The title defence blow-ups that give Arsenal hope

Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira and Ashley Cole

Arsenal’s 1-0 win away at Manchester United on Sunday afternoon has ensured this year’s Premier League title race will reach the final day of the season.

Arsenal fans will now be in the position of cheering on their local rivals when Tottenham Hotspur welcome Manchester City to north London on Tuesday evening for a huge encounter.

Interestingly, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has proved a very difficult place for Man City to visit in the Premier League. They have lost all four Premier League matches they have played there, and what’s more, Pep Guardiola’s men were scoreless in each of those contests.

Have there ever been reigning Premier League champions whose title defences have faltered in the final weeks of the season? The answer is yes.

1994/95: Manchester United

Manchester United were in pursuit of a hat-trick of successive titles for the first time in club history, after winning the first two Premier League championships in 1993 and 1994. Standing in their way were Blackburn, fuelled by the substantial financial backing of owner Jack Walker.

The reigning champions, with talisman Eric Cantona serving an eight-month ban, were two points behind Blackburn on the final day. United required fierce rivals Liverpool to take points from the league leaders at Anfield, and a victory away at West Ham would be enough to retain the league title once again.

Yet, despite Liverpool earning a 2-1 win, Man Utd could only muster a 1-1 draw at Upton Park, even with a barrage of chances, which allowed Blackburn to become Premier League champions for the first time.

Michael Hughes scores
Michael Hughes scores for West Ham against Manchester United and, although Brian McClair would equalise, Ludek Miklosko held the champions at bay to hold out for the draw that allowed the home fans to laugh at Paul Ince - Phil Cole/Allsport

1998/99: Arsenal

On the back of winning the Double the previous season, Arsenal appeared in very good shape to repeat the feat the following season in 1999, at the expense of  Manchester United.

Although the north London side’s Double hopes were scuppered in April, following a memorable FA Cup semi-final triumph for United, they retained control of their Premier League title hopes until penultimate game. All they had to do was avoid defeat when they travelled to face another of United’s bitter rivals Leeds at Elland Road.

However, a late winner from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink snatched the Premier League from Arsenal’s hands and supplied United with the leverage on the final day. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side claimed the Premier League in their next match, after a 2-1 home victory over Tottenham, before they went on to add the FA Cup and Champions League to secure the Treble.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scores with a diving header
In his last home game for Leeds, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink exploits Nelson Vivas's error to score the goal that put the destiny of the title back in Man Utd's hands - John Giles/PA

2001/02: Manchester United

Manchester United had won three consecutive Premier League titles, starting the 2001/02 season, with Arsenal as runners-up on each occasion. Ferguson’s pre-season announcement that he would retire once the campaign was over, led to a significant dip in form, leaving their title defence floundering by December.

However, once the Scot reversed his decision by the end of 2001, there was a rapid upturn in his side’s form. This now meant United could be within touching distance of Arsenal, when the north London side visited Old Trafford with two games to go, knowing a victory would clinch a second Double in four years.

Ultimately, Sylvain Wiltord’s winner in a famous 1-0 Arsenal win relinquished any hopes United had of four in a row, whilst ensuring their closest competitors had seized the opportunity to claim the Premier League title in Manchester.

Sylvain Wiltord
Sylvain Wiltord goal at Old Trafford starts the Arsenal title party in Manchester - REUTERS/Ian Hodgson

2009/10: Manchester United

Manchester United, in 2009, were once again on the hunt for four consecutive league titles, and appeared well set to have the edge over Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea side.

This changed, however, when Chelsea visited Old Trafford in early April and earned all three points in a 2-1 win, which swung the momentum back in the direction of the west London side with five games to go.

A 0-0 draw away with former foes Blackburn meant United then surrendered their advantage, heading into the season’s closing stages. In the end, the reigning champions bounced back to win their last four league games, but fell short to finish behind Chelsea, by just a point, who would go on to secure the Double that same season.

Didier Drogba scores
Didier Drogba scores Chelsea's second, allowing Carlo Ancelotti to add the English leg to what would become a record of titles in Serie A, the Premier League, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and Liga - AP Photo/Tim Hales

2011/12: Manchester United

When Ferguson was asked in 2009 whether Manchester City could ever become favourites in a Manchester derby, he memorably replied: “Not in my lifetime!”

But just a few years later, the Scot suffered his heaviest league defeat as Manchester United manager when City thumped their local rivals 6-1 at Old Trafford in Oct 2011. Even so, Sir Alex’s men managed to race eight points clear of Man City by mid-April with six games left, to move into a commanding position to defend their title.

Yet somehow, United proceeded to fall to a shock 1-0 defeat by relegation-battling Wigan, give up a two-goal lead to draw 4-4 at home with Everton, before losing 1-0 away at City, a result which allowed Roberto Mancini’s side to leapfrog their rivals by the end of the month.

Vinnie Kompany scores
Vincent Kompany tilts the title race back in Manchester City's favour with his goal in the 1-0 derby victory at the Etihad - EPA/GERRY PENNY

The rest, as they say, is history. City won their remaining two league matches, including that epic 3-2 triumph over QPR on the final day to assume the mantle of English champions for the first time in 44 years at their neighbours’ expense.

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