Fifteen years on, you'd be forgiven for thinking Ray Parlour is sick of talking about Arsenal's 1997/98 championship-winning side. But with the emotion still audible in his voice, Parlour is happy to recall a special period in his life: "To see Tony Adams, my room partner and one of my best mates, score and win us the Premiership title was an absolutely amazing experience."
Leading up to the clash with Everton on Sunday 3 May, 1998, Arsenal were unbeaten in 18 league matches and had won their last nine. Arsene Wenger's side were ahead of Manchester United by four points with just three games remaining, meaning the Gunners could seal their maiden Premiership title in front of a sell-out Highbury crowd.
Opponents Everton were struggling at the opposite end of the table and were languishing in the relegation zone in 18th place, trailing Bolton by a point. Whatever the result for the Toffees, their 44-year record of remaining in the top flight would still remain in the balance.
Talisman Dennis Bergkamp was injured for the game, with the Dutchman having been in irresistible form throughout the year. Finishing with a tally of 16 goals, his performances were so impressive that there were suggestions Wenger was too reliant on the Dutchman earlier in the campaign.
During a goalless draw with Crystal Palace in October, Bergkamp picked up his fifth yellow card which meant he would miss the next three games, culminating in a mid-season examination of whether Arsenal could survive without their star striker. Wenger's team, who were unbeaten, failed to prove their critics wrong as they succumbed to a 3-0 defeat at Derby County and while they fought to victory eight days later against Manchester United, another disappointing defeat followed at Sheffield Wednesday.
Sunday 3 May, 1998
- Middlesbrough beat Oxford United 4-1 at the Riverside to seal promotion back to the Premiership at the first time of asking.
- The body of Britain's first £1million black footballer Justin Fashanu is found in a deserted lock-up garage in Shoreditch. Fashanu had come out as gay at the age of 29 in 1990 and suffered years of persecution.
- All Saints' double A-side 'Under the Bridge / Lady Marmalade' enters the UK charts at number one.
- Slasher sequel 'Scream 2' tops the UK box office.
Despite Bergkamp's return from suspension, home defeats to Liverpool and Blackburn meant Arsenal had won just two of their eight games leading up to their Boxing Day match at home to Leicester, a 2-1 win that would prove to be the catalyst for the Gunners' title surge.
Parlour played in 36 league games that year and a series of impressive performances earned him his 'Romford Pele' nickname. After recovering from their rough patch, Arsenal embarked on an 18-match unbeaten run, with the central midfielder believing the key moment of their season arrived in March at Old Trafford.
"The turning point was going to Manchester United when Overmars scored and won us the game 1-0. That really set us on our way," he told Sky Sports.
"We had games in hand but they had points on the table and it was always going to be difficult to catch them. But if you look back at that season, we didn't have a lot of injuries. We had the same sort of side every game and I played in nearly all of them. That helped us chase down United."
I thought, 'if you can't play in games like this, then you shouldn't be a footballer'. I walked out of the tunnel and the atmosphere was amazing - the crowd knew we could do it.Ray Parlour
After a series of scintillating performances in the run-in, the Gunners' chances of sealing the title against Everton were high. The only slight problem was an injury to Bergkamp picked up in their previous match at Derby, which meant he would miss the big one. Not only did Arsenal have the chance to etch their name into Premier League folklore, they had the opportunity to show they could survive without the Dutchman and prove a rather bullish Howard Kendall wrong, with the Everton boss having said before the Highbury meeting: "This is a more important match for us than it is for Arsenal. We hope to spoil Arsenal's party, if that's what they think it is going to be."
Five minutes into the game, Wenger's side made a mockery of any suggestion that they were a one-man team. After Parlour was fouled on the right-hand side, Emmanuel Petit's sumptuous-free kick was nodded into his own goal by Toffees defender Slaven Bilic. The floodgates opened thereafter, as Arsenal's title dream unfolded in front of an awestruck home crowd.
