The team we know today as Arsenal Football Club, came into being in 1886. The club was originally formed by the workers of the Royal Arsenal, based in Woolwich on the south bank of the river Thames. Their first name was Dial Square, soon after they changed their name to Royal Arsenal. Dial Square was a reference to the workshops at the centre of the Woolwich site, and in those days the boundary lines were a bit different. Back then they were in the county of Kent, today it’s south east London. The main men back then who were responsible for the formation of the club were two gentlemen by the name John Humble and David Danskin. Humble hailed from the north east, from County Durham to be exact. He moved down to London to work at the Royal Arsenal in 1880.
An interesting fact about his departure from the north east to London was that he walked the entire way, a feat that made the newspapers of the day. Also, Humble was primarily responsible for the club turning into a professional organisation in 1891. David Danskin came from in Fife in Scotland, he moved down to London to work at the Royal Arsenal in 1885. Danskin was a keen footballer during his upbringing in Scotland, eventually playing at amateur level for local team Kirkcaldy Wanderers. Once at the Royal Arsenal Danskin met other keen footballers, players that would be notable in the early history of Arsenal Football club such as Morris Bates and Fred Beardsley. Danskin was very keen to get a football team together at the Royal Arsenal. The game in England was snowballing, becoming increasingly popular at all points of the compass. It was Danskin who organized kitties to raise money for football equipment such as kit, etc, and it was Danskin who captained the Dial Square side during their very first match which was played against Eastern Wanderers; Dial Square won the game 6 – 0.
As I’ve said the club turned professional in 1891, shortly after that milestone in the clubs history Danskin had the misfortune of failing to be reelected to serve on the club’s committee. It was an unfair and bitter pill to swallow for Danskin, after all that he had done for the club. After severing all official ties with the club he went on to become involved in the setting up of the Royal Ordnance Factories football club, sadly they only lasted three years or so. Despite his rough treatment from Royal Arsenal he continued to support them. In later life he suffered from ill health, though he did live long enough to see the club flourish in the 1930’s. As the story goes he was sat up in his bed during a spell of feeling very off colour, to listen to the radio and support his team as Arsenal were competing in the F.A. Cup final of 1936.
As far as home grounds are concerned Dial Square began playing their home fixtures at Plumstead Common in Greenwich in kit that was said to have been borrowed from Nottingham Forest. The fledgling team then moved into The Sportsman Ground. However, due to substantial flooding of the Sportsman Ground in 1888 they moved to the nearby Manor Field. Shortly after that, the ground was named The Manor Ground. In 1890 the club was on the move again this time to The Invicta Ground, which had a capacity of well over ten thousand. Royal Arsenal’s eventual move into the professional game didn’t go down well with certain people. As soon as they turned professional the club was handed a complete ban on entering competitions in the city of London, by the London Football Association. The L.F.A. was established in 1882 and is still in business today, its main headquarters are in Fulham. Pretty soon after the club was formed they began to win silverware, During the 1889 – 1890 season they won the Kent Senior Cup and the London Charity Cup.
In 1893 the club changed its name again, this time to Woolwich Arsenal. It was around that time, that Arsenal became the first club from the south to enter Division Two. They were in the professional big time now, yet there was still quite a lot of opposition to the professional game. In retaliation to the move into the professional game a few of the keen amateur Arsenal players went off to form a football team with the Royal Ordinance Factories, as already mentioned the team Danskin went on to assist with. 1913 was a very important year in the history of Arsenal, it was the year they moved into Highbury Stadium. There was to be another name change too.
After moving into Highbury in Islington during the summer of 1913, the club removed Woolwich from its name. They were no longer in Woolwich, they were now a North London club. They were now called “The Arsenal”, the definite article becoming a part of the clubs name, it wouldn’t be until 1919 until they officially became “Arsenal”. The early twentieth century was a period of improvement and progress for the club. In 1899 the club appointed Lancastrian Henry Bradshaw as team manager, Bradshaw brought Arsenal’s first England international to the club, the goal keeper Jimmy Ashcroft.
As any Arsenal fan will tell you Herbert Chapman is a giant in the history of Arsenal. A native of Rotherham, Chapman arrived at Arsenal in 1925. He would become giant of British football, not just of Arsenal. Before he arrived at Arsenal Chapman had won two Division titles, and the F.A. Cup as manager of Huddersfield in his native Yorkshire. Chapman’s positive impact was felt almost immediately at The Gunners, steering them to an F.A. Cup final in 1927. Sadly for Arsenal, that was the final which saw Cardiff City lift the F.A. Cup, the only welsh team to do so. Chapman’s first F.A. Cup triumph came in 1930, when The Gunners faced Chapman’s former club Huddersfield at Wembley Stadium. Thanks to two goals from Alex James and John Lambert, Arsenal lifted the F.A. Cup in front over ninety three thousand fans. Sadly, Chapman passed away early in 1934, aged only fifty five. A huge loss for Arsenal and British football. Incidentally, it was Herbert Chapman who decided it was time to put numbers on the back of the shirts, and it was Chapman who changed the kit colour scheme to include the white sleeves on the red home shirt. The Arsenal shirt with the red body and white sleeves, is amongst the most recognizable in world football. A design classic that has endured over decades.
The home shirt from the ’81 – ’82 season is one of the most memorable in the clubs modern history. Just two colours, quite plain, nothing fancy. Whilst pretty much every club in England at the time were sporting a vee – neck design on their shirts, the Gunners home shirt was a polar neck design. Even back then as a little kid, I remember thinking it looked quite old fashioned, like I’ve said everything other club were going for a more modern look to their shirts. It was worn by some of the great players of Arsenal in the modern era like Alan Sunderland, David O’ Leary, Brian Talbot and Kenny Sansom. At the time they were managed by Terry Neill who had played for the Gunners for eleven years, from 1959 to 1970. The ’81 – ’82 season was the first season that Arsenal bore the name of a sponsor on their shirts.
