The most dramatic title-race collapses in Premier League history: From Steven Gerrard's slip to Alex Ferguson's mind games
At times during the 2022-23 season, Arsenal have been as many as eight points clear at the top of the Premier League. Dreams of a first league title since 'The Invincibles' in 2004 have taken over the Gunners' campaign, with Mikel Arteta's team playing the most thrilling football the Emirates Stadium crowd has seen from the home side.
However, after their 3-0 home defeat to Brighton, it now seems certain that Arsenal will miss out on the title, with Manchester City's superb winning run having moved Pep Guardiola's side clear at the top. City's win over the Gunners in April will perhaps be seen as the result that turned the tide, but Arsenal's three successive draws that preceded that 4-1 loss played as much of a part, if not bigger.
That run and subsequent surrendering of top spot has led to talk of Arsenal having 'bottled' the title, but would such talk really be fair, given Arsenal have surpassed all of their pre-season expectations? Let's not also forget they are going up against a state-backed club that has twice accepted UEFA sanctions for breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations and is presently facing more than 100 breaches of Premier League rules?
So, despite their late-season wobble, would they really deserve inclusion on the list of the most infamous title-race collapses in the competition's history?...
- Leicester City: The best team to ever suffer Premier League relegation?
- How much is Cristiano Ronaldo to blame for Al-Nassr's Saudi Pro League title failure?
- Arsenal player ratings vs Wolves: Granit Xhaka bows out in style as Leandro Trossard-inspired Gunners put on a show on Premier League final day
- Man Utd player ratings vs Fulham: Fred feels the love as Bruno Fernandes and David de Gea help seal final-day win
Newcastle 1995-96: 'LOVE IT!'
Even now, Kevin Keegan's infamous post-match rant against Alex Ferguson is a little tough to watch. There's so much passion on show, but also so much pain. It's a visceral display of defiance, but from a man clearly beginning to realise that he's fighting a losing battle.
For the majority of the 1995-96 season, Keegan's Newcastle looked destined to win their first league title since 1927, with a side which quickly became known as 'The Entertainers' sweeping all before them with a thrilling brand of football. At one point, they were 12 points clear.
However, United slowly began to close the gap and when Newcastle lost 4-3 to Liverpool in the greatest game in Premier League history, Keegan was disconsolate, the sight of him slumped over the advertising boardings at Anfield becoming one of the defining images of the season.
Just a few weeks later, though, he produced an even more memorable moment. After a 1-0 win at Leeds, Keegan let rip at Ferguson, who had publicly questioned whether opponents would fight as hard against Newcastle as they had against his United team.
"I'll tell you, honestly, I will LOVE it if we beat them. LOVE IT.”— GOAL (@goal) April 29, 2020
Kevin Keegan’s iconic post-match interview is 24 years old today 🤣pic.twitter.com/mvpLfisMLv
"I've kept really quiet, but I'll tell you something, he went down in my estimation when he said that," Keegan fumed on Sky Sports. "We have not resorted to that, but I'll tell you, you can tell him now if you're watching it, we're still fighting for this title, and he's got to go to Middlesbrough and get something, and... and... I'll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them, LOVE IT!"
Unfortunately for Keegan, United did go to Middlesbrough and get something; three points, in fact. And they ended up winning the title quite comfortably in the end, with Newcastle drawing their final two fixtures.
Both Keegan and his team had been broken by Ferguson's masterclass in the art of mind games.
Man Utd 1997-98: Fergie's fury
People might not remember the name but everyone remembers the face. When Arsenal beat Premier League leaders Manchester United at Old Trafford on March 14, 1998, the coverage cut from the pitch to the crowd, where a curly-haired Gooner called Barry Ferst looked like he was almost about to explode with joy.
His excitement was understandable. Because of Marc Overmars' late goal, Arsenal were just six points behind United - and with three games in hand.
A clearly rattled Alex Ferguson tried to play down the significance of his side's defeat by questioning both Arsenal's quality and composure.
