Charlie Nicholas and John Lukic with Terry Neill at the start of the season
We didn’t have a George or an Orwell but we did get a Charles and a Nicholas in one person. Charlie had signed for us. The most promising talent on the island was brought on board by Terry Neill. He had got us a big player, as everyone had wanted him. £750,000 was spent which was a huge sum at the time. He was 21 and was to be the new George Best. He had dazzled with Celtic, who were then the footballing equivalent of a major English side. Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness implored him to go to Liverpool. I still don’t know why he chose Arsenal. Maybe Terry Neill told him Maradona and Platini were coming. We were 10th, the worst in London but somehow he must have felt we were going somewhere. Unless the thoughtpolice had got to him and he thought he was joining a top team. He may have thought it was Animal Farm when he saw Tony Woodcock and Brian Sparrow in the dressingroom.
Allied to Tony Woodcock, our top scorer last season, surely now we could start winning again? Yes we could. Two wins on the bounce against Luton and Wolves. 2-1 both times but wins nonetheless. Charlie, you are our darling. Except this was Arsenal and reality came back to bite us. We lost away to Southampton before being beaten at home by Manchester Utd and Liverpool. We would go on to lose 6 more times by December 10th and by the 16th, Terry Neill was turned into an unperson by Peter Hill-Wood. But, as expected, Don Howe took over. It was very hard to have any great expectations with him as he had been there so long. I wanted a fresh approach but it wasn’t to be.
Not Newspeak but Newplayers
What he did, though was bring in good players. Paul Mariner, the England international centreforward came in in February, Tommy Caton, centrehalf, came in December and formed a good partnership with David O’Leary. A very young Tony Adams played 3 times, making his debut at barely 17, almost a miracle for a central defender to play that young. Colin Hill, of Northern Ireland, had got the right back spot the previous season for the last 7 games and he became a regular. He was good but never quite made it. John Lukic had arrived in the summer to be Pat Jennings understudy. It took him some time but he eventually did it to become a firm fan favourite and is a hero to us in the Arsenal Supporters Club of Bulgaria.
Mr Arsenal himself appeared and he was never a donkey
We had a better second half of the season and finished 6th in the end. But it was a yoyo existence, full of ups and downs, lots of big wins, and lots of big defeats.
Down and out in London?
Not exactly as we finished above Spurs, West Ham and Watford, who all finished above us the previous season so we were the best in London? At least we were Arsenal in the Big Smoke? Er, no, QPR had come up and finished 5th above us. But we did at least manage to put manners on the Spuds beating them in the League cup 4th round 2-1 at White Hart Lane with Charlie Nicholas scoring (becoming a fan favourite) along with Tony Woodcock. Then on Boxing Day, they had their match for revenge at the Lane in the league. Eh, sorry Spuds, go back to room 101, 4-2 to the Arsenal with Charlie rattling in 2 more and Rafe Meade getting the other 2. And at home? Sent them home crying 3-2 with Charlie again scoring. I’m certain I remember him saying that he didn’t understand them, did they not know they were supposed to stop him scoring? I should, in fairness, mention that they won the UEFA cup that season beating Anderlecht on penalties in the final.
Charlie loved making the Spuds miserable
The cheek of them, though! Better than us the past 2 seasons in a row? We are Arsenal. You are the Spuds. We are your worst nightmare.
Arteta needs to teach the Spuds their place in life
Arteta needs to understand that, I don’t know what he learned at Arsenal but he should have learned that. From next season, Mikel, you need to put them in their rightful place in Room 101, where every waking day, they see that Arsenal are better than them. If they look in a mirror they see a red and white jersey ready to score against them. If they look up the table they see Arsenal staring down at them. If they draw us in a cup, they know they will be sent home crying. It is the natural order of things. It is never good to upset the natural order of things.
But QPR, coming up like Watford the previous year and playing a stormer? 71 points only got them 5th, 10 points above us. Spurs on 8th, West Ham on 9th and Watford on 11th. QPR beat us 2-0 both times, West Ham beat us 3-1, and 3-3, Watford beat us 2-1 and we beat them 3-1. Honestly, it was hard to stay upbeat. Charlie loving to score against the Spuds was the only true consistent bright spark.
Coming up for Air
But we did have good wins, 6-2 against Aston Villa at Villa Park with Tony Woodcock scoring 5 times! I am certain that if Arteta had shown that on repeat all week before the match after every training session, and played Martinelli up front, he would have said I have to do the same. Let them score 2, we score 6 and I’ll score 5.
We beat Notts County 4-0, Forest, Ipswich, Wolves and Coventry 4-1 on our way to being the top scorers in the division with 74, one more than Liverpool on top. They had a goal difference of 41 and us? The inverse, 14. We liked leaking goals. It was a pity that Tony Adams was only 17.
Don Howe had brought an improvement. He deserved his chance. Arsenal always tried to act with class regarding managers and Peter Hill-Wood, the chairman, having finally backed Terry Neill with cash for our Charlie, was left with little choice but to let him go as we hovered above relegation. He said he couldn’t sleep for a week before doing it. Terry Neill was 41 and never managed again. He is still involved with Arsenal. Don Howe had such as Nicholas, Woodcock, Mariner, Sansom, Jennings and Lukic, O’Leary, Rix and Paul Davis at his disposal, top international players, most of them, and surely it was now time for us to be Arsenal?