The Japan Victor Company, or J.V.C. as they’re better known, had the honour of being Arsenal’s first shirt sponsor. That season they finished fifth in Division One, therefore qualifying for the following season’s U.E.F.A. Cup. Due to a good season the previous year they had were in U.E.F.A. Cup for the 81 – 82 season, sadly for them they went out in the second round on goal difference to Belgian club F.A. Winterslag, interestingly Winterslag merged with Waterschei Thor in 1988 to form Racing Genk. Arsenal had some good wins in Division One that season which included the 2 – 0 away win at eventual European Cup winners Aston Villa and the Gunners defeated Villa 4 – 3 at Highbury a little while later.
Surprisingly at the end of the ’83 – ’84 season, Arsenal failed to qualify for European competition. Tony Woodcock finished that season as the Gunners top scorer with twenty three goals, but as the mid ’80’s approached the Highbury club were pretty much treading water. That’s not to say they weren’t a decent side back then, because they were. The Gunners had a new team manager in Don Howe. Howe was made caretaker boss after the sacking of Terry Neil during the Christmas of ’83, and he was named as permanent team manager at the end of that season. Of course Howe was no stranger to Arsenal, he was a former player for the club who had played for Arsenal for a couple of seasons during the ’60’s. Also, he had been a very successful senior coach at Highbury after hanging up his boots. Throughout his managerial career no matter which club he was at Howe liked to bring through the youth players into the clubs first team. Howe was manager of West Bromwich Albion when Bryan Robson emerged at The Hawthorns. Now at Highbury, Howe brought in the young Tony Adams and David Rocastle. Adams and Rocastle would go on to be fantastic servants of Arsenal.
Howe also brought Paul Mariner to Highbury during the February of ’84, and under Howe John Lukic’s career gained momentum. Unfortunately for Gunners fans, they wouldn’t see Howe’s team lift any silverware. Don Howe began his first full season in charge with a 1 – 1 home draw against Chelsea, the Gunners goal scored by Paul Mariner with Kerry Dixon finding the net for the west London club. Arsenal’s first away game of that season involved a hundred and twenty five mile trip north to face Nottingham Forest, a home crowd of around 18,000 saw their team put Arsenal to the sword to the tune of two goals to nil. Still looking for their first win of the season, Howe’s Gunners next game was away at Vicarage Road to face Watford.
The Arsenal fans had something to smile about finally as their team ran out 4 – 3 winners, a good away performance which included a couple of goals for Charlie Nicholas. On the 4th of September Newcastle arrived at Highbury. The Geordie’s couldn’t have had a happy drive back to the north east, as they went down by two goals to nil. The Arsenal goals that day were scored by Viv Anderson and Brian Talbot. Up next for The Gunners was a match at home, against Liverpool. The Gunners turned in a very good performance recording a 3 – 1 win over their Merseyside opponents, their goals scored by Tony Woodcock with a brace from Brian Talbot. That victory over Liverpool put them top of the League for the first time in over a decade. A week later the Arsenal team bus pulled up outside Portman Road, home of Ipswich Town. It was a bit of a bad day at the office for Arsenal in Suffolk, as Ipswich ran out 2 – 1 winners.
That blip for Arsenal meant they were down to third in Division One. However, they were about to go on a five game winning streak which began at home against Stoke City. The Potters were swept aside, the Gunners putting four goals past their opponents. Arsenal’s goal scorers that day were Kenny Sansom, Paul Mariner and Tony Woodcock who scored a couple of which one was a penalty. Next up was a good 2 – 1 away win against Coventry City, at Highfield Road. Arsenal then beat Everton 1 – 0 at home before walloping Leicester City 4 – 1 at Filbert Street. A week later they beat Sunderland at home, 3 – 2.
Late October saw Arsenal looking like a team that could challenge for the title; they had reclaimed their place at the top of Division One. However, a week after that win at home against Sunderland they travelled across London to Upton Park for a match with West Ham. A bad day at the office for the Gunners saw the Hammers run out 3 – 1 winners. A few days later Arsenal travelled to Old Trafford, United took the points with a good 4 – 2 victory. After that defeat at Old Trafford, Arsenal slowly began to fall in Division One, by the end of January they were occupying fifth place after defeats at Carrow Road and White Hart Lane. The F.A. Cup failed to bring any smiles to Highbury that season as they went out in the fourth round to York City. In the League Cup the Gunners underwent another humbling, as they were dispatched by Oxford United in the third round. February was a mixed bag for the Gunners as they beat Liverpool 3 – 0 at Anfield, but in the very next game they lost 1 – 0 at home to Manchester United. The end of ’84 – ’85 season saw Arsenal finish in seventh place in Division One. They were out of the usual European placings, but it would have made no difference had they finished top. Following the European Cup final of 1985 between Liverpool and Juventus at the Heysel stadium in Belgium, English clubs were handed a lengthy ban in European Competition. Following the violent behavior of many fans, thirty nine people lost their lives, not only that but around six hundred people suffered severe injury.
The ’84 – ’85 season though ending in disappointment for the Gunners, was a season that offered optimism for the future. They had topped the league, played good football to put them there, and they had some class younger players coming to prominence in the first team. They had suffered their fair share of injuries too, which surely played some part in their disappointing showing in the latter part of the 84 – 85 season. So the Arsenal players had to go again in Division One. Their first game of the 1985 – 1986 season was a big one, both for them and their opponents, Liverpool. So, the 17th of August saw Arsenal travel the two hundred and ten miles to Anfield. Two goals from Ronnie Whelan and Steve Nichol ensured the points went to the hosts.