"If they win their games in hand they will go ahead of us, but they will find out they start dropping points towards the end of the season, there's no question about that," the Scot declared.
"They played well today but I don't think they are as good a football team as us."
🗓 #OnThisDay in 1998...— Arsenal (@Arsenal) March 14, 2019
Marc Overmars silenced Old Trafford 🤫 pic.twitter.com/v2uDZljF0Q
Ferguson was wrong, though. His side ran well down the home straight but their title rivals never broke their stride until the race was won.
Indeed, that victory at Old Trafford proved the second of 10 consecutive wins that saw Arsenal win the title with two games to spare.
Arsene Wenger then capped off a remarkable first season in charge by leading his side to a 2-0 victory over Newcastle in the FA Cup final, thus completing only the second domestic double in the club's history.
Ferguson, meanwhile, was furious. United had led by 11 points after beating Chelsea in February - one Manchester bookmaker even paid out on them winning the title after that win - and blew the chance to move 14 points clear after suffering a shock loss at Sheffield Wednesday, which was followed by a 1-1 draw at West Ham.
The reigning English champions eventually finished their campaign without a major honour, which was unthinkable before the Arsenal loss, but that Overmars goal changed everything. And Ferst and his fellow fans knew it too.
Arsenal 2002-03: 'Hard to take'
Arsene Wenger was enraged by the portrayal of Arsenal's 2002-03 Premier League campaign as a "failure".
"Of course, we want to win the title but I think the most difficult thing for the club is to be consistent and we have been remarkably consistent," he argued.
"We lost the league to a team who spends 50 percent more money every year - last year they bought a player for £30m pounds when they lost the championship.
"They will do the same next year and we [have] done miracles just to fight with them."
In terms of Manchester United's financial might, Wenger had a point about the disparity between the two sides. However, there really was no denying that a star-studded Arsenal side had imploded during the title run-in.
After beating Charlton on Match 2, 2003, they were eight points clear, albeit having played one game more than United.
However, what followed was a disastrous run of results, with Arsenal winning just two of their next seven games, and a shock 3-2 defeat at home to Leeds on May 4 effectively ended their hopes of retaining their title.
🔥 "Wenger turns away in disgust" #OTD 2003, Mark Viduka ended Arsenal's title hopes in our 3-2 win pic.twitter.com/W5I1wYirWy— Leeds United (@LUFC) May 4, 2021
During that costly spell, the Gunners had been held at Highbury by United, with Ryan Giggs earning the visitors a 2-2 draw.
It was another 2-2 draw, though, that really seemed to strip Arsenal of their remaining self-belief, with Wenger's side conceding twice in the final 15 minutes of a game against Bolton at the Reebok Stadium.
As the Frenchman conceded himself that day, "For the first time, it is out of our hands, which is hard to take."
Unfortunately for Arsenal, it was a blow from which they never recovered, with the fatal Leeds loss coming just eight days later.
Arsenal 2007-08: Gallas breaks down at Birmingham
Arsenal's collective loss of concentration on an infamous afternoon at St Andrew's in February 2008 was understandable. After just three minutes of their game against Birmingham, they had seen team-mate Eduardo suffer a horrific broken leg after a terrible tackle by Martin Taylor.
However, William Gallas' late meltdown was utterly inexplicable, and arguably unforgivable.
Granted, the Arsenal captain had seen his side blow a 2-1 lead against 10 men, with Birmingham's equaliser coming via the penalty spot in the fifth minute of injury time.
And one could perhaps see why he felt compelled to take his frustration out on the advertising boards.
However, there was simply no excuse for what followed at full-time.
At a time when the Arsenal skipper should have been trying to rouse his disappointed team-mates, he was instead sitting on the pitch, having the mother of all strops.
William Gallas' sitting on the pitch and refusing to leave at full-time is one of the maddest moments during Wenger's reign pic.twitter.com/igM3uN6cjb— Football Daily (@footballdaily) May 15, 2020
It wasn't until Arsene Wenger appeared that Gallas belatedly decided to leave the field.
