23 October 1999
Chelsea 2
Petrescu, Flo
Arsenal 3
Kanu (3)

75 mins: Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1 (Kanu)

82 mins: Chelsea 2 Arsenal 2 (Kanu)
90 mins: Chelsea 2 Arsenal 3

"The most memorable I've ever scored"

Kanu goes over Chelsea's head

Martin Thorpe (The Guardian)

This was an afternoon of such unbelievable excitement that the script could have been written specifically to impress the watching Fifa delegation who are assessing England's bid for the 2006 World Cup.

If so, South Africa and Germany have no chance now. Genius was afoot as Arsenal, losing 2-0 to one of their main Premiership rivals with just 15 minutes left, staged a comeback which, four days after they had escaped, consigned Chelsea to Hell once more.

The star of the show was Nwankwo Kanu, whose injury-time winner completed a fantastic hat-trick. A fixture computer with a perverse sense of pleasure had sandwiched this match between two equally vital Champions League games for both sides.

But though each manager rested a key player - Dennis Bergkamp for Arsenal, Gianfranco Zola for Chelsea - the teams still managed to produce a classic, and Kanu a fairytale.

For his third goal he produced an audacious and masterly strike which hit the net as if secreted there by an illusionist.

Mistakes by Dennis Wise then Albert Ferrer had allowed the striker possession by the left-hand byline. Faced by Ed de Goey, who had come sprinting out of his area, Kanu cleverly dipped his shoulder, dummied past the goalkeeper and found himself standing no more than two feet from the byline with two defenders in front of him.

"I expected him to cross," admitted his manager Arsène Wenger. But cross he did not, choosing instead to scoop the ball from the acutest of angles over the heads of Marcel Desailly then the despairing Frank Leboeuf on the line.

"If he hadn't scored it could have upset you because he really should have passed," confirmed Wenger with the smile of hindsight. "However, great players can prove you wrong. It is one of the best goals I've seen."

Kanu's two earlier strikes had lifted him on to a mental plane uninhabited by self-doubt, so he only had one thought. "I was never going to cross," he said. "Immediately I beat the keeper my mind was on how to score. At 2-2, there was nothing else for it."

"Kanu is a great character, not only a talent but a fighter who works hard for the team," said Wenger. "He is a winner, and when you are a winner you do what is efficient."

Kanu's polished performance

By Graham Hunter

Bizarre though it may seem, the defining moment of Nwankwo Kanu's brilliant performance at Stamford Bridge actually came after the final whistle had sounded.

He had already been mauled by exuberant Arsenal players, delirious over his part in their extraordinary comeback from 2-0 down, when Dennis Bergkamp, who sat the game out, reached him just in front of the visiting supporters.

The Dutchman hugged the Nigerian. Then, without a hint of irony, bent down and made the crystal clear motion of polishing Kanu's boots. It was like the ruler of the Kingdom of Highbury accepting that it is already past the time for the crown prince to ascend the throne. The fact that Bergkamp has been talking about abdicating recently, publicly admitting he may want one last contract elsewhere during the final years of his career, made this little cameo all the more significant.

It was all about that third goal. During the match Kanu had already given a masterclass display of first-time control, dribbling, ball shielding and passing - plus scoring two fine goals. But when, in the closing seconds, he produced one of the finest goals the Premiership has seen to win the match, he confirmed he is not just a

special player but outrageously talented, inventive and daring.

Getting past Ed de Goey near the touchline, with no room to play, was the equivalent of putting two men in a phone box and asking one to hide from the other. That looked impossible but his exquisite finish, past not one but two defenders on the line, completed a goal which seemed utterly unfeasible when the move started with a poor pass by Davor Suker which had given possession to Albert Ferrer.

Bergkamp said: "I just could not believe the goal he scored from the angle he was coming from. How did he pull it off? He had the sort of game when he was destined to be the hero. He seemed to know he could do anything he wanted - every shot he had was going to be decisive. I love to watch him every day in training. It is a joy to see what he can do and I watch Kanu to learn from him."

Suker, an extremely able forward who subjugated himself to helping Kanu, said: "It was a beautiful winner - the goal of an artist."

Manager Arsène Wenger added: "This was one of the best goals I have seen - it is difficult to classify but it was so surprising that I can call it a non-rational goal." Significant praise.

"If he was just a show-off it would be different," Wenger pointed out after the match. "But he is a winner first and foremost. You can call Kanu an efficient player because he always does things to win games. This man is not just a talent but a fighter. His character means that he fights every minute he is on the pitch. Sometimes, when he dribbles, I actually think opponents cannot see where the ball is."

Kanu enjoyed the moment, but not in the manner of someone who was pleased for himself. "When the players all reacted the way they did to me, they knew it was a good goal. But they, and I, knew how important it was for the team. Whatever you do, whatever conditions you play in, it is not just about talent, it is about being professional - working hard and dedicating yourself to the team.

"Having said that, this was one of the best things I have done. The third goal was not instinct, I did think about what to do. I was never going to cross but I thought I would try my luck because there was no keeper on the front post. From the instant I went past Ed de Goey, my mind was on how to score. There were two men on the line, I knew that, but I believed that even if I mis-hit it, at worst, then it might create something."

It had been an exceptional performance from Kanu all afternoon. Early passes into space, mazy intricate dribbles in midfield and penalty box play with his back to goal that any striker would be proud of. At least twice he drew lunging tackles from Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf, only for the Frenchmen to realise they had been duped by the footballing equivalent of the three card trick - wherever they thought the ball was Kanu knew full well it was not there.

The first goal came when he controlled Marc Overmars' shot and poked it past De Goey. Then, Kanu created the second with a wonderful volley pass to Overmars before taking a return pass, cutting past Desailly to the right, and striking a vicious shot past the Dutch keeper. Then came the pièce de resistance.

Kanu pounces in triple strike

Amy Lawrence

Fifa's World Cup bid inspectors dropped in on an archetypal English affair. But wherever they travel, they will surely not see anything quite like Nwankwo Kanu. This likeable, modest Nigerian with skills to take the breath away won a monumentally important game for Arsenal with his first hat-trick in English football.

The crowning glory will live long in the memory. Two minutes into injury time Kanu came up with an unforgettable moment of ingenuity. Robbing Ed De Goey, he weaved past the goalkeeper, displaying a velcro touch, before curling in astonishingly from the byline at an angle that defied geometry.

Wenger's men had been given hope by Kanu with 15 minutes remaining. Overmars's hopeful drive fell to the Nigerian, who extended one of those telescopic legs to stab a piercing drive past Ed de Goey.

The box of African tricks wasn't finished. Eight minutes later he equalised with a more improbable chance. His first touch to control Overmars's low cross was taking him away from goal but he found the angle to beat De Goey at the near post.

Updated: 27 June, 2002
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