"We had the team mentality that we would fight to the end, and we knew it was a massive game in front of an expectant crowd at Highbury. We always knew that it was in our destiny. If we win the game, we win the title," said Parlour.
"I thought, 'if you can't play in games like this, then you shouldn't be a footballer'. I walked out of the tunnel and the atmosphere was amazing - the crowd knew we could do it."
An irrepressible performance from Marc Overmars began after the flying Dutchman picked the ball up on the halfway line and sprinted towards a nervy defence before hitting a rather scuffed shot towards Thomas Myhre, who let the ball trickle under him and into the net, doubling their advantage.
His second, and Arsenal's third, epitomised the abundance of confidence that flowed through Wenger's side. After Everton had gifted possession in the middle of the park, Overmars once again ran at the Toffees defence with blistering pace and finished with supreme accuracy. Kendall's hopes of spoiling the party, suggestions they weren't good enough to win the title and concerns that they couldn't play without Bergkamp, were being blown out of the water. Emphatically.
Overmars finished the season with an outstanding tally of 16 goals in all competitions, with Parlour lauding the importance of Arsenal's regular midfield as a factor for the Dutchman's success.
"Most people think we played a straight 4-4-2, but it wasn't. Emmanuel Petit would go across and cover Marc when he was on the attack, and Patrick Vieira would go and cover the right-hand side, leaving me as the only out-and-out central midfielder," Parlour explained.
"We all covered each other which meant when Overmars would sprint forward, we would cover the danger spots. So really, the success was down to a 4-3-3 formation."
I just whacked the thing and I suppose it could have gone anywhere. But that was one of those days. I knew - we all knew - it was meant to be.Tony Adams
With the game over at 3-0 there was still an opportunity, as Martin Tyler said in his commentary, to 'sum it all up'.
Having dealt with years of public scrutiny over his problems with alcohol abuse, Tony Adams had the chance to show the world he was completely rehabilitated, and in style.
After Steve Bould shocked the crowd with a pass of pure precision, Adams raced on to the ball, controlled it with his chest and fired in a superb left-foot drive, sealing the game and the title with a goal that the onlooking Bergkamp would have been proud of.
"I just whacked the thing and I suppose it could have gone anywhere. But that was one of those days. I knew - we all knew - it was meant to be," Adams told Arsenal's matchday programme in 2011.
"A great season, a great afternoon. And the feeling after the ball went in, down the North Bank, was very special. It wasn't going mad because I'd scored. It was sort of serene, just a moment that took me over."
With Tyler yelping 'would you believe it?!' on the commentary, Parlour watched on in awe: "I just didn't think he had it in him!
"The main person in the dressing room was Tony Adams, if you weren't doing a job on the field he would tell you.
"But to see Tony, our leader and our skipper, score the final goal was amazing. Obviously I'd rather have scored the goal, but if anyone else is going to score it, it'd be Tony Adams."
Perhaps one of only a few Arsenal teams that would rival the stars of 97/98 would be 'The Invincibles', who secured the 2003/04 Premier League trophy by remaining unbeaten. While many believe the class of 2003/04 to be the greatest Gunners team of all time, Parlour, who played in both sides, would rather govern the central midfield of the '98 regiment.
"I always think that in 1997/98, we couldn't rotate much because we didn't have the players. We were relying on people like Luis Boa Morte and Christopher Wreh to come in," he concluded.
"If you put it to a poll, the 'Invincibles' would probably win because they went unbeaten, but I'd honestly choose the 97/98 side. The squad was really thin and we had to rely on each other every game. They could rotate a bit easier in 2004, but I think if we had a bigger squad back in '98, we could have been even better."
Many suggest Arsenal's squad is too thin to compete for the title this year, citing a lack of support for striker Olivier Giroud. Perhaps if the current crop need inspiration as to whether they can win their first title since the 'Invincibles', Wenger could do worse than to fetch out the VHS of the 1997/98 season review.
Watch Arsenal v Everton live on Sky Sports 1 HD on Sunday, with coverage underway from 3.30pm.