Arsenal are top of the Premier League in April for the first time since they moved away from Highbury. Looking to hold onto the top spot at the business end of the season is uncharted territory for the Gunners in the Emirates era – but did they hold their nerve the last few times?
Mikel Arteta’s Gunners kept their eight-point lead over Manchester City after an impressive 4-1 victory over Leeds United. City had ramped up the pressure by beating Liverpool 4-1 earlier in the afternoon, but Arsenal kept their focus to register a seventh successive league win.
The last time they were top after 29 matches was in the 2007-08 campaign, although that was earlier in the calendar. Their title charge was already starting to falter after an infamously painful 2-2 draw away to Birmingham City in late February. Arsene Wenger’s side eventually trudged to an underwhelming third-place finish that year.
But what about the period that Sir Alex Ferguson unforgettably described as ‘squeaky bum time’; when the pressure really ramps up in the run-in? We’ve taken a look at the five times in the Premier League era that Arsenal were top of the table in April – and how the table ended up come May.
Every Arsenal fan will be well aware of how this unforgettable season ended up.
Wenger’s men had been top in mid-February and had seemingly broken the back of their title push with a run of nine successive wins through February and March.
A 1-1 draw at home to Manchester United broke that run but kept them unbeaten and retained a comfortable lead heading into April.
That month, the Gunners suffered disappointment by being eliminated in the FA Cup and Champions League by Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, but they stuck to their task in the Premier League.
They drew half of their final eight league outings but comfortably finished top – 11 points clear of Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea – and, even more impressively, were invincible. A legendary achievement.
Arsenal spent more weeks top of the table than any other side during the 2002-03 season, including a continuous spell from November until early April, but they ended up as runners-up.
Cracks had begun long before April, however. A 1-1 draw at Aston Villa was the fourth time in their last five away matches that they’d dropped points.
The following week a 2-2 draw at home to eventual champions Manchester United proved decisive, while a 3-2 home defeat to relegation-battling Leeds in early May was the final nail in the coffin.
Wenger’s Gunners recovered to register stylish victories over Southampton, 6-1, and Sunderland, 4-0, but they were too little too late as they ended up five points behind their great rivals of the time.
It’s strange to think that Arsenal were as low as fourth in the January of their title-winning 2001-02 campaign.
They went unbeaten after Christmas and sealed the Premier League title in style by winning each of their last 13 matches.
Sylvain Wiltord’s iconic goal at Old Trafford on the penultimate weekend confirmed it but Arsenal had looked like the champions throughout the spring.
On the subject of wins against Man United…
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 8, 2017
One win in the opening five games and another dismal run in November-December made it look as though Arsenal were going to launch a sorry bid to retain their Premier League title in 1998-99.
But Wenger’s men recovered after Christmas and steadily began to close the gap on Manchester United.
The Gunners looked like scuppering United’s treble dream in April as they went on a run of five successive wins and leapfrogged them to the top spot.
A 3-1 away win in the north London derby put them achingly close to the top spot going into the final two matches.
Leeds United had other ideas. A 1-0 defeat at Elland Road saw them fall behind the Red Devils, and the defeat still stings over two decades later.
A late Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink header for #LUFC ended Arsenals title hopes in May 1999. This victory for David O'Leary's young guns helped #MUFC achieve part one of the treble that season. pic.twitter.com/jq1TONCCoJ
— Premier League Years (@EPLyears) June 3, 2018
A 5-0 victory over Wimbledon on April 18th – seven matches into a 10-match winning streak – saw Arsenal move ahead of Manchester United and into the top spot for the first time since the autumn.
Further victories over Barnsley, Derby and Everton secured the club’s first title of the Premier League era. They lost their last two matches – 4-0 at Liverpool and 1-0 at Aston Villa – but that didn’t take any gloss off their feat.