The Gunners, who did the Double in 1997/98, were in contention to repeat that feat the following season, going toe-to-toe with the Red Devils in the Premier League before being drawn against Alex Ferguson’s men in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
A goalless draw at Villa Park led to the last ever semi-final replay at the same venue, in which Peter Schmeichel’s stoppage-time penalty save from Dennis Bergkamp preceded Ryan Giggs’s iconic extra-time winner and chest-baring celebration.
United later pipped Arsenal to the league crown by a point, thanks to Leeds’s 1-0 win over the Londoners in the final week of the season – but Winterburn maintains that the Gunners had the better side and didn’t deserve to end the campaign empty-handed.
Speaking exclusively in the March 2019 issue of FourFourTwo magazine, the former full-back says: “We were the better team. They were minute differences, though. Dennis Bergkamp missed the penalty in the FA Cup semi-final replay, then in the penultimate league game I picked up an injury and we lost against Leeds.
“Win that one, and we’d have just had to beat Aston Villa at home to win the title (which they did 1-0, while United came from behind to beat Spurs 2-1). There wasn’t much between the teams that season. We should have won one of those trophies.”
Arsenal had won both of those trophies the previous year, pipping United by a point in the league before beating Newcastle in the FA Cup final, and Winterburn says that Gunners side was the best he played in throughout his 13-year Highbury career.
“We could play incredible football but mix it up if it got tough,” he says. “Technically it was the best team, from 1 to 11. I thought, ‘We can achieve something special here’.
“In December we had a couple of games in hand but were 12 points behind, and some bookies paid out on United. But we went on an amazing run. The match that turned it was the 1-0 victory at Old Trafford, when Marc Overmars scored.”
Read the full One-on-One interview with Nigel Winterburn in the March 2019 issue of FourFourTwo magazine, which also features exclusive chats with Jadon Sancho, Gareth Bale and Edin Dzeko. Plus we present our six-point plan to become an incredible interim manager, visit QPR as they hope to banish their FA Cup hoodoo, find out what happened to Royston Drenthe, and hear from football’s ultimate journeyman, Sebastian Abreu.