1997/8 was Arsène Wenger’s first complete season at Arsenal, and as everyone will know, he set himself an impossibly high bar to measure up to thereafter by giving us a Double. It was our first championship in seven years, the first league/cup double since 1970/1 (only our second in fact although George Graham got the country’s first ever cup double in between). Only the League Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea stopped the dream of the domestic treble. Europe was uninspiring, but no one seemed to mind.
And all this in the season when to my personal dismay we let Paul Merson go to Middlesbrough – although their offer of over £4m was huge. But the incomer – Manu Petit caught the eye, and although Gilles Grimandi wasn’t a huge star player, he proved useful, as he has down as head of scouting in France ever since he retired from football.
And then there was Marc Overmars, who came in for £7m. Yes, if Merse had to leave, this was a good reason for it to happen. What a stunning player he turned out to be – and what a profit maker too, when he eventually went (complete with an injury) to Barcelona for an insanely huge price.
Christopher Wreh also came in, and has been the subject of a separate article – he came in along with Boa More, Mendez and Manninger. Indeed during the summer it was hard to keep up.
There are three articles on this site already in relation to the season, and I’ve linked to these at the end of the article, but this piece focuses centrally on the FA Cup.
In the 3rd round it looked like Mr Wenger was going to fall into the sort of disaster area that beset previous managers facing lower league clubs – we drew at Highbury with Port Vale. We drew the replay too, and went through on penalties. Not an auspicious start given that not only were Port Vale a second tier club (known as Division 1 in those days) but that they missed relegation at the end of the season by just one point.
Next up Middlesbrough (also of Division 1, but at least a club heading for promotion – they ended up second that season). It was away, and was where Marc Overmars scored in just about a minute, and Ray Parlour scored the second. Inevitably Paul Merson scored against us.
A goalless draw at home to Crystal Palace took us to yet another replay but we won with a less than full strength team.
Then in the 6th round we went behind to West Ham London’s 3rd team at the time, just behind Chelsea, but some way ahead of London’s Premier League also rans – Tottenham (who only just avoided relegation by four points) and Wimbledon, who gained the same number of points as Tottenham. But Dennis B. scored a penalty, to give us our third replay in four cup games. This was getting a habit – and for those of us paying, an expensive ticket.
Worse (at least for the nerves) it was a another draw in the replay and another penalty shoot out.
This was also the time when (amazingly as it now seems looking back) I actually thought Chris Wreh was a real prospect. And I do remember in the build up to the semi final against Wolverhampton Wanderers thinking for the first time that we could actually do the double here – and that was before Wreh scored.
So to the final on 16 May 1998. There was no Bergkamp, and I think we all assumed that the forward line would be Wright and Anelka, or maybe it was just me. But it wasn’t… it was Wright on the bench – something that became an issue when he didn’t even get on at the end for his medal.
I remember it as a lopsided affair in which Newcastle didn’t really look a serious threat – in fact I am sure I remember after talk of them not even showing up – especially after Marc Overmars scored on 23 mins, putting the ball between the keeper’s legs. Was there no end to what Wenger could give to us? We were going to do the double!
Nic Anelka got the second and Wreh looked ok – which is worth noting given his subsequent history. But everyone raved over Marc Overmars, quite rightly. Except Ian Wright.
- 3 January 1998: Arsenal 0 Port Vale 0; 3rd round
- 14 January 1998: Port Vale 1 Arsenal 1; replay Arsenal win 4-3 on pens
- 24 January 1998: Middlesbrough 1 Arsenal 2; 4th round
- 15 February 1998: Arsenal 0 Crystal Palace 0; 5th round
- 25 February 1998: Crystal Palace 1 Arsenal 2; replay
- 8 March 1998: Arsenal 1 West Ham 1; 6th round
- 17 March 1998: West Ham 1 Arsenal 1; replay, Arsenal win 4-3 on pens
- 5 April 1998: Wolverhampton 0 Arsenal 1; semi-final at Aston Villa
- 16 May 1998: Arsenal 2 Newcastle U 0; Final.