Nigel Winterburn thinks the Arsenal team of the late nineties was better than Manchester United’s treble-winning side, but they lost out on a couple of small details.
Speaking in March 2019’s FourFourTwo magazine, Winterburn talked about how close they came to taking a trophy or two off that United side in 1998/99.
“We were the better team,” Winterburn insisted. “They were minute differences, though. Dennis Bergkamp missed the penalty in the FA Cup semi-final replay, then in the penultimate league game I picked up an injury and we lost against Leeds.
“Win that one, and we’d have just had to beat Aston Villa at home to win the title (which they did 1-0, while United came from behind to beat Spurs 2-1). There wasn’t much between the teams that season. We should have won one of those trophies.”
It’s not as if Arsenal were strangers to success in either competition. The previous year they’d won both the FA Cup and the Premier League, coming back from a 12-point deficit in December to turn things around.
The Gunners had also overcome United 3-0 twice at the start of the 98/99 season, once in the Community Shield (then Charity Shield) and once in the league. As Winterburn points out, the league campaign was a close thing right down to the final game, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side winning it by a single point.
At the end of the day, the trophies all went United’s way that season, so it’s hard to argue they didn’t deserve them. The injuries and penalty misses might have fallen at the worst possible time, but the truth is that people just tend to forget runners up and losing semi-finalists, even if there was almost nothing between them and the eventual winners.
Winterburn is right to point out just how close the two teams were though, and he won his own fair share of Premier League titles and FA Cup trophies over the years anyway. 1998/99 was just the season of trophies that got away.