When We Were Kings: 14 years ago today Arsenal won the league at White Hart Lane for the second time in their history
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On this day 14 years ago Arsenal won the league at White Hart Lane for the second time in their history. Layth Yousif was there. In an exclusive extract from his book Arsene Wenger: 50 Defining Fixtures, spoke to Ray Parlour about that famous day.
With Newcastle United beating Chelsea’s ahead of kick-off it meant Arsene Wenger’s side required a single point to capture the league title for the 13th time.
The fact they could do this at the home of their bitter North London rivals – for potentially the second time, after achieving the same feat during the club’s march to the double in 1971 - only heightened the sense of expectation and tension in N17.
The momentous 90 minutes which followed was to prove a memorable and defining afternoon for the club on the day they became Champions of England.
A day which would be remembered for as long as Arsenal Football Club existed as the best team in England proved beyond all doubt that North London was most definitely red that season.
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With fewer than 180 seconds gone, Thierry Henry collected the ball just outside his own box, before commencing an all-encompassing passage of play which culminated in Vieira scoring past Keller via a Bergkamp cross. Just to prove the sweeping nature of the move, from Henry gathering the ball to Vieira scoring was timed at 11 seconds.
1-0 to the Arsenal became 2-0 with ten minutes still to play before half-time. Bergkamp, again revelling in his role as tormentor-in-chief of Spurs fed a Vieira charge through the Spurs defensive lines as if they were invisible. He then played the ball back to Pires who had ghosted into the box to allow him to sidefoot home.
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At 2-0 up with the title in sight the 3,000 Gooners in the ground including the author reminded Spurs fans vociferously it was 43 years and counting since they last won in the league – in black and white to boot.
It was understandable with the title seemingly won Arsenal’s intensity dropped slightly, allowing Jamie Redknapp and a later Robbie Keane penalty to draw the game 2-2.
However Argentine defender Mauricio Taricco - who prior to the equaliser had suffered a torrid afternoon chasing the Arsenal forward line – somehow managed to pull his hamstring during his teams ill-founded celebrations.
A clearly incensed Henry – despite being warned by the authorities beforehand – at the final whistle gathered his troops together and took them to the now celebrating corner where the Arsenal fans were congregated.
Henry then told his men to celebrate long and hard on the White Hart Lane turf.
As he said afterwards in a thinly veiled nod at Taricco’s behaviour:” When you see behaviour like that it is impossible for us not to celebrate in response.”
Ray Parlour told Layth Yousif in an exclusive interview in 2014:” We just thought how can you not celebrate winning the league at White Hart Lane?
“We certainly made sure we celebrated after.
“I knew how big the rivalry was between the two teams growing up as a young Arsenal player, and we knew how special a triumph like that was for the fans as well – so we made sure we enjoyed winning the league at White Hart Lane!”
Tottenham fans, mirroring their team’s over-the-top celebrations at achieving a draw against the Champions at the final whistle, claimed that they had restored a semblance of pride.
It was utter and arrant nonsense: Arsenal had won the league at White Hart Lane for the second time in the history of the North London derby – that was all which mattered.
And it was Arsenal celebrations at the end of game that proved that emphatic fact.
Arsene Wenger said with feeling:” I don’t want to diminish my other two championships but this is special. The championship is where you see how good a team is. “We’ve been remarkably consistent, haven’t lost a game and we have played stylish football.
“We have entertained people who just love football.”
Wenger himself joined in the vigorous revelries with the players afterwards, and in a shot which encapsulated the era, is pictured with his hands in the air in triumph in front of the celebrating Gooners. In the background is a flag raised proudly by the fans. It read simply: “Arsene Knows.”
Yet when asked whether his team would be celebrating the title that night, a deadly serious Wenger added: “No champagne just water.”
It was unsure whether one of his stalwarts heeded his advice. Years later, Ray Parlour recalled with a smile: “What did I do that night? I don’t know! I think I went out and celebrated for about three days afterwards!”
Yet despite well-deserved celebrations Parlour and his teammates knew that their manager’s goal was now to achieve what was previously thought impossible: to remain unbeaten throughout a 38 match league campaign – an accomplishment which would turn an extraordinary season into an immortal one.
One which would see them labelled for all eternity as The Invincibles.
Layth Yousif is the author of Arsene Wenger: 50 Defining Fixtures.
Follow him on Twitter @laythy29.