The Gunners were able to get their season back on track, when Southampton were the visitors to Highbury three days later. Despite Southampton’s David Armstrong scoring a couple for the Saints, it was Arsenal who were smiling at full time as they took all the points with a 3 – 2 victory. The Arsenal goals were scored by Stewart Robson, Tommy Caton and Tony Woodcock. The Gunners next game in Division One after the win over Southampton was also at home; this time they would face Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United. Just over 37,000 saw United win the game 2 – 1, Arsenal’s goal came courtesy of a penalty scored by Ian Allinson. United’s winning goals were scored by Mark Hughes and Paul McGrath. After that Arsenal were off to Kenilworth Road for a meeting with Luton Town, the game finishing 2 – 2. The Gunners then went on something of a run in Division One, winning games against Leicester City, Queens Park Rangers, Coventry City and Sheffield Wednesday. Unfortunately their run of good form came to a halt when they visited Stamford Bridge, Chelsea claimed the points with a 2 – 1 win.
That defeat in west London meant Arsenal dropped from third in the league to seventh. Once again, the domestic cups would see the Gunners fall short. In the F.A. Cup they fell in the fifth round, losing 3 – 0 to Luton Town at Kenilworth Road after a replay. In the League Cup, another replay saw Arsenal bow out at the quarter final stage to Aston Villa. The Gunners were only able to draw at Villa Park 1 – 1, yet despite being the favourites to advance to the semi’s with the replay at Highbury, it was Villa who progressed after a 2 – 1 victory. December gave Arsenal fans reason to smile in the league. Two consecutive victories against Liverpool at Highbury and then Manchester United at Old Trafford reminded people that Arsenal were a very decent outfit and had the ability to beat pretty much anyone. Following that win at Old Trafford they beat Queens Park Rangers at home 3 – 1 thanks to goals from Tony Woodcock, Graham Rix and Charlie Nicholas. Arsenal had a decent March on the balance of things, they went on another mini winning streak beating Aston Villa, Ipswich Town, West Ham and Coventry City.
The only fly in the ointment for The Gunners that March came late in the month, which saw them lose to north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur 1 – 0 at White Hart Lane. To make matters worse they then went down 2 – 0 at home to Watford. March saw some upheaval for the Gunners of north London. Late in March Don Howe handed in his resignation, replacing Don was George Graham who had impressed as team manager of fellow Londoners, Millwall. It was down to George Graham that Millwall overcame the threat of relegation from the old Division Three, and over a short time win promotion to Division One. Interestingly, the Arsenal board had their sights on Alex Ferguson; however Ferguson wasn’t interested moving south just yet, especially with the world cup coming up that summer, Ferguson would be leading Scotland to Mexico. Arsenal would only go onto to win a further three games that season, it was another disappointing end to a season for the Gunners. However, by the end of the ’85 – ’86 season Arsenal had a new manager who would instill a new fresh discipline into the Highbury club, things were about to improve for the Gunners.
So, for the 1986 – 1987 season Arsenal began a new campaign with a new manager installed. George Graham had replaced Don Howe only a handful of months before in March. Graham was charged with turning the under performing Gunners team into a side that won silverware. The 1970’s had seen Arsenal win titles and other silverware and it was that winning mentality that the Arsenal board of directors wanted the club to return to, Don Howe’s Arsenal though far from a poor side never looked like likely candidates for the winners enclosure in the race for silverware. Graham had impressed as team manager only about 6 miles or so away from Highbury at South Bermondsey club, Millwall. Graham was named Millwall team boss during the Christmas of 1982. In those four years that he was at the helm at Millwall he planted the seeds for The Lions that would eventually see them playing football in the English top flight only a few seasons later and along the way Graham took Millwall to glory in the Football League Group Cup.
When Arsenal came calling Graham was not about to say no, he was an ex Arsenal player himself who had won not only the Division One title at Highbury but also the FA Cup in the same year, not only that but he also picked up a European Fairs Cup winners medal a year before in 1970 when Arsenal beat Belgian club Anderlecht 4 – 3 over two legs. Yes, Graham had played for other clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester United, but his better days as a player were at Highbury, so for all intents and purposes when Graham agreed to manage Arsenal, he was going home. When the ’87 – ’88 season began Arsenal’s first team squad was predominantly English with only a handful of none English players, such as the Scot Charlie Nicholas and Irishman Niall Quinn. Graham’s Gunners began that season well with a 1 – 0 victory over Manchester United at home thanks to a Charlie Nicholas goal. However their next two league games ended in defeat, losing 2 – 1 to Coventry City at Highfield Road and losing by the same score to Liverpool at Anfield. Happily for Arsenal they were able to get their season back on track in their next game when they beat Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury 2 – 0, the goals coming courtesy of Niall Quinn and Tony Adams.
Next up for the Gunners was a home derby match with Tottenham Hotspur, the game ended goalless. In fact their next two league games ended goalless, away at Luton Town and at home against Oxford United. A week after that came Arsenal’s third defeat of the season, when they travelled north to Nottingham Forest. The Forest fans went home happy, after seeing their team record a 1 – 0 victory. As October began the Gunners were to enjoy a run of victories, that would see them go from mid table to second in the league. The 4th of October brought an away trip to Goodison Park to face Everton, the Gunners drove back back to London with a 1 – 0 victory. A week later Watford were the visitors at Highbury. Two goals and a penalty from Perry Groves, Niall Quinn and Martin Hayes made sure the Gunners claimed all the points against The Hornets.
