With the Premier League fixtures announced yesterday and Arsenal being handed an opening-day home clash with Leicester City, I thought it only right that we look back at a classic between the Gunners and the Foxes.
I could have chosen the last minute 2-1 home win from last campaign or the 5-2 goal fest at the King Power in 2015, but somewhat surprisingly, I’ve gone for a disappointing 3-3 draw from 1997.
The only reason I have chosen this particular game is to highlight one of the greatest individual performances in the history of Arsenal Football Club.
That performance came from the Iceman, Dennis Bergkamp.
Arsenal had made a strong start to the 1997/98 season, looking to extend their unbeaten streak to four games when they travelled to Filbert Street to face Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City.
Both teams fielded strong starting lineups, with Emile Heskey and Muzzy Izzet both starting for the Foxes, while Bergkamp, Marc Overmars, and Patrick Vieira all started for Arsene Wenger’s side.
It took just nine minutes for Arsenal to take the lead and for Bergkamp to stamp his mark on the game.
Unmarked in acres of space on the left corner of the penalty area, fellow Dutchman Overmars spotted him and rolled a short corner to his feet. Bergkamp took one touch out of his feet, opened up his body and curled a sublime right-footed shot into the far top corner, and just like that, Arsenal led 1-0.
Ian Wright and Steve Walsh missed the only notable opportunities for both teams in a game of very few chances, with the score remaining 1-0 to the Arsenal until the hour mark.
Then, Bergkamp struck again.
Winning the ball deep in the Arsenal half, Patrick Vieira found Ray Parlour, who turned his marker and sprung a quick counter attack.
Racing over the halfway line, ‘The Romford Pele’ returned the ball to the Frenchman on the right-hand side before playing a delightful pass infield to Bergkamp.
The pass was perfectly weighted, allowing the onrushing Dutchman to take the ball in his stride and beat the covering defender.
Bergkamp was now one-on-one with Kasey Keller, who raced off his line to meet him. Cool and composed as always, the Arsenal forward lifted the ball over the American, who got a touch to send it looping high into the air, but ultimately, into the back of the net.
Arsenal led 2-0 and the points now seemed safe.
But, as we all know, football is a crazy, unpredictable game.
Leicester weren’t going down without a fight, with Steve Guppy missing a guilt edged chance at the back post from an Emile Heskey cross.
Heskey then got on the end of a cross in the 84th minute, bundling the ball home after David Seaman came and failed to collect.
Even with the Foxes pulling a goal back, it seemed unlikely that Arsenal would not be returning to North London without three points.
But, Leicester found an equaliser.
With the clock just ticking over into the 90th minute, a long ball flicked on fell to the feet of defender Matt Elliot.
The Scotsman was in almost the exact spot from which Bergkamp had curled home Arsenal’s sumptuous opener. While Elliot’s effort did not have the same class as that of the Dutchman, his low drive took a deflection, carrying the ball just out of the reach of Seaman and into the bottom corner.
Somehow, Leicester had made it 2-2, but, Bergkamp was not done, and he saved his very best till last.
With just a few minutes of injury time left, Arsenal went looking for a winner, and they thought they’d found it.
David Platt picked up the ball in central midfield, spotting Bergkamp moving into the penalty area.
The England international clipped a delightful pass over Dennis’ head, with the Dutchman watching the ball over his shoulder.
His first touch was pure gold, taking the pace of the pass with his right foot but keeping the ball airbourne. The second touch with his left flicked the ball inside Foxes hero Elliot, leaving the defender without a chance.
The third touch with his left ground the ball, setting it perfectly for Bergkamp to slot home with the inside of his right, and that’s exactly what he did, finding the back of the net, leaving all of Filbert Street in shock at the brilliance they had just witnessed.
A goal of that quality was worthy of winning any game, and after throwing away a 2-0 lead, it seemed that Arsenal would win it 3-2 in the end.
But once again, Martin O’Neil’s side had other ideas.
From a corner, a classic game of head tennis between two Leicester players resulted in a late, sickening equaliser that very much summed up English football.
The ball was swung high to the back post, with Walsh getting high above his marker to head it to Spencer Prior at the near. He returned the favour, heading back across goal for Walsh to power the ball into the net and make sure the spoils were shared.
3-3 is how it finished.
Arsenal may have let the lead slip, not once but twice. Leicester may have shown heart, spirit, and fight to salvage a draw, but all anyone was talking about was Dennis Bergkamp.
Leicester boss O’Neill called it “the best hat-trick I’ve ever seen”, and I have to agree with him.
The hat-trick had everything. A sublime goal from range, a cheeky chip after some great build up and a third that oozed class, quality and perfectly summed up the brilliance of Dennis Bergkamp, a player who was an artist in every sense of the word.
Although it may have been a disappointing result and performance, Arsenal fans will always remember the game fondly, solely thanks to Bergkamp.
What a man, what a player, what a performance.