Goalscorers: Dennis Bergkamp 14, 45, Julian Joachim 62, Dion Dublin 65, 83
Aston Villa: Michael Oakes, Ugo Ehiogu, Gareth Southgate, Steve Watson, Alan Wright, Gareth Barry (Stan Collymore 54), Lee Hendrie, Ian Taylor, Alan Thompson, Dion Dublin, Julian Joachim (Simon Grayson 86)
Arsenal: David Seaman, Steve Bould, Nelson Vivas, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour (Luis Boa Morte 89), Freddie Ljungberg (Gilles Grimandi 68), Marc Overmars, Nicolas Anelka, Dennis Bergkamp
Referee: Stephen Lodge, Attendance: 39,217
Aston Villa were flying high in the first half of the 1998-1999 season and looked like a genuine contender for the Premier League title. John Gregory’s side had only been beaten twice all campaign by the time reigning champions Arsenal visited Villa Park. Villa had just been knocked off top spot by Manchester United after their 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur 24 hours earlier and were enduring their toughest run of the season – having collected just two points from their previous four fixtures.
Back after missing four matches with a thigh problem, Dennis Bergkamp gave the champions the lead after 14 minutes. Strike partner Nicolas Anelka won an aerial challenge and Bergkamp showed his class to sprint away from Gareth Barry. The Dutchman then provided a clinical finish with a volley from distance that surprised Michael Oakes. Although the home side were enjoying more possession, it was the Gunners who had more intent in attacking situations. Right on the stroke of half-time, the visitors doubled their advantage with Anelka and Bergkamp once again working brilliantly in tandem.
The Frenchman was once again the provider, getting to the by-line unchallenged, turning and producing a crisp pass which Bergkamp dispatched in commanding fashion with an instant first-touch finish. Gregory was now going to have to give a stiff half-time team talk to his players if they were going to turn this situation around. However, the interval would last for 30 minutes after a shocking incident at half-time.
RAF parachutist Nigel Rogoff was coming into the stadium in a Santa Claus outfit when his stunt went dreadfully wrong. He hit the roof of the Trinity Road stand and plunged to the ground. Rogoff sustained bad injuries to both of his legs and his left leg would later be amputated above the knee.
Once the football resumed, the Villa faithful put aside those events to help galvanise the players back into the contest. Gregory brought Stan Collymore on for Barry 10 minutes into the second half and his presence helped the Villans back into the match. On 62 minutes, it was his flick-on that played in Lee Hendrie. Hendrie then squared the ball to Julian Joachim and he beat David Seaman with a low shot.
Three minutes later, Arsenal’s lead had vanished. Dion Dublin scored his eighth goal for the club since arriving from Coventry City a month earlier. His first attempt at a shot was blocked but when Alan Thompson’s miscue fell neatly into his path, he made no mistake as Arsenal’s protests against an offside fell on deaf ears. Sensing a winner was on the cards, Villa continued to increase the tempo and they completed the comeback seven minutes from full-time. Martin Keown missed his attempt of a clearing header and the ball dropped beautifully for Dublin to thrash a shot beyond Seaman.
Villa would spend Christmas Day on top of the table but a dire run of 10 games without a win from mid-January saw them fade to sixth in the final standings. Arsenal won the return fixture 1-0 at Highbury on the last day of the season but missed out on retaining their title by just a single point.