Anelka hits his first hat trick: 20 February 1999
In the summer of 1998 Platt and Wright had left the club. Nelson Vivas joined, along with Ljunberg and Kanu.
We had won the league and cup double the season before, but on 12 September 1998 Leicester 1 Arsenal 1 meant Arsenal had four draws and one win in the league.
Matters picked up a bit but a run of three draws and two defeats from 14 November 1998 (0-0 at home to Tottenham) to 13 December 1998 (3-2 away to Villa) disrupted the season further and made title retention look unlikely.
But that defeat to Villa was the last one until 11 May 1999. It wasn’t a good enough run to win the league, but it showed promise and gave hope for the next season.
But back to February. On 17 February Arsenal drew 1-1 away to Manchester U which inevitably had controversial penalty decisions and all the usual Old Trafford stuff.
One week on it was a different affair. Kanu had scored on his début the week before, and this time it was Anelka’s turn to hit the goalscoring headlines.
Leicester City (celebrating life as Worthington Cup finalists) were poor and Anelka wrapped everything up in the first half with Dennis Berkgamp pulling the strings.
The hat trick gave Anelka seven goals in four games – one of the stats of the day. Other comments were that Leicester had not won at Highbury since 1973, Arsenal had the best defence in England and Leicester had not got a win in their last five league games.
To balance things up a bit Arsenal were missing Keown, Petit and Winterburn, but still had enough in them to allow Anelka to go off on 65 minutes. Leicester meanwhile were without Tony Cottee and Emile Heskey, and it showed.
But above all, Arsenal had Bergkamp who was in his pomp.
Yet lest one should remember this as nothing but Bergkamp with three assits and Anelka with three goals, we also had Vieira to put through a perfect pass for Overmars to run onto and touch to Anelka for a tap-in for his third. This team, we felt on the day, was one that was still evolving.
And we still had the old guard too, for we saw the Romford Pele on song as Parlour meandered past most of the defence and scored one for himself. There was even a chance for Kaba Diawara to have a shot but it just went a bit wide.
Here’s the Arsenal starting XI for the day…
Dixon, Adams, Bould Winterburn,
Parler, Hughes, Vieira, Overmars,
At the end of the game the table looked like this…five points off the lead with a game in hand.
|8||West Ham United||26||10||7||9||29||38||-9||37|