With team morale high the Gunners then travelled to the North East for a league meeting with Newcastle United, again Arsenal went home with the points thanks to a 2 – 1 victory. A week later Arsenal put Chelsea to the sword at home, winning the match 3 – 1. November would also be a good month for the Gunners, they began that month with a 2 – 0 win away at Charlton Athletic. West Ham temporarily put the brakes on the Arsenal winning streak when they held the Gunners at Highbury, the game finished goalless. The 15th of November Arsenal were visiting The Dell, the Gunners made light work of Southampton. The Gunners hammered their opponents 4 – 0, the goals were scored by Perry Groves, Viv Anderson, Niall Quinn with a penalty again converted by Martin Hayes. That win at Southampton put them top of Division One. As the Christmas of 1986 approached Arsenal were doing well in the league, top of Division One and looking like a good bet to lift the title in George Graham’s first full season. In the League Cup, Arsenal were also looking very good. That particular Cup campaign began with a 3 – 1 aggregate win against Huddersfield Town. After that in late October, came a 3 – 1 league victory over Manchester City at Highbury. In the fourth round of the League Cup, Charlton Athletic visited Highbury. Not surprisingly the Gunners booked their place in the next round, with a 2 – 0 victory. Back in Division One after that fine win away at Southampton, Arsenal’s next fixture was a good 3 – 0 home victory against Manchester City. The month of December in Division One brought a happy festive period for Gunners fans. Their next two games brought seven goals for the Gunners as they beat Aston Villa away 4 – 0 and dispatched Queens Park Rangers at Highbury 3 – 1. A 1 – 1 draw followed at Carrow Road against Norwich City. Thankfully for Arsenal, it was back to winning ways in the next match as they beat Luton Town 3 – 0 at Highbury, the goals coming from Martin Hayes, Niall Quinn and Tony Adams. Another 1 – 1 draw away followed at Leicester City.
However, Arsenal would end the year and began the new with a three games winning run, which began with two home wins which consisted of a 1 – 0 home win against Southampton then a 3 – 1 win against Wimbledon on New Year’s Day. Arsenal’s second game of the New Year was 2 – 1 away win at Tottenham Hotspur. Twelve days later Arsenal recorded a goalless draw at home against Coventry City, not really what they wanted going into their League Cup fifth round game against Nottingham Forest. No big deal, The Gunners beat Forest 2 – 0 which put them in the semifinal with neighbours Tottenham Hotspur.
Three days later the Gunners travelled north to face Manchester United, two goals by Gordon Strachan and Terry Gibson gave The Red Devils the points. They weren’t to know it, but that would be the last time that season that Arsenal would sit atop of Division One. After occupying top spot in Division One since the middle of October, the rest of season for Arsenal would be littered with disappointing results, therefore ruining any chance of the title. Arsenals next game was the first leg of the League Cup semifinal with Tottenham Hotspur; Spurs surprised pretty much everyone when they took the game 1 – 0 courtesy of a Clive Allen goal. Not to panic, Arsenal could remedy the situation at White Hart Lane three weeks later. Arsenals next league game was against Sheffield Wednesday away at Hillsborough, the game ended all square 1 – 1. Another away draw came next for the Gunners away at Oxford United. That February saw the wheels really begin to off Arsenal’s title challenge. Following that disappointing goalless draw at Oxford in late February, Arsenal’s next six games went without a win. In fact they suffered five losses and a draw, those losing games were against Chelsea, Liverpool, Watford, Everton and West Ham. The draw came against Nottingham Forest with a goalless game at Highbury.
For the remainder of the season the Gunners would lose a further three games. They would also win a further five games, but by now their title aspirations had long dwindled to nothing. They finished the season in fourth place, a good improvement from the previous season but still very disappointing for them seeing as they were so dominant earlier that season. However, George Graham’s first season in charge at Highbury was not about league title disappointment, it was about winning the League Cup. So, following that narrow 1 – 0 home defeat to Spurs in the first leg of the League Cup semifinal, no one needed to remind the Gunners that they had some work to do to reach the final. The second leg took place on the 1st of March at White Hart Lane. It was Spurs who took the lead through Clive Allen, Spurs were 2 – 0 up in the tie and seemingly on their way to Wembley. However, after half time Viv Anderson and Niall Quinn scored for Arsenal. The semifinal was all level at 2 – 2, that’s how the 2nd leg ended. In those days away goals did not count double in draws, so another match would be needed to see who it would be going through to the final about a month later. The venue for the replay was decided by a toss of a coin. Spurs won the toss so the replay would take place at White Hart Lane, only three days later. As expected the game was a close one, half time came and it was goalless. The first goal did not come until just after the hour mark, not surprisingly it was Clive Allen who found the Arsenal net.
Spurs were ahead in the tie yet again. Going into the last ten minutes of normal time it looked like Spurs had succeeded this time. It looked like it would the team from White Hart Lane who would be in the League Cup final, and not Arsenal. Arsenal were not finished, with only minutes left Ian Allinson put the ball into the Spurs goal from close range. It would get even worse for Spurs, when in the 90th minute David Rocastle managed to shoot past goalie Ray Clemence. Arsenal were in the final, denying Spurs a day out at Wembley. It looked as though Spurs were going to do it, it looked as though Arsenals League Cup campaign would mirror their league campaign and fizzle out in the final stages. Happily for the Gunners, those two goals in the final moments of the replay were enough to send them to Wembley. Even George thought Spurs had done enough to nick it…
“I thought we were out this time. This equals anything I achieved as a player and I hope it’s just the start of a new era for this club. When I took over this season I wanted to build a platform for success. It’s happened quicker than expected. I want this to be just the start. I’m so proud of my team. I told you on Sunday not to under-estimate them and they’ve proved it again. I didn’t expect to come back this time, but I wasn’t surprised. We are very resilient and have that wonderful never-say-die attitude. It’s incredible to think how they have responded to me so quickly. I’m a new manager with a new system and they have accepted everything.” George Graham.
In the final Arsenal would meet Liverpool, the Merseyside club having got past Southampton in the other semifinal. Both teams fielded strong teams and over 96,000 fans would witness a hard fought game of football. It was Ian Rush who opened the scoring for Liverpool just after twenty minutes, but it didn’t stay like that for long. Only seven minutes later Charlie Nicholas had gained parity for the Gunners. When the ref blew for half time, it was level at 1 – 1. The second half was a mirror image of the first, neither team giving much away, both teams playing well in defence. The winning goal didn’t come until the last few minutes of the game, and it was Charlie Nicholas again who netted for Arsenal. The Gunners managed to hold off the Merseyside club in the closing stages, to claim the League Cup. It was George Graham’s first trophy as Arsenal manager. He had won silverware as an Arsenal player and now he had delivered silverware to Highbury as team manager of Arsenal Football Club.
