Arsenal stars feared rivals Tottenham would try to lose their title
When Manchester United netted a goal away from Tottenham in May 1999, the ramifications could have been brutal.
United and Arsenal were locked in one of the closest Premier League battles in history, with just one point separating them on the final day of the season.
It was the heyday of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, two management geniuses who battled it out to the very end.
And in a twist of fate only such epic clashes can produce, the fate of Arsenal was in the hands of their biggest rivals Tottenham at Old Trafford.
There was genuine fear that Spurs would not bother to show up, allowing United to steamroll them in order to hand them the title.
So much so that Gunners star Martin Keown has even reached out to Tottenham assistant manager, formerly Arsenal’s Stewart Houston, to allay his concerns.
“Martin Keown asked me this week if we were really going to try and I told him I was amazed he even asked,” Houston told The Athletic.
“There’s a professional pride in that.”
Arsenal fans found themselves in the unique but sickening position of backing Tottenham, knowing that if their rivals helped them, there was a good chance they would reclaim the Premier League title they won the year before. .
But that didn’t quell the paranoia in the red half of north London, despite former Arsenal boss George Graham being in charge of Tottenham.
Arsenal fans showed their support for Tottenham… that’s a real picture (/caption)
His past at Highbury didn’t give him much sentiment, as he insisted he would do his best to beat United, whatever the consequences.
“I hate even losing a friendly match. We will go to Old Trafford to try and win – whatever that means for anyone else,” he said before joking about his replacements.
“Of course we’re going to take the Old Trafford game seriously… we’ll appoint Jose Dominguez as a substitute goalkeeper.”
The Portuguese winger was 5ft 4in tall.
As it happens, Tottenham actually took the lead against United when Les Ferdinand executed a brilliant chip on goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.
However, it was telling that the Premier League great – a Tottenham fan as a child – did not celebrate as a normal striker would after such an effort.
“I was just thinking, ‘This could go down in history as the worst shot of my career,'” he told The Athletic.
“It definitely crossed my mind. I remember scoring that goal and there was a pretty muted reaction.
“That then prompted my celebrations to be quite subdued. I wasn’t one to go crazy anyway.
At the same time, Arsenal took on Aston Villa at Highbury where news of the goal leaked out from Manchester, leading to early celebrations in the stands.
“I was later told my name was being sung at Highbury,” Ferdinand added.
But Spurs couldn’t hold on and United’s power prevailed as David Beckham and Andy Cole struggled to control the game with two goals.
It meant no matter what Arsenal, who had beaten Villa 1-0 through Nwankwo Kanu, did, they couldn’t win the league and the title was heading to Old Trafford.
What a way to end the season.
It would mark a very successful few weeks for the Red Devils, who went on to win the FA Cup and Champions League that season and complete the treble.
It sparked a period of Premier League dominance as United won three titles in a row before Arsenal won one in 2002.