Nostalgia Football

‘Kanu Believe it’ game turns 24: Remembering a classic

‘Kanu Believe it’ game turns 24: Remembering a classic
Nwankwo KANU (photo by Eric Renard / Onze / Icon Sport)

After Arsenal’s late comeback against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last weekend, let’s take a look at one of the Gunners’ greatest ever comebacks in west London.

‘Kanu Believe it!’ – the 24th anniversary

The backstory

It’s exactly 24 years to the day since Arsenal came back from 2-0 down to defeat the Blues at the Bridge, with all thanks directed to one man, as Nwankwo Kanu stepped up to claim three goals and three points against the odds. 

Arsene Wenger signed Kanu from Inter Milan in the January window of 1999, paying a fee of just £4.15m to the Italian outfit for their striker. It was a bold move to try and retain the Premier League title, but it was a mission that would fail by a single point on the final day of 1998/99.

That said, there is every chance that signing Kanu in the summer of 1998 would have helped Arsenal to their first successive league titles since the mid-1930s. Regardless, the forward made a fast start, netting six times across his first 12 Premier League games, with his heroics of the following season still spoken widely about today. 

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In echoes of a famous London derby from 1999, Leandro Trossard of Arsenal celebrates with Bukayo Saka only last weekend, after he scores for 2-2 in the 84th minute – Photo by Icon sport

The game: Chelsea 2-3 Arsenal 1999

On October 23rd 1999, Arsenal faced the challenge of a trip to Stamford Bridge to face their London rivals in between a packed schedule of Champions League action. Back then, the modern iteration of Europe’s top table was a new experience for the Blues.

While they were now UCL veterans who knew how to fight on two fronts, Wenger and his squad were aware of the magnitude of the task in hand, as the Blues were yet to concede a home goal, with goalkeeper Ed De Goey imperious between the sticks.

Bad to worse… then a lifeline

Although Arsenal had built up a stellar run of form against their rivals prior to the match up, it was Chelsea that opened the scoring, with Tore Andre Flo scoring a header in the 38th minute to deal the Gunners a first-half blow.

At the point of the interval, Wenger had to rally his troops in the bid to pick up momentum in the second half, with his side behind away from home in a high-intensity fixture, however the Frenchman’s hopes were undone soon after the restart. 

Another header was conceded, this time from Dan Petrescu on the 52nd minute, doubling the hosts’ lead and leaving Arsenal red-faced as time continued to tick away.

Then, 15 minutes from time, the Gunners were handed a lifeline through Kanu, as Marc Overmars’ shot ricocheted into the forwards path for him to take a neat touch and poke it under pressure out of the reach of De Goey to make it 2-1. 

There for the taking

It was now game on with just a one-goal deficit to try and overcome. Arsenal continued to press and harry their now nervy hosts, and seven minutes from the end, up stepped Kanu again to save the north Londoners to level the game at 2-2 in the 83rd minute. 

Overmars was the creator once more, as he drilled in a great ball to the feet of Kanu, who showed a true poachers instinct to open up a magnitude of space with his first touch to set the ball perfectly to fire beyond the grasp of De Goey. 

Kanu wins it

In the 90th minute, a Highbury hero was truly born. Kanu found himself with the ball out on the left at a tight angle from goal, however De Goey came rushing out to apply pressure to Arsenal’s striker, who deceived the keeper with some neat footwork. 

After overcoming one obstacle, Kanu smelled blood and curled the ball into the net from a seemingly impossible position to claim his hat trick and to hand the Gunners the ultimate comeback victory on enemy territory.

Martin Tyler commentating 2022
Martin Tyler was on the commentary team that day – Photo by Icon sport

Which commentator said ‘Kanu believe it?’

It wasn’t just Kanu’s individual brilliance that wrote his name into history in the derby, but the audio that came with his moment of glory.

Martin Tyler’s rejoice of “Kanu believe it?” provided some commentary brilliance to pair with a moment of expertise from the Nigerian. 

It wasn’t the last time that Tyler has complimented some memorable moments of the Premier League era with his commentary. 

One of his most memorable passages was his documentation of Sergio Aguero’s 94th minute league winning goal against Queens Park Rangers, as Tyler exclaimed “Aguerooooo” to confirm Manchester City’s last-gasp title win in 2012. 

Robin van Persie Arsenal 2007
Van you believe it?’ – Robin van Persie repeated Kanu’s feat 12 years later in 2011.

Has anyone else scored a hat-trick in Chelsea vs Arsenal games since?

Only one player has emulated Kanu’s three-goal brilliance at Stamford Bridge in 1999, as Robin van Persie netted a hat trick during Arsenal’s dramatic 5-3 win at the Bridge in 2011. 

The Dutch striker starred in the eight-goal thriller, claiming his hat trick-clinching goal in the 92nd minute of play to send the away end into pandemonium, just as Kanu did 12 years prior.

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