Liverpool gained some measure of revenge in the opening game of the ’87 – ’88 season, when they defeated Arsenal at Highbury 2 – 1. With the League Cup safely in the trophy cabinet and an improved finishing position in Division One, the Gunners had every right to feel good about the forthcoming challenges that the new season would bring. So that opening day home defeat to Liverpool wasn’t what the Arsenal fans were looking for. Arsenals second game of the new season was away to Manchester United, it finished 0 – 0. Three days later, Queens Park Rangers would welcome the Gunners to Loftus Road. Sadly for the Gunners they went down 2 – 0, meaning they had only secured one point from nine. Smiles were back on Arsenal faces at the final whistle in their next game, as they walloped Portsmouth 6 – 0. Alan Smith scored a hat trick that day with Paul Davis, David Rocastle and Tony Adams also getting on the score sheet. Arsenal then drew 1 – 1 with Luton Town at Kenilworth Road. Arsenal then rediscovered some of that excellent form from the early part of the previous season when they went on a ten game winning streak; actually they had surpassed themselves in all honesty. Nottingham Forest, Wimbledon, West Ham, Charlton Athletic, Oxford United, Tottenham Hotspur, Derby County, Newcastle United, Chelsea and Norwich City all fell to Arsenal.
During that run the Gunners scored twenty two goals and conceded only five, when they had beaten Newcastle United they were sitting once again on top of Division One. That run came to end when they lost 1 – 0 at home to Southampton, the next game wasn’t what they wanted neither losing 2 – 0 away to Watford. The 1987 – 1988 season was now beginning to mirror the previous season, Arsenal’s second half of the season saw them drop points to teams that they shouldn’t have been dropping points to. During the Christmas games they lost at home to Nottingham Forest 2 – 0 and lost away to Wimbledon 3 – 1. The January of 1988 saw the Gunners lose away 2 – 0 to Liverpool and in the very next league game they lost 2 – 1 at home to Manchester United. Towards the end of the season they lost away at Southampton 4 – 2 and lost 1 – 0 at home to Watford. The final game of the league campaign saw a decent away win at Goodison beating Everton 2 – 1. Arsenal finished 6th in Division One. Their F.A. Cup campaign finished at the 6th round stage losing 2 – 1 at home to Nottingham Forest. It was a similar story to what happened the previous season in the F.A. Cup when they went out at the 6th round stage courtesy of a home 3 – 1 defeat to Watford. Arsenal continued to enjoy the League Cup that season as they once again reached the final, hot favourites to retain their trophy in the final against Luton Town. However, no one had told Luton Town, the Hatters took the trophy from the Gunners with a 3 – 2 victory.
As we all know the 1988 – 1989 season was to end in tragedy following the Hillsborough disaster, on the 15th of April 1989. For Arsenal, that season was to end in Division One title glory. As the ’88 – ’89 season began, there was one player in defence at Highbury who was really beginning to impress, Lee Dixon. With Viv Anderson being sold to Manchester United, Arsenal were in the market for defenders. Along with Steve Bould, Dixon was transferred from Stoke City during the January of 1988. Dixon was a superb defender, a world class right back who could be relied upon to play well in other positions on the pitch. Dixon is a Mancunian, born in 1964 he grew up a big Manchester City fan. His professional career began at Burnley in 1982, not as a defender but as a winger. He became known for his accurate crosses, his quick mind and his pace. After leaving Burnley, Dixon had spells at Chester City and Bury before joining The Potters in 1986, for a fee said to be around £50,000. It was in the lower leagues that Dixon switched to defence, and honed his skills as a right back. Now an Arsenal player, Dixon would go on to be the first name on the team sheet for the Gunners defence for more than a decade. Lee Dixon would go on to play in the best teams that Arsenal fans have ever seen.
The early part of the ’88 – ’89 season saw Arsenal pick up silverware, in the form of The Football Centenary Trophy. This trophy was won via a five week mini tournament as part of the Football League celebrating a century of association football. The tournament consisted of the top eight teams of Division One of the previous season. In the final the Gunners met Manchester United at Villa Park, Arsenal won the match 2 – 1. It was around this time that the club said goodbye to a couple of popular players, Steve Williams and Kenny Sansom. The Gunners began that season at Plough Lane, they handed Wimbledon a 5 – 1 thrashing. That was a game which saw recent signing Alan Smith score a hat trick, Smith was another great signing by George Graham. The tall and pacey striker joined the Gunners from Leicester City early in 1987, like Dixon he would go on to win a clutch of trophies and winner’s medals whilst at Highbury.
The second game of that season saw the Gunners at home against Aston Villa, surprising everyone the Midlands club took the points thanks to a 3 – 2 victory. On their way to winning the title, the Gunners were to lose six games that season. Along with Villa, we saw Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County, Coventry City and Nottingham Forest succeeded in taking all the points in encounters with the eventual champions. It was Derby County who did the double over the eventual champions that season, winning 2 – 1 at the Baseball Ground and by the same score at Highbury. That season The Gunners did the league double over their North London neighbours. The first meeting for Arsenal with Spurs was early in the season, on the 10th of September away at White Hart Lane. The final score was 3 – 2 in Arsenal’s favour, their goals scored by Nigel Winterburn, Brian Marwood and Alan Smith. The corresponding fixture later in the season at Highbury saw Arsenal boss the game, to win 2 – 0. Football fans were to be entertained with a compelling Division One that season, it was a season with a surprise or two. Norwich City came from no where really to surprise everyone with a great team performance, spending much of their league campaign at the top.