With that kind of leader, it was hardly surprising that Arsenal subsequently collapsed.
They had arrived in Birmingham five points clear at the top of the table thanks to a 10-game unbeaten run that featured eight wins.
However, they only managed to win one of their next seven games and eventually finished third, four points behind champions Manchester United.
Eduardo's dreadful injury obviously hadn't helped their cause but Gallas' pathetic display of petulance arguably proved even more damaging.
Man Utd 2011-12: Fergie upset by noisy neighbours
Alex Ferguson thought he had seen it all in more than three decades in football management but even he was left astounded by his Manchester United blowing a 4-2 lead in an epic draw with Everton at a vital point in the 2011-12 title race.
"It was a throwaway, an absolute giveaway," Ferguson fumed. "We just needed to see the game out, and it's a travesty because some of our football was fantastic. The goals we scored were great.
"To give away four goals at Old Trafford in a home game that's so important... I just can't believe it."
Unfortunately for Ferguson, things were about to get even more incredible, and even more devastating for United.
First, they turned in an uncharacteristically cautious and borderline listless performance in a 1-0 loss to title rivals Manchester City that allowed their "noisy neighbours" to go top of the table on goal difference with just two games to go.
United kept the pressure on right until the last seconds of the season, by beating both Swansea and Sunderland.
However, City won the closest title race in Premier League history thanks to THAT Sergio Aguero goal on the final day.
Ferguson was magnanimous in defeat, telling Sky Sports, "I'd like to say on behalf of Manchester United, congratulations to our neighbours. It's a fantastic achievement to win the Premier League."
Inside, though, he was disgusted, given his team had been eight points clear of City before a dismal 1-0 loss at Wigan in the middle of April.
It really had been a "giveaway".
Liverpool 2013-14: 'This does not f*cking slip now!'
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard gathered his team-mates around him into a huddle and told them, "This does not f*cking slip now!" The Reds had just beaten title rivals Manchester City 3-2 to move two points clear of Chelsea at the top of the Premier League. Third-placed City still had two games in hand but defeat at Anfield had left them seven points behind the leaders.
A first top-flight title since 1990 was now there for the taking for Brendan Rodgers' resurgent Reds, who had surprisingly propelled themselves into contention with 10 consecutive wins. They extended that remarkable run to 11 by defeating Norwich the following weekend. But then, Liverpool capitulated.
Victory at home to a faltering Chelsea on April 27 would have effectively sealed the title and Jose Mourinho had even rotated his squad with a Champions League semi-final in mind.
However, despite dominating the game, they slipped up. Literally. In injury time at the end of a scoreless first half, Gerrard, of all people, lost his balance and the ball in his own half, allowing Demba Ba to race clear and score.
Steven Gerrard.— GOAL (@goal) April 27, 2020
Six years ago today.pic.twitter.com/EdHzw8Y6Sr
Liverpool, and Gerrard in particular, laid siege to the Chelsea goal in the second half but, as Rodgers lamented afterwards, Mourinho had "parked two buses" in front of the Kop goal. The increasingly desperate hosts could find no way through and their fate was sealed when Willian added a second goal in the dying seconds.
The Merseysiders were still in contention to win the title but then came 'Crystanbul' (a cruel reference to Liverpool's remarkable Champions League final comeback against AC Milan in 2005).
In their penultimate fixture of the season, Liverpool inexcusably blew a 3-0 lead at Crystal Palace. While repeatedly pouring forward in a desperate attempt to eat into City's superior goal difference, they left themselves wide open at the back in the closing stages of the game at Selhurst Park and were held to a draw that effectively ended their title challenge.
They knew it too. When the final whistle blew, Gerrard was left trying to console a distraught Luis Suarez, when it looked like the skipper needed some support himself.
Indeed, what followed was "the worst three months" of Gerrard's life and he has subsequently admitted that he was left with painful memories that he'll never be able to erase from his mind.
"It would be easy if you lifted the carpet, pushed them under and you never thought about them again," he told The High Performance Podcast in 2020. "But I don't think that's ever going to be the case..."