Sky Sports Vault
Ahead of the Monday Night Football clash between Arsenal and Chelsea, Sky Sports looks back to a classic encounter from September 1996 - recalled by Michael Duberry.
By David Bowers - @davidalexbowers
Last Updated: 23/12/13 1:31pm
Seventeen years ago, whilst everyone was waiting for Arsene Wenger's arrival at Arsenal from Japan, there was another managerial revolution going on in the capital.
With Glenn Hoddle leaving to take up the England reins, the managerial spot at Chelsea was freed up for Ruud Gullit, who was still marshalling the Blues' midfield. Seen as something of a dying breed in today's game, the fashionable player-manager trend continued with Gullit hoping to emulate his predecessor Hoddle, who had led Chelsea to the FA Cup final in his first season as player-boss in 1993/94.
Coming into the Premiership clash at Highbury on Wednesday 4 September 1996, there was an air of unrest surrounding Arsenal. Bruce Rioch had been sacked before the start of the season following a dispute regarding transfer funds, leaving caretaker managers Stewart Houston and Pat Rice to take charge of 10 games. They were merely warming the seat for Wenger who would arrive at the end of the month, meaning Houston had the problem of making his team tick in front of the Clock End.
Meanwhile, Chelsea travelled to North London in buoyant mood. On the back of two successive league wins against Middlesbrough and Coventry, there was hope of becoming a genuine top-flight force again. With new signings Roberto Di Matteo, Gianluca Vialli and Franck Leboeuf at Gullit's disposal, there was a continental flair flowing throughout the side, which would be enhanced two months later by the arrival of Gianfranco Zola from Parma - forcing then Gialloblu manager Carlo Ancelotti to issue a public apology as a result: "I'm sorry about it. Zola is a great player."
Gullit would have to wait for his Italian master but was comforted, however, by the form of new signing Vialli. Having scored against Coventry, the former Juventus forward had the chance to justify Chelsea's foreign transfer policy to their critics.
As a promising young defender, Michael Duberry broke into the first team under Hoddle's stewardship and was seeking a regular spot under his new manager, admitting that Highbury was one of his favourite grounds to visit as a player.
"I loved playing games there. It was genuinely one of the best stadiums that football had. It had everything about it - the history, the atmosphere and the Clock End," Duberry told Sky Sports.
"This game was great because it started the rivalry between the two sides. We were becoming a force, making a name of ourselves."
Just over five minutes into the game, Dennis Wise was sent tumbling by Steve Bould after the defender scythed down Wise's explosive run into the box. That famous continental approach was in full swing already, with Gullit ordering French centre-back Leboeuf to take the resulting penalty. With the kind of coolness he became synonymous for, the former Strasbourg defender dispatched his spot-kick to put the Blues into a shock lead.
The Gunners looked massively off the pace and were struggling to contain a fluid Chelsea attack, and despite a few attempts from Paul Merson and Dennis Bergkamp, managerless Arsenal would concede a sloppy second.
After a neat piece of work on the halfway line by Craig Burley, nutmegging Nigel Winterburn, the Scot slipped through Vialli, who was being ushered away from the goal by Andy Linighan. However, the Italian squeezed in a pot-shot which looked to be easy-pickings for John Lukic, who somehow managed to let the ball get under his grasp and into the net. The atrocious goalkeeping sent the travelling Chelsea fans into delirium, along with the one or two supporters who had sneaked in behind Lukic's goal.
Still in the first half, Chelsea could have easily scored a third. The impressive Dan Petrescu (now managing Dynamo Moscow) delivered a deep cross to the back-post which was met by Mark Hughes, whose headed effort was parried by Lukic into the path of Vialli whose follow-up shot was brilliantly defended by a desperate Lee Dixon.
But just when you thought Gullit's side deserved to go into half-time with a clean sheet, they fell foul of the 'worst time to concede' cliché.
In first-half injury time, Bergkamp's deft flick from a John Hartson knock-down gave Merson the chance to fire an effort at Dmitry Kharine, and the midfielder duly obliged with a sweet strike to narrow the margin by one goal.
The goal sparked the fight that had evidently been missing in Arsenal's play, with Houston's side dominating after the restart. After Bergkamp missed a glorious chance, the score was eventually levelled through an unlikely source on 64 minutes.
The influential Merson played a short corner to David Platt, who opted to deliver a deep ball towards Martin Keown, who nodded past Kharine to spark wild celebrations - mostly from Keown himself. Looking as surprised as anyone, the centre-back jumped into the crowd in celebration.
The two goals gave Arsenal the confidence they so desperately craved, with Duberry revealing the inner thoughts of Gunners substitute Ian Wright.
"I was on the bench and warming up next to Wrighty. He said to me 'I'm going to get on and I'm going to score. You know why? Because you don't like playing against me and Franck Leboeuf doesn't like playing against me'.
"I came on after about an hour, and Wrighty was brought on shortly after. He scored."
A long ball from Nigel Winterburn was chased down by Wright, with a collision between him and Kharine looking inevitable. With only 13 minutes to go, the pacey England striker got to the ball first and lifted it over the Chelsea keeper to put Arsenal 3-2 up, with Wright promptly flattened by the oncoming Russian.
It looked like Arsenal had completed a remarkable turnaround, but the match hadn't quite hit the dizzy heights yet.
The passing style was ditched and a lump-it-up-field approach was deployed. John Spencer found himself with space in the centre of midfield and played a long-ball over the top which left the ever-energetic Wise free in the box. Much like the opening goal, Lukic's near-post was far too exposed with Wise hammering home emphatically to ensure they left Highbury with a deserved point.
"It went absolutely mad. It was a great feeling. You look at it now and think 'it's a 2-0 lead, we shouldn't have been losing', but you're just so relieved in the end to get something out a London derby away from home," said Duberry.
Chelsea's teams in the mid-Nineties is often buried under their recent successes, but Duberry believes Hoddle and Gullit's sides helped the Blues become a European force.
"Glenn Hoddle started what is now Chelsea. The way the football is played, the way the club is and the teams that Ruud had were all part of the progression, the transition of what Chelsea have become," he added.
"Having star players like Gullit, Vialli and Zola built a legacy. This meant that more international stars wanted to come and play for Chelsea.
"The 1998 Chelsea team, when we won the Cup Winners' Cup, was the best team I played for during my time there. The 1996/97 team were just as important though - they were a very good team and I'm very grateful to have played in that side.
"We played continental football and had some international stars. This carried on and helped show Roman Abramovich the potential that Chelsea Football Club had, and have since fulfilled."
The Dutch boss led the Blues to FA Cup glory that season, their first trophy in 27 years. While they may not have been as feared as they are today, Hoddle and Gullit's underrated impact will forever live long in Chelsea folklore.
Michael Duberrry now has his own clothing line - visit the website at http://www.positivevibz.co.uk.