Many people had them down for relegation that season, Norwich City had other ideas. After an impressive season, The Canaries would eventually finish in fourth, they also reached the semi final of the F.A. Cup that season. Nottingham Forest also had a very good campaign, they would finish the league in third place. Forest not only lifted the League Cup that season after a 3 – 1 victory over Luton Town at Wembley Stadium, they also won the now defunct Full Members Cup. Arsenal’s league meetings with Forest and Norwich would yield some interesting results. The points would be shared between Arsenal and Forest for that season. Early November saw the Gunners visit the City Ground for their league game with Forest. Thanks to goals from Alan Smith, Steve Bould, Tony Adams and Brian Marwood, Arsenal came away with all three points after an impressive 4 – 1 victory.
Later that March Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest were at Highbury, Forest paid back the compliment winning 3 – 1. With Norwich, Arsenal took four points out of a possible six. On the 10th of December that season in front of just over twenty three thousand fans, Arsenal took a point from a goalless encounter with Norwich at Carrow Road. The Gunners would host Norwich towards the end of the season, on the 1st of May. That game saw Arsenal record their biggest win of the season, courtesy of a 5 – 0 victory.
Liverpool would never stray that far from the top of Division One that season, as current English champions they were keen to retain their title. Arsenal’s first meeting in Division One with the defending champions Liverpool was in early December. By now, the Gunners were regularly fielding a first eleven entirely made up of Englishmen. You could have made a good case for this all English Arsenal side being better than the then actual England team. It was an all English Arsenal team that faced Liverpool at Highbury that December, in the league. After an expected closely fought match the game ended in a 1 – 1 draw, the spoils shared between the teams. Arsenal’s corresponding fixture with Liverpool at Anfield would come on the final day of the league season, it’s a game that would go down in the history of Arsenal as one of the finest in the clubs history, but more on that game later…
Not only would Arsenal do battle with Liverpool as far as the league was concerned, they would also have something of a ding dong toe to toe meeting with them in the League Cup that season as well. The Gunners were drawn away to Liverpool in the third round, David Rocastle found the net for Arsenal at Anfield, the match finished with a 1 – 1 scoreline. A further two replays would be needed to decide this third round League Cup tie. The first replay between the two teams took place a week later at Highbury, it finished goalless. A few days later the the two teams reconvened at Villa Park, this time Liverpool prevailed with a 2 – 1 victory over the Gunners. Liverpool were dumped out of the League Cup in the following round, hammered 4 – 1 at West Ham. Late March saw the Gunners go to Southampton and wallop the Saints 3 – 1, the Arsenal goals coming from Groves, Rocastle and Merson. Their next game was away at Manchester United, the Gunners had to settle for a point following a 1 – 1 draw. That away game at United was a strange one for Tony Adams. After putting his side one nil up in the 78th minute, Adams scored an own goal and therefore United’s equaliser seven minutes later. After the Old Trafford match, Arsenal had only seven games left of the their season.
Of course, this was the season that witnessed the Hillsborough tragedy in Sheffield. The game was an F.A. Cup semi final, Liverpool’s opponents were Nottingham Forest. It was an atrocious disaster that saw 96 Liverpool fans lose their lives, the lives of many more such as family and friends changed forever. The rescheduling of matches in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy meant Arsenal’s league match with Liverpool was pushed forward, by about a month. By around the middle of April and with only a handful of games remaining in the league, Arsenal had built a five point lead on Liverpool with the Merseyside club having a game in hand. Liverpool went on to win all their remaining games, they had one game of the season left which was the rearranged fixture with Arsenal at Anfield. With three games of the league season remaining, The Gunners welcomed Derby County to Highbury.
As I mentioned earlier, The Rams did the league double over Arsenal that season. Derby County left Highbury that day with all the points thanks to a 2 – 1 victory, the Welsh striker Dean Saunders scoring both goals for the visitors. It must have looked to onlookers that The Gunners were determined to throw away any chance of the league title away. From a Highbury point of view, it turned out a great season for Arsenal. However, it could have easily turned to disappointment for The Gunners. It’s fair to say that they did drop points at places where they really should claimed all the points. The home match in the January of that season with Sheffield Wednesday which finished 1 – 1, and the game at Queens Park Rangers which ended goalless about a month later could have proved particularly expensive for the Highbury club.
On the 17th of May with two games left of the season in Division One, fellow London side Wimbledon arrived at Highbury. Like the home game against Sheffield Wednesday and like the match at Q.P.R., this home fixture with Wimbledon was one The Gunners should have won comfortably. The match finished in a 2 – 2 draw, again it was a careless two points dropped by Arsenal. Whilst The Gunners were dropping valuable points, Liverpool won their next two league games which were against West Ham United and Queens Park Rangers. Liverpool had been here before, experienced defending champions, with the know how to take them to another Division One title. They had only just won the F.A. Cup only days before, beating their Merseyside neighbours Everton 3 – 2. Liverpool were going for a league and cup double, and few people were betting against them. Going into the final league match of the season Liverpool had a three point lead at the top of Division One.
It looked as though The Gunners had spewed it, they would go to Anfield with a bit of a mountain to climb. So, Liverpool were top on seventy six points, Arsenal were in second on seventy three points. On paper it was as close as you could decently get with Liverpool winning twenty two and Arsenal twenty one. Both teams had drawn ten matches in the league, Liverpool’s goal difference was plus thirty nine, Arsenal plus thirty five. To remove the one hand Liverpool had on the Division One Championship trophy and claim the title as their own, Arsenal had to win by two clear goals. With the league statistics of the two teams so similar, the why’s and wherefore’s of Arsenal needing a 2 – 0 victory were complicated to say the least. I’ll save you the long winded explanation, the main jist was this… A 2 – 0 victory for The Gunners would be good enough for them to win the title on goals scored, because both Liverpool and Arsenal would have been tied on plus thirty seven goal difference. A 1 – 0 win for Arsenal wouldn’t have been enough, a 3 – 0 victory would have given Arsenal the title on goal difference.
Arsenal hadn’t won at Anfield in fifteen years, not since Bertie Mee’s Gunners recorded a 3 – 1 win during the November of 1974. That year was a good one for The Gunners at Anfield, late on during the previous season they had driven home with a 1 – 0 victory. Fifteen years later Arsenal were still waiting for that next league win at Anfield. So, on the evening of the 26th of May both Liverpool and Arsenal made their way out onto the Anfield turf. A surprisingly small crowd of just under forty three thousand to witness such a title play off was at Anfield that warm and pleasant evening. Liverpool’s team consisted of Bruce Grobbelaar in goal, with Gary Ablett, Alan Hansen, Steve Staunton and Steve Nichol in defence. In midfield they had Ray Houghton, Steve McMahon, Ronnie Whelan and John Barnes. Playing up front for Liverpool that night was John Aldridge and Ian Rush, so Liverpool were playing in the traditional 4 – 4 – 2 formation. George Graham’s Arsenal lined up with John Lukic in goal, David O’Leary, Nigel Winterburn, at right back was Lee Dixon, Steve Bould, Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Kevin Richardson, Michael Thomas, Alan Smith and Paul Merson. Arsenal manager George Graham had endeavored to instill a sense of calm within his team, before the media he was eager to play down what many thought was a bridge too far for Arsenal.
“…So, there’s no reason why we can’t come up here and do really well. No one fancies us outside Highbury, so we can relax and enjoy the game and hopefully get the goals that we need. I keep reading the papers thinking it’s a waste of a journey coming up here. It’s a nice situation to be in really, because we can get out there and as long as we can keep a clean sheet for a long period of the game there’s always a good opportunity to score some goals…” George Graham, pre match interview.
The Gunner’s side was heavy in defensive ability actually deploying three centre backs. During the game the visitors would pack the midfield and often play with a lone striker. The odds weren’t in Arsenal’s favour that night at Anfield, neither was history. However, if there was any team around at that time that had the players to claim a 2 – 0 victory at Anfield, it was Arsenal. Understandably the media made a bit of a fuss over the fixture, the game was live on television at a time when live football on the box wasn’t anywhere near as regular as it is today. The first half ended goalless, both teams having trouble creating clear goal scoring chances. About thirty minutes into the game Liverpool had to replace Ian Rush, who sustained an injury. On came substitute Peter Beardsley. Despite not scoring themselves, Arsenal did well in limiting their opponents with chances to score, The Gunners were working hard. As they drank their half time cup of tea in the dressing room, the Liverpool team knew they were forty five minutes away from a league and cup double. However, Arsenal were not about to throw the towel in. Only a few minutes into the second half Arsenal found themselves 1 – 0 up. The Gunners were on the attack when they were awarded a free kick, about forty yards out from the Liverpool net. The resulting cross from Nigel Winterburn into the Liverpool penalty area found Alan Smith’s head. The most subtle of glancing headers enabled Smith to score his twenty fifth goal of the season. Smith’s goal changed the complexion of the game changed in an instant, it was game on. Both teams battled on in the second half, Liverpool began to see more of the ball but were unable to level things up in the match. With about fifteen minutes left of the game the score was still 1 – 0 in Arsenal’s favour. Following instructions from the bench, The Gunners switched to a more attacking 4 – 4 – 2 formation. Arsenal were now going for it, the defensive set up with which they started the game now discarded. When they weren’t having to defend Arsenal were throwing everything at Liverpool now, even sacrificing defender Steve Bould to bring on an extra striker in Perry Groves.
As I said earlier, the Liverpool players were experienced players and defending champions. However, in the final quarter of the game the home team were now playing by the seat of their pants. Everyone associated with Liverpool be they fans, players, manager or kitchen staff just wanted the final whistle. Both teams were visibly tiring as the second half was drawing to a close. With an Arsenal title winning victory on Anfield soil now a possibility certain Liverpool players took to using time delaying tactics, feigning injury, etc. With around twelve minutes left of the game the Liverpool right back Steve Nichol went to ground very easily in the Arsenal penalty area looking for a penalty, not surprisingly the referee wasn’t having any of it. An injury to Arsenal midfielder Kevin Richardson brought a stop to the play, the game was going into time added on. In those days there was no time added on indication for fans or people watching at home, there was no match official coming out to stand on the side line with a board with an illuminated number on it.
How much time would the referee add on to the game? As far as the story goes, the Liverpool players thought they was only a minute left. With the time it took to treat Richardson’s injury taken into account, the truth was the ref would add on a bit more than a minute. With only moments left of the game, Arsenal went on to produce one of the finest moments in the clubs history. With the ball at the feet of John Barnes, a grateful John Lukic was able to claim the ball from the incoming Liverpool midfielder. Lukic then gave the ball to Lee Dixon who floated a great pass on to Alan Smith who passed the ball on to Michael Thomas about twelve yards out from the Liverpool eighteen yard box. With the ball at his feet Thomas ran with it, avoiding a challenge by a desperate Liverpool defence he put the ball past Grobbelaar. The Gunners had done it, it was 2 – 0. The host’s didn’t have much chance to respond after the restart, the ref blew for full time. Interesting to note that it was on Sir Matt Busby’s eightieth birthday, that Liverpool were denied the title. The title was Arsenal’s, the first time since 1971. Also interesting to note is that Liverpool legend Alan Hansen, would not have been handed a medal if his team had prevailed. Hansen had only played six league games that season for Liverpool, when you needed ten games under your belt to receive a medal.
Success In Europe.
Another great night in the history of Arsenal Football Club, occurred five years after that fantastic night at Anfield. Of course I am talking about the 1994 European Cup Winner’s Cup final in the Danish capital Copenhagen. The Gunner’s had qualified for the now defunct European tournament by defeating Sheffield Wednesday in the previous season’s F.A. Cup Final, albeit The Gunners did need a replay to lift the trophy. In the first round The Gunner’s were drawn against the Danish cup winner’s, Odense Boldklub. The first leg of the tie took place in Denmark, at the Odense Stadion. The Gunner’s recorded a 2 – 1 over in Denmark, the goals coming from Ian Wright and Paul Merson. The second leg at Highbury ended goalless, The Gunners were through to the second round. In the second round, Arsenal met Belgian club Standard Liège. This second round tie of the ’93 – ’94 European Cup Winner’s Cup would give Arsenal its record high score in European Football.
For the first leg of the second round the Belgians travelled to Highbury, at the time Standard were managed by René Vandereycken, the well known former Belgian international. When the referee blew for full time the tie was effectively over as Arsenal had just put three into the Belgian’s net without reply, the goals coming from Paul Merson with Ian Wright with a couple. In the second leg in Liège, Arsenal ran riot winning the game 7 – 0, a record high score for them in European Football. Of course, Gooner’s will tell you that feat was equaled years later in 2007, when The Gunners put seven past Slavia Prague in the U.E.F.A. Champions League. That great second round win for Arsenal put them in the quarter final, awaiting them was Italian club Torino.
It was during early March of 1994 that The Gunners walked out at the Stadio Delle Alpi, the stadium Torino then shared with their more famous Turin neighbour Juventus. Arsenal did well in Turin, not conceding a goal. Torino gave Arsenal a much sterner test in that quarter final than the clubs The Gunners had met earlier in the tournament that season. The Torino team arrived at Highbury about two weeks later, still very much in the tie. It was a closely fought match, the Italians always looking to attack. Happily for The Gunners, just after the hour defender Tony Adams headed into the Torino net from close range following a cross into the Italian penalty area. In the semi final Arsenal faced French club, Paris Saint – Germain. The first leg took place later that month at the Parc Des Princes. Around forty eight thousand fans in the stadium saw The Gunners strike first, about ten minutes before half time. The goal was scored by Ian Wright, who was by now well on his way to proving himself an Arsenal Great. The Gunners left the Paris with a valuable away goal, yet they still had to get past a very good side in P.S.G. if they were to reach the final. There was some great players in that Parisian side back then. George Weah was at the club then, only a year later he would win the coveted Ballon d’Or. By the time his playing career had ended, Weah had won a host of individual awards as well as silverware in France, Italy and England. David Ginola was also at P.S.G., Ginola would go on to win the League cup with Tottenham Hotspur in 1999. The second leg produced an early goal, scored by Arsenal’s Kevin Campbell in the seventh minute. The Gunners were to keep the French side at bay, they were on their way to Copenhagen and the final of the European Cup Winner’s Cup! The only downside was they would be without Ian Wright who would miss the final due to suspension. In the final The Gunners met another Serie A side in the form of Parma. The Crusaders had earned their place in the final by defeating Benfica of Portugal in the other semifinal. Parma were defending champions in this tournament, they were looking to become the first side to retain the trophy. Not only did they win the E.C.W.C. the season before but they also lifted the Super cup too, beating fellow Serie A side A.C. Milan.
That early to mid ’90’s Parma team were a class outfit, not surprisingly the players became much sought after by other clubs following their European success. In that Parma team was such players as Gianfranco Zola, Lorenzo Minotti and Faustino Asprilla. They were quite a sight at home in Italy and in Europe, a team that came from pretty much no where in their bright yellow shirts, writing themselves into the history books. Their purple patch was bright but brief, because as mentioned everyone wanted those players. The final of the European Cup Winner’s Cup for the ’93 – ’94 season took place on the 4th of May at the recently built Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, the first time the final had taken place in Denmark. Parma were then managed by Nevio Scala, the former Italian midfielder. Scala had enjoyed a long playing career, playing for many Italian clubs including A.C. Milan and Fiorentina. Nevio Scala would manage Parma for seven years, in the process becoming the clubs most successful manager.
This was to be the first time the clubs had met in European competition, both teams an unknown quantity to each other. For the final George Graham once again sent out an all English Arsenal team. It consisted of David Seamen in goal, now long established as Arsenal’s first choice goalie and another example of a fine English goalkeeper. In defence was Lee Dixon, team captain Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn. In midfield Arsenal had Paul Davis, Ian Selley and Steve Morrow. Paul Merson, Kevin Campbell and Alan Smith would play up front. Nevio Scala’s Parma started the final with Luca Bucci in goal. In defence was Antonio Benarrivo, Alberto Di Chiara, Luigi Apolloni and Roberto Sensini. The Parma team captain Lorenzo Minotti would play as a sweeper between defence and midfield. As you would expect from an Italian team, Scala’s Parma was a team with a strong rear guard. With Minotti in there, they could easily switch to a five man defence! In midfield for Parma was Gabriele Pin, Thomas Brolin and Massimo Crippa, with Gianfranco Zola playing just behind lone striker Faustino Asprilla. Parma began the game the better team, within minutes giving Arsenal’s back four something to worry about, the Italian club by far the more relaxed in the early stages of the game. In the fourteenth minute the Swedish international Thomas Brolin hit the Arsenal post from about twelve yards out, Parma were outplaying The Gunners. Surprising everyone and against the run of play, Arsenal took the lead in the twentieth minute. Just outside the Parma eighteen yard box Alan Smith received the ball, from a wayward clearance from the Parma defence. Smith caught the ball sweet on the half volley, right into the Parma net, 1 – 0 Arsenal!
Parma continued to press The Gunners, Asprilla being particularly bothersome to the Arsenal defence. With about a quarter of an hour of the first half remaining Gianfranco Zola almost gained parity for his team, when his free kick from just outside the Arsenal area went very narrowly over the cross bar. When Václav Krondl the Czech referee blew for half time, The Gunners still had their lead. The second half wasn’t too dissimilar from the first. Seamen in the Arsenal goal was called upon to make decent saves, and the Parma forward line continued to squander good goal scoring chances. The referee blew for full time, The Gunners had won the 1993 – 1994 European Cup Winner’s Cup!