Arsenal Win First PL Crown
In his first full season in north London, Arsene Wenger guided Arsenal to their first Premier League title at the end of the 1997-98 campaign… but only just! It was the Highbury club’s 11th English title and a championship since 1991. Wenger brought a French swagger to the English capital, and the Gunners edged out Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in a thrilling title race. Liverpool took third place, never being able to quite keep apce with the top two, while Chelsea finished in fourth spot and were never serious contenders for the title, though they did at least win the League Cup.
Crystal Palace were given a place in the 1998-99 Intertoto Cup, despite finishing rock bottom of the Premier League and getting relegated back down to the Football League First Division. Barnsley ended in 19th place in the table and joined the Eagles in getting sent down to the second tier. Everton survived by the skin of their teeth, staying up on goal difference at the expense of Bolton Wanderers.
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Wenger Makes Instant Impact
Wenger arrived in England in September 1996 as something of an unknown entity. Although his appointment was greeted with mixed emotions among the Arsenal fanbase, Wenger settled in extremely quickly. After a full pre-season under his belt, Wenger set about overhauling Man United and ending the dominance the Manchester club had enjoyed in the early years of the Premier League. The Gunners started well, winning six and drawing six of their opening 12 league games.
Arsenal hit a rough patch of form from early November to the middle of December, losing four of six games in that period. However, they went on an 18-game unbeaten run to get their hands on the Premier League trophy for the very first time. Wenger’s side thumped Everton 4-0 at Highbury on 3rd May to get the job done with two games to spare. A Slaven Bilic own goal, a Marc Overmars double and a late Tony Adams strike did the business. This is just as well for Arsenal given that after sewing up the title, they went on to lose their final two league games.
In their penultimate league match of the season, Arsenal lost 4-0 at Liverpool with a changed team and then ended their league campaign with a 1-0 loss at Aston Villa. Nonetheless, Arsenal went on to secure a memorable double when they earned a 2-0 win over Kenny Dalglish’s Newcastle United at Wembley Stadium in the 1998 FA Cup final a week later. In the process, the Londoners became only the second side to win the double for a second time.
Trophyless Season for Red Devils
Man United had won four of the opening five Premier League seasons, beating Newcastle to the title by seven points the year before. Their season started with an FA Charity Shield victory over Chelsea, but they won no major trophies this year, as they had to sit back and watch a new team become the top dogs in English football.
At one point, United looked on for a league and European double, but Arsenal’s incredible end to the season in the Premier League (aside from their final couple of games) coupled with Man United’s shock UEFA Champions League loss to Monaco put paid to those hopes. They were also knocked out of the FA Cup by struggling Barnsley which was viewed with some embarrassment on the part of United fans. The Red Devils finished their league campaign with five wins and two draws from their last seven games but Arsenal had already put themselves in a very strong position and ultimately they proved to be too strong in the title battle for Man United.
Derby Finish Ninth in New Home
Derby County’s long stay at the famous Baseball Ground came to an end after the 1996-97 season had concluded. They spent 102 years at that stadium before moving into Pride Park at the beginning of the 1997-98 campaign. The new stadium was almost double the capacity.
Derby built on their 12th-place finish from the season before, finishing in ninth with 55 points, nine points more than the previous campaign. They settled into their new home with real aplomb, winning their opening four league and cup matches at Pride Park. Jim Smith’s side remained unbeaten on home turf until Newcastle left with a 1-0 win in a League Cup match in November. That was their only loss in their opening 15 home games across all competitions, with their first home league defeat coming to Aston Villa in February.
English Trio Share Golden Boot
The battle for the Golden Boot in the 1997-98 season was a fascinating watch. English trio Dion Dublin, Michael Owen and Chris Sutton all finished with 18 goals apiece.
Dennis Bergkamp, Kevin Gallacher and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink ended in joint fourth on 16 goals each. Andy Cole and John Hartson both scored 15.
After narrowly avoiding the drop in 1997, Coventry City had an excellent second season under Gordon Strachan, finishing in 11th in the table with an impressive 52 points to their name. Young Darren Huckerby was a huge reason behind the Sky Blues’ success this term, scoring 14 Premier League goals. Huckerby netted a memorable hat-trick in a 3-3 draw with Leeds United in April 1998.
Relegations & European Qualifications
All three promoted clubs suffered an instant return to the second tier. The step-up in class proved to be too much for Crystal Palace, Barnsley and Bolton. Everton were the lucky ones, staying up after a 1-1 draw with Coventry on the final day kept them just ahead of Bolton (though it came down to goal difference). Sheffield Wednesday, Wimbledon, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle all finished on 44 points, four points above the drop zone.
A record of nine Premier League teams qualified for Europe at the end of the 1997-98 season. Champions Arsenal were awarded a direct place in the Champions League group stage, while runners-up Man United had to enter the second qualifying round. Liverpool, Leeds, Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa all entered the UEFA Cup.
Which Teams Were Relegated?
Crystal Palace had a tough year, picking up just eight wins and collecting 33 points. Steve Coppell stood down in March, with the popular Attilio Lombardi taking over until April. Palace ended the season with Ron Noades and Ray Lewington in the dugout. They went on to finish bottom of the league, seven points away from safety.
Barnsley stuck with manager Danny Wilson, who guided the Tykes to promotion the season before. Unfortunately, they went straight back down after taking only 35 points from their 38 league matches. They reached the last eight of the FA Cup but suffered 23 league defeats, which was the most of any side in the top division.
Bolton did the best out of the three promoted clubs but were relegated on the final day after a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Everton drew 1-1 at home with Coventry, which kept the Toffees up on goal difference after both sides ended up finishing on 40 points, a total that would ordinarily be enough to keep a side in the division.
Which Teams Qualified For Europe?
Nine clubs reached Europe this season, with Arsenal and Man United entering the Champions League via their league positions. As Arsenal had already qualified for Europe through winning the league, Newcastle were awarded their UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup spot after the FA Cup final, while Liverpool finished third and qualified for the UEFA Cup.
Chelsea won the League Cup and were in the Cup Winners’ Cup first round, so their European berth was given to Blackburn, who finished in sixth position in the Premier League. Leeds and Aston Villa also qualified for the UEFA Cup. Despite suffering relegation, Crystal Palace were given a spot in the Intertoto Cup as they were the only English club to have applied.