If you remember all those blogs ago I wrote about the impossible double and how, on the last match of the season, we had to go to White Hart Lane, and essentially win to claim the league. Spurs were a good team at the time and to be honest, we were playing above ourselves all season. Bertie Mee and Don Howe were the right combination to squeeze that extra performance out of the players and we did it! We won, we beat the Spuds and forced them to watch us celebrate something they had never done. And hopefully never will. I certainly wouldn’t like to see the Spuds coming to the Emirates and winning the league. We should truly wish for Mourinho to stay for ever.
We had only sporadically bothered the top position since then, but Graham was ambitious, focused and organized. He knew what he wanted, and who he wanted playing in which position, and how he wanted them to play. 6th position last term didn’t change that focus. I could see that these were good players in all positions and good subs as well. Plenty of internationals and players desired by other clubs. A back four and keeper fully in tune with each other. Midfield full of players who could defend, attack, win the ball and supply the strikers who could put the ball in the net. We still hadn’t moved into the era