impossible things,they always make the game look very simple and u will think they don’t put a shift, the truth is that we could have bn champions in 1999 if KANU had arrived in the summer, saying KANU is a luxury player makes me doubt if u really know anything about football, welbeck could have bn the best striker in the world if hard work is a yardstick to qualify how good a player is, Christopher wreh could have bn one of our best strikers ever, I can understand ur hatred for ozil, jezz its a pity that even @ ur age u r still having this mentality ! Just a pity!

      1. Phil says:

        Kanu was a good player. He was never a great player. Not at Arsenal, where he was back-up to Bergkamp and Henry. He might have been a star player for Nigeria, but so is Alex Iwobi, which sort of says it all. And don’t you dare come back with the racist anti-African comments. If he was better than DB10 and TH14 he would have started in front of them.He wasn’t.So he didn’t.

        1. jon fox says:

          Phil I’d gladly shake you hand, if only I could and if it were allowed. The level of sheer stupid, one eyed nationalism, bordering on racism itself for some folk, is so sad to see, as life will always be hard for those who cannot or will not apply their brains.

          In his “mind”, when I said I thiought Kanu merely a decent player but not top strata, he assumed I was attacking his country or his race. How truly pathetic ! As well as being scarcely veiled racism itself.

      2. jon fox says:

        Not hypocritcal at all, which means inconsistent in my opinionson KANU which I have not been andI havenever esp rated him, though you clearly have NO idea of its true meaning!
        DO NOT MAKE DAFT ACCUSATIONS UNLESS YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT ENGLISH WORDS ACTUALLY MEAN. You are perfectly allowed to challenge my opinion of someone who is clearly your countrymen . And I wonder why I think that !!! NOT!!! But not , my illiterate frIend, to use words so laughably incorrectly!
        TRY LOOKING UP ITS MEANING – ITS NOT DIFFICULT ,EVEN FOR YOU, ASSUMING YOU CAN READ!

  4. Phil says:

    Just to let you know I’ve had my first reply to you removed by Admin, which amazes me. So YOU get away with ….

    ADMIN COMMENT – No, Phil, ALL THOSE COMMENTS GOT REMOVED
    And its unlikely you will see Rumpole back any time soon…

  5. ken1945 says:

    Going back to Dan’s excellent article, I can still remember every excruciating second of gigg’s run down the wing.

    He evaded tackles by the hundred (it seemed) as the incident turned in to a slow motion horror movie…but we had “safe hands” to stop him – but like the horror movie, David, somehow, bent over backwards for some unknown reason, the unbelievable had happened, Bergkamp had missed a penalty and we had lost!!!

    At the final whistle, one united fan got onto the pitch and dropped his trousers, aiming his backside at our bank of supporters – I got back to my car, only to find that the kids I had given £10 to in order to “protect” my car had left, allowing idiots to scratch mu on the bonnet!!!

    Fond memories? Through thick and thin? Evens up over a season? Yeah, go tell that to the skinny a***d fan who’s grotesque backside has burnt a permanent image in my brain – one reason why my most satisfactory win over them, was the penalty shoot out fa cup final.

    Patrick Vieria running towards their fans, waving our players over and celebrating right in front of them…Patrick, I was praying you were going to drop your shorts, but that final kick as a Gooner will suffice!!!

    Kanu was a one off player, loved by all it seems and a great human being, who scored goals from impossible angles.

  6. Kenny Rolfe says:

    We were robbed throughout the late nineties and early noughties by some outrageous refereeing decisions and the so called “Fergie Time” which the media thought was a big joke. If we had got the correct decision’s in those ten years, we’d have had at least three more Premier League titles. Yes, we were that good and nobody will change my mind

    1. ken1945 says:

      Only those with a personal agenda would argue with that Kenny, the ones who want to tarnish the greatest manager we ever had.

      1. Kenny Rolfe says:

        Spot on Ken

  7. Sue says:

    I feel a little emosh now after watching that Invincibles documentary!
    I really enjoyed it… which leaves me with one thing left to say –
    We won the league at shite hart lane, we won the league at shite hart lane, we won the league at the sh*t hole, we won the league at shite hart lane! 😝

    1. ken1945 says:

      Sue, how true Arsene’s final few words were – “Every arsenal player and team in the future, will be compared to the INVINCIBLES” and don’t we see it every day on here for example?

      A great trip down memory lane that seems like yesterday.

      1. Sue says:

        Too right, Ken!

    2. Kenny Rolfe says:

      Believe me Sue, the first time in ’71 was even better, pay at the turnstiles in those days and the Arsenal fans got in there early Not only did we beat them we outnumbered them in their own ground.

      1. Kenny Rolfe says:

        Arsenal here, Arsenal there, Arsenal every f***ing where was the chant

        1. Phil says:

          Kenny – I recall getting to Tottenham High Road at around 2pm and walking down from Seven Sisters because we are so early. The road was closed at 3pm to all traffic because of all the fans . I got in the ground around 5.30 because they had to open early to get the fans off the road and to try and bleat the area.Reprts suggested 75,000 were OUTSIDE the Ground one hour AFTER kick off.

          1. Kenny Rolfe says:

            To be honest Phil, Elland Rd was the same, two games before White Hart Lane. The train we went up on was attacked by Leeds fans who threw objects from a bridge at the windscreen. The train was delayed so as we got to Leeds, you probably know this, the train goes past Leeds ground, goes on for twelve miles to the centre of Leeds. We had no choice, we were late, someone had to pull the cord, so me and my mates drew straws, anyway, the cord was pulled right outside Leeds ground, the whole train emptied, there was just a field between the tracks and the ground in them days and when we got outside you couldn’t get anywhere near the gates. So we pulled the biggest copper we could find, showed him our Press cards and he got us in. We all sat on the pitch with the photographers with the North Bank right behind us in the old Shaky Shed they used to have. Unbelievable night, we had massive support but got beat 1-0, we then had to beat Stoke and Tottenham on their own ground.

  8. Kenny Rolfe says:

    We parked up at Stamford Hill because everything came to a halt, me and a few mates managed to get in one of the last gates open at 6-30 at the Park Lane End. Couldn’t believe it when we got in, Arsenal filled the Park Lane End, the majority of the Shelf, where we stood and half the Paxton Rd End, Red and White everywhere. What a night

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