May 17, 2022 4 min read
Highbury. May 3 1998. Tony Adams, Arsenal captain, is through on the Everton goal. His team are already 3-0 up and have wrapped up the Premier League on the final day of the season.
Adams played at the back next to Martin Keown, with the pair between Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. David Seaman, as he had been all season, was behind the back four. The midfield included an Englishman (Ray Parlour), a Dutchman (Marc Overmars) and two men who would shortly win World Cup medals for France. Within 18 months of taking charge, Arsène Wenger had given the Gunners a Francophone makeover, with Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira patrolling the middle of the pitch. With Ian Wright and David Platt on the bench, the young pair of Christopher Wreh and Nicolas Anelka started upfront.
For Everton, it was a white flag before they even began: they lined up with six defensive players including Carl Tiler, Slaven Bilic, Dave Watson and Craig Short, with the young pair of John O’Kane and Michael Ball out wide. The experience came from Nicky Barmby and Don Hutchinson, with captain Duncan Ferguson preparing for a day being kicked and nudged by Keown and Adams, whom he would also kick and nudge in return.
Everton had only won nine of their previous 37 games and were lucky that Bolton Wanderers had conceded more goals. Indeed, thanks to a Duncan Ferugson hat-trick at Goodison Park a few days after Christmas 1997, they had beaten Bolton 3-2. A wretched season would end in the resignation of Howard Kendall and, a few months into the season, the sale of Ferguson to Newcastle.
At the top of the table, Arsenal had won a stretch of ten games during the season. At one stage they were unbeaten in 18.
The Arsenal Take The Lead
Five minutes into the game, Tony Adams looked to have headed in the first goal of the afternoon at the near post from a Petit free-kick. It was correctly credited to Bilic as an own goal. No wonder Adams did not celebrate as vociferously as he should have done.
Twenty minutes later, with Petit lying on the ground, Arsenal won the ball back and Overmars sprinted up the pitch with Watson backpedalling. Wreh raced forward in the middle as support, but Overmars chose to go it alone and blasted it as hard as he could on the ground. Everton goalkeeper Thomas Myhre got down to the ball but it spun off his glove and dribbled into the goal. 2-0 to the Arsenal.
Before half-time was out, Arsenal had three more chances which didn’t trouble Myhre but, for fans of wrestling, Keown and Ferguson grappled on the halfway line for a considerable period of time after Ferguson had been fractionally late on the defender. Adams pushed Keown away as the partisan crowd called for Ferguson’s dismissal. Boos greeted the booking.
David Platt replaced Petit at half-time in what would be his last appearance in professional football. When he joined Arsenal in 1995, the starting XI included Paul Merson, John Jensen and a couple of Dutchmen, Glenn Helder and Dennis Bergkamp. That 1995/96 season saw Arsenal finish level on points with Aston Villa but behind them on goals scored as Arsenal struggled to hit the back of the net, with only 49 all season in the league. They were helped by the strong defence of Dixon, Adams, Steve Bould and Winterburn who only let in 32. Manager Bruce Rioch was gone a few weeks into the 1996/97 season, replaced by ‘Arsène Who?’.
The Arsenal Back Line Combine
Overmars scored Arsenal’s third in a similar manner to the second. Picking up the ball just inside the Everton half, he accelerated towards the left-hand side of the penalty area and worked his angle out brilliantly to finish past Myhre with his left foot. It was spookily similar to the goal he had scored to win the crucial game against Manchester United.
At 3-0, the game was won and on came Wright and Bould to applause from Highbury. Bould, who turns 60 years old in November 2022, had started his career at Stoke, whose youth academy he came through. After six seasons there he enjoyed a decade at Arsenal as a player, with 20 additional years as a coach.
In the last minute of normal time, Bould picked up the ball on the halfway line and prodded it forward to a tall, dashing figure wearing number six who had sprinted past him. It was Tony Adams who sprung the Everton offside trap, which is where we began this piece.
Adams takes the ball down on his chest and fires it, Overmars-style, into the corner of the net. 4-0 to the Arsenal. Overmars is the first to hug the goalscorer, with Ian Wright there too, all of them bemused and delighted that captain Adams has added the cherry to their title-winning cake.
The Arsenal Celebrations
In the TV interview after the game, Dennis Bergkamp, Seaman, Wright and Adams gather to give some quotations to the viewers at home. Adams compliments the hard work the lads had put in to win the Premier League. ‘I don’t think I remember the last two!’ Adams admits, as Wrighty gets the mic and holds up his winner’s medal. Seaman, holding the trophy in his safe hands, is delighted that Wright can end his seven-year wait for a title, while Bergkamp looks like he is fulfilling an obligation as he mutters a few words into the mic.
Wright writes in his memoir that Wenger was smart to be ‘treating his players like adults’. Tony Adams, Wright says, thrived in an atmosphere which gave the players ‘responsibility for their own mistakes as well as their successes’.
Ladies and gentlemen, please charge your glasses – it’s a soft drink for the famously sober Adams – to Arsenal’s 1997/98 Premier League winners. You can buy an Arsenal-branded bottle of gin, vodka or even whiskey courtesy of Bohemian Brands.