At 3:30 on 5 February, 2011, Arsenal fans were having the time of their lives. Goals from Johan Djourou, Theo Walcott and two from Robin van Persie had put them 4-0 up away to Newcastle and on their way to what felt like an inevitable victory.
At 5:00, though, it was a different story. “Comeback on? Maybe not, but pride restored at least a touch for Newcastle,” read the BBC blog when Joey Barton pulled a goal back from the penalty spot. Alan Pardew’s team had a man advantage after Abou Diaby’s red card, but they had just 22 minutes to find three more goals. In the end, though, they needed just 19.
A repeat this weekend seems unlikely – after all, neither Arsenal or Newcastle have scored four goals in any league game this season – but the impending fixture has got us thinking about some of the other great top-flight comebacks.
Wigan 3-2 Arsenal
We begin with Arsenal again, and we make no apologies for this.
At the end of the 2009-10 season, the Gunners had been quietly clawing their way back into the title race with seven wins from eight games, only to lose the North London Derby to Spurs.
A trip to struggling Wigan was a final chance to stay in the shake-up, and goals from Walcott and Mikaël Silvestre had put them 2-0 up going into the last 10 minutes.
It was then, though, that the wheels came off. Ben Watson pulled one back, but Arsène Wenger’s side looked to have ridden out the storm. Their goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański had other ideas, though.
He dropped a corner onto the head of Titus Bramble, who had the easiest goal he’d ever score. Fabiański had no chance a minute later, though, when Charles N’Zogbia cut in from the right and curled an unstoppable shot in off the post. Arsenal were finished and Wigan were safe, just like that.
Norwich 4-4 Middlesbrough
A relegation battle can force teams to dig deeper than they thought they ever could, and that proved the case in 2005.
Norwich were four points from safety when they hosted Middlesbrough in January, 2005, and had just one point from their previous six games.
After taking the lead through Damien Francis, they found themselves 4-1 down in the closing stages after two goals apiece for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Franck Queudrue. When your luck’s out, it’s really out – Queudrue had scored just once all season before that game.
If finding yourself three goals behind with 10 minutes remaining seems tough, a 4-2 deficit in the 90th minute feels insurmountable. Not for the Canaries, though.
Leon McKenzie got one back on the stroke of full time, and there were enough added minutes left for Adam Drury to find the most unlikely of equalisers.
It was Drury’s first goal in 22 months. When your luck’s in, it’s really in.
Chelsea 3-3 Man Utd
Back in February 2012, André Villas-Boas was under pressure at Chelsea after a run of just two wins from nine league games put the Blues at risk of dropping out of the top four.
He needed a big result against Manchester United to turn things around, and after 50 minutes he must have thought he had it. His team led at half-time through a Jonny Evans own goal, and Juan Mata and David Luiz added to Chelsea’s lead at the start of the second period.
However, Villas-Boas should have known you can never write off Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. Two Wayne Rooney penalties brought the visitors within touching distance, and Javier Hernández struck six minutes from time to deny the hosts – and their manager – a crucial victory.
Villas-Boas lost two of his next three league games in charge, earning him the sack. The most haunting part, though? The game came a year to the day after Arsenal’s collapse at St James’ Park. Maybe he should have seen it coming.