As Arsenal prepare to host Chelsea on Monday night, We take a look back at one of the most riveting matches between these London rivals in the Premier League era. This classic took place at Stamford Bridge in the 1999/00 season.
This was before Didier Drogba became the cause of many of Arsene Wenger’s frequent nightmares. This was also before Thierry Henry’s goal scoring exploits caused many of the Chelsea faithful to wonder whether they would ever win a match against the Gunners in the Premier League. This was in the autumn of 1999, when a gangly Nigerian who had made North London his home in February of that year, scored one of the most amazing hat tricks in Premier League history. Nwankwo Kanu who had joined the Gunners from Internazionale will always remain an Arsenal legend just on the basis of this one match.
Coming into this fixture Arsenal trailed league leaders Leeds United by 3 points but more importantly, were 2 points behind defending champions Manchester United who had a tricky tie of their own to negotiate, away to Tottenham. Chelsea meanwhile, were 6 points adrift of the top having played two games less. So for all counts it was a top of the table clash. Both sides were missing their creative geniuses in Dennis Bergkamp, who was injured and Gianfranco Zola, who was on the bench. But no one was to know that their absence would make this match a spectacle like the ones only provided for by the Premier League.
Gianluca Vialli who was the Chelsea manager at the time had just masterminded a 5-0 hammering of Manchester United in the Blues previous home game and in typical Italian style had created a mean defensive system. Chelsea had not conceded a home league goal all season and prior to the United game were dealing in routine one nil wins. Arsenal meanwhile were still recovering from the hangover of the previous season when they were so close to winning the double of the Premier League and the FA Cup but saw both of them snatched away, quite literally, by Manchester United.
The setting for this match was made complete by a constant downpour prior to kickoff which would ensure that the tackles would be flying in, as in their previous 7 meetings which produced a total of 49 yellow cards.
The first half was evenly contested with the home side content in ensuring that the game developed into a midfield slugfest. But just as it looked like the match would enter the second period all square, six minutes before the break striker Tore Andre Flo soared over the Arsenal defense to head home Dan Petrescu’s delivery beyond David Seaman.
The Gunners woes from the flanks were not to end there as they conceded another shortly after half time when Graeme Le Saux sent an inviting cross, this time for Petrescu to head home unmarked. There were puddles on the field by this time and it seemed like Chelsea had done enough to announce their arrivals as serious title challengers. But this is precisely when Kanu made this match his own by scoring a fifteen minute hat trick in the final quarter of the game.
The Nigerian scored his first by intercepting a wild Marc Overmars shot from outside the area and toe poking it beyond Ed De Goey’s goal. The second goal came about as a result of the same two men linking together as Overmars fired in a low fizzing cross from the right which eluded the desperate lunge of Gus Poyet and fell at the feet of Kanu. The former Inter man took one touch to take Chelsea’s defense out of the play and rifled in from his second beyond De Goey’s outstretched left hand at the near post.
As the game entered stoppage time it seemed like Arsenal had just snatched a draw but their Nigerian frontman had other ideas as he doggedly pursued Albert Ferrer and closed down his attempted clearance. After getting possession on the left flank he ran through on goal and beat the onrushing De Goey on the by-line and curled home the winner at the far post, from an impossible angle, over the top of two Chelsea defenders.
With the win Arsenal climbed to the top of the table and Chelsea stayed at seventh. But the season ultimately ended in disappointment for the north London side as they were comprehensively beaten to the title by a rampant Manchester United. Chelsea on the other hand managed to secure some silverware as they won the last ever FA Cup staged at the old Wembley stadium. But when talk shifts to this season amongst the supporters of both these clubs, the point of discussion will always remain about how a leggy Nigerian helped drag Arsenal from the abyss and in the process etch his name into North London folklore.