Heroes appearing under Graham
How to write about George Graham’s first season in charge? It was a tumultuous time with no single thread to tie it all together. But I will give it a go. The most important thing is that he had done wonders at Millwall, who were jumping up the divisions. They were well drilled and that became obvious fairly quickly, that Arsenal would be the same. He knew what he wanted and players came in from inside and out. Some only diehard Arsenal fans will remember, others became legends, still talked about today. Unfortunately, one of them was Niall Quinn as this was his only big season, appearing 48 times. He only scored 12 which I guess Graham wasn’t happy with. Gus Caesar and Martin Hayes were others who didn’t manage to thrive under George.
I believe he had a vision of who he wanted in every role and ended up with that type of player. But Paul Merson, Michael Thomas and Perry Groves did appear, all to become totally different types of heroes. Merson had a long career, scored many important goals and was an integral part of George Graham’s plans. Michael scored the most magical goal in Arsenal’s history, downing the monster Goliath Liverpool at Anfield to win the league, but that is a story for another day. Perry Groves? Well, the fans just loved him, he was wholehearted, he came on as a sub, he stayed, and always gave his all for the Arsenal. He was rewarded with his song – “We all live in a Perry Groves World” still sung by fans to this day.
Could David Really beat Goliath?
I feel, though, that it was not the players that defined that season so much as to how George Graham shaped up to the 2 headed monster of Liverpool and Everton. If Liverpool were Goliath, then Everton were the Midgard Serpent and they were battling for supremacy. Everton almost won the double under Howard Kendall in 1984-85 and Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish became the 3rd team to win the double in the 20th century in 1985-86. Graham should really have been called David, because he planned to take them on and down them, send them back to Scouseland crying. Could he do it with the team he mostly inherited from Don Howe? Let’s see what happened.
He had a bit of a mixed start, beating Man Utd 1-0 which was to become his signature score and another constant song still sung to this day, then beating Coventry 2-1 before succumbing to Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield. He had a few draws and then lots of wins which had him up at the top in December and staring glacily at the Scouse giants below him. Maybe he was David.
But the second half of the league didn’t go so well and 4th was our final position. The Midgard Serpent had won with 86 points and Goliath a well beaten second. Unfortunately some team from North London finished 3rd to take the gloss off what was a good start to Graham’s time. Spuds, on top of us again? Surely he knew that he had to stamp on them at least?
And so the Fa Cup? We were beaten 3-1 by Watford in the quarterfinals but we did have a 6-1 against Plymouth in the 4th round. So not too good there.
Knocking over Giants
The League cup? Here is where we laid down a marker. George showed he meant business. We beat Huddersfield 3-1 over 2 legs, then Manchester City 3-1 over one leg, then Charlton 2-0 and Forest 2-0 to set up a semi against? You guessed it, the Spuds. We had to send them home crying to pay them back for finishing above us so often in the 80’s. And we did, although we made hard work of it, 2 legs 2-2 and then 2-1 in the replay. The thing was we had never led in any of these matches, always coming back at them. And Clive Allen, who we had bought and sold without playing him years earlier, scored and we were behind again. And with 15 minutes to go they were going through, until Ian Allinson popped the ball through legs to score and then David Rocastle was involved in a scramble to score a very late goal. Bye bye Spuds, try and find your way home through your tears. The match was actually played at White Hart Lane as they had won the toss for the replay so they didn’t have far to go, lucky for them.
But Liverpool in the final, and Goliath was in our way. George realized he had to be David, he had to show them we were Arsenal and we were back. They were full of top players but we had good emerging players too. But to be honest, Liverpool looked better than us, they had all the chances and finally scored through their talisman, Ian Rush. They story goes that they never lose when he scores. Our George never heard that story and neither did our Charlie. Nicholas popped up to score our equalizer, and then later on, Perry Groves knocked the ball across from the wing, Charlie did it again, via a deflection from Ronnie Whelan. Goliath lay dead on the floor of Wembley, as our steely eyed David looked on. He laid down a marker for Kenny Dalglish, we can beat you, we can hurt you, we are the Arsenal and don’t you forget it.
Our first League Cup, the first Littlewoods Cup, and all in George Graham’s first year. Beating the Spuds in the semis at White Hart Lane was great, but showing Liverpool we had arrived was even better. Oh and by the way, that 1-0 to the Arsenal in the first match against Man Utd was the only 1-0 in all competitions.
71 points to play for.
A few weeks ago at the halfway stage I predicted that around 64 points would be our final total, and not enough for Champions League but probably enough for Europa League. That is still possible as we have maximum 71 points to play for but it is not looking good. I am still optimistic, though. Every week until the end of the season I will run down the clock on the maximum points we can achieve.