Arsenal and Manchester City could both claim to have the best title win of all time.
In 1989, Arsenal needed to win at Anfield by two clear goals to beat Liverpool to the Division One title on the final day of the season. A goal from Alan Smith and a last minute winner from Michael Thomas gave Arsenal an unlikely win, snatching the title away from Liverpool right at the last second.
Several years later, in 2012, Manchester City needed to defeat Queens Park Rangers at home on the final day to secure the Premier League title. The situation was complicated by rivals Manchester United also being in contention. They won at Sunderland, meaning City had to win. They were trailing 2-1 until Edin Dzeko equalised in the 92nd minute. Three minutes later, Sergio Aguero smashed in the winner.
Picking which of these was the more dramatic is tough. Personal bias makes it tempting to choose Arsenal’s win, but a strong case can be made for City’s final day drama, too.
Arsenal’s title win was a much trickier scenario. Liverpool were the dominant force in English football at the time and knew they could afford to lose as long as it wasn’t by two clear goals.
By contrast, City were at home against a team fighting against relegation, and one that was vastly inferior to them. Any win would have sufficed for City, as goal difference wasn’t in the equation.
So, Arsenal get points for high degree of difficulty.
Yet while Arsenal had the tougher assignment, the match itself turned out to be a much more controlled affair. Smith’s goal gave them plenty of time to find the second.
The timing of Michael Thomas’ goal couldn’t be any more dramatic, but you could argue it was going to come eventually. Liverpool, perhaps, had let complacency seep in and became anxious when their position came under threat.
It turned out to be a linear story with a very satisfying and unexpected conclusion.
City, on the other hand, played a more chaotic match.
Their game was full of twists and turns. They were a goal up in the first half, but then 2-1 down by the 66th minute. Their team had to pick themselves up again and find two more goals in a frantic finale. The only thing that tops a late winner is both a later equaliser and a late winner. The outcome was expected – nobody doubted City would win in the end – but the route there was a lot wilder than many anticipated.
What gives Anfield 1989 the edge was that it was an underdog victory.
Arsenal weren’t the favourites to win that game and defied the odds doing so, whereas City were very much favourites against QPR and made much harder work out than they should have done.
The set-up for that day at Anfield was just too perfect, and the outcome too heroic, for it not to be the best.
Had Manchester City been facing Manchester United on the final day, this would probably have been a far closer call, but as it stands, it’s not really.
There’s one clear winner – and that’s Arsenal in 1989.