The number 5
But did we like it?
The number 5 was a part of the crazy year 1978-79. A really big part in the end. We had finished 5th the year before. Our manager Terry Neill had 2 fives in his name. Our best player, Brady had 5 letters in his surname. Our number five also had 5 letters in his first name, David O’Leary. An omen? Could we win the league? That trophy seemed far away from us to me. We just didn’t seem to have the consistency. But what about the Spuds? They had come up in 3rd from the second division to bother us again, had they? No, not really, just before Christmas, we went to No Heart Lane (have I got the right spelling?) and within a minute were one up from Alan Sunderland’s goal. Sunderland was SuperMac’s replacement and a top player although only ever got one England cap. He whacked in a hat-trick, and Stapleton and Brady got 2 more. 5-0. Watch the youtube if only for Brady’s goal. Later in the season, we only beat them 1-0 at home. A handy double, though. And Liverpool had beaten them 7-0 in September. We had beaten the invincible looking Liverpool who were easily leading the league earlier in December 1-0 so December was good for us.
So few London teams
There weren’t many London teams in the top flight that year but we liked scoring 5 against them. 5-1 against Queen’s Park Rangers early on and 5-2 against Chelsea late on in the season. We also scored 5 against Villa. We beat QPR 2-1 away and drew with Chelsea 1-1 to have an almost perfect record against the London sides. Both got relegated and Palace came up to leave only 3 London teams for next season. So it was a good, if crazy time to be a fan. We were scoring goals even without Malcolm Macdonald. But Brady was indispensable, surely?
Bolton were tough, defensive, and kicked, pulled, pushed and even punched Brady in an early match at Highbury where Stapleton scored the only goal. The dark arts were only for foreigners? Brady was slight but wiry and had the ability to stay on his feet and dodge tackles but Bolton had a nasty tinge, which was even worse in the next match against them late in the season. They won 4-2 and exploited Arsenal’s weakness for a rough match. Sound familiar, Arsenal fans?
We played the youngsters
Overall, though, our league form was pretty good. We finished 7th on 48 points but only 3 points behind Everton in 4th. We had 3 draws at the end against Norwich down near the bottom, plus Birmingham and Chelsea who were relegated. Considering even with these draws we had a better goal difference than the Toffees, those 3 points would have had us 4th. We needed consistency.
Was it the youngsters that gave us that inconsistency? O’Leary, Stapleton, Rix, Brady, Devine, and David Price were very young and had come through the ranks at Arsenal. So had Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson but they were a bit older. Terry Neill had given them a permanent slot and was rewarded mostly.
The influx of foreigners
The other area that was different about that season was the advance of the foreigners brought about by a loosening of the rules by the EU. Clubs were signing players from outside the UK and Ireland. Not really Arsenal for some time, but the Spuds that year brought in Ricardo Villa and Ossie Ardiles from Argentina in the most spectacular coup of the time. They became a serious team with those 2. Others followed until it became very normal and no longer worthy of mention until, of course, Arsenal in, yes, 2005 had no English players in our squad.
But what about the Cup? We were never winning the league, the mighty Liverpool ran away with that. We were out of the League cup and the Uefa cup. Could we be Arsenal in the Cup? If you want to know why we struggled at the end of the league, maybe the Cup was the answer. Because we had 5 replays, yes 5, to negotiate. 4 against Sheffield Wednesday who were in the 3rd division. After Rotherham, also 3rd division, sending us home crying in the league cup, it took us 5 matches to beat them. But please, if you do nothing else in your life, watch the youtube of the first match. We were pelted by snowballs, hard snowballs made from frozen ice that the groundsmen had cleared, particularly Pat Jennings in goal. What a tough man! Jack Charlton and Maurice Setters, who were the double act that transformed Ireland many years later, had created a tough uncompromising team that were to go all the way to the top division. They played a rigid defensive style that made them hard to beat and Arsenal struggled against them. We did have a softness about us. 1-1, 1-1, 2-2, 3-3 and finally 2-0. Then 2-0 against Notts County, then 1-0 against Notts Forest who would win the European Cup that year and come second in the league. They were no jokers, I can assure you. It was a tough match, but the Irish did great, O’Leary defended superbly and Brady crossed for Stapleton to score. It was one of those where you were waiting for the whistle to blow.
Southampton took us to our 5th replay after a 1-1 then 2-0. We took on Wolves in the semi and beat them 2-0.
We had Manchester United in the final with Dave Sexton as manager, who had been Bertie Mee’s right hand man in the sixties before Don Howe. We were a bit better than Utd at that time and finished above them in the league but their team was good, Bailey, Nicholl, Albiston, McIlroy, McQueen, Buchan, Coppell, Jimmy Greenhoff, Jordan, Macari, Thomas, and Brian Greenhoff on the bench. We had Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix, and Steve Walford on the bench. Probably the only real difference in quality was Brady and so it proved to be. After 12 minutes he was involved in the first goal with Brian Talbot scoring. Then he went on a great run and chipped in for Stapleton. 2-0. We were reasonably comfortable although I remember Gordon McQueen bundling over Pat Jennings and scoring, only for it to be rightly disallowed. A few minutes to go, 2-0, we were winners, we were Arsenal and we were back. Except Gordon McQueen didn’t read the script, 87 minutes he pops the ball in the net. Then McIlroy a minute later goes on a twisting run and beats his Northern Ireland teammate Jennings. 2-2, but we were looking shellshocked. We had played lots of matches, we had climbed the mountain, we almost proved we were Arsenal, but we were going to be beaten once again. But Brady, the man with 5 letters in his name, said no, we ARE Arsenal, went on a run, ghosted past players from the halfway line, nonchalantly slipped the ball to Rix, who whipped over a pinpoint cross for Sunderland to tap in. He screamed all the away to the supporters. We were Arsenal, we won, and there was 5 goals in the game.
Do you want the kicker? We had 5 matches that season with 5 goals scored: 4-1 against Leipzig, 5-0 against Spurs, 4-1 against Ipswich, 3-2 against Middlesbrough and of course, 3-2 against Man U. I told you it was a crazy year. And crazy has 5 letters. And if you want a good omen for this year, Mikel has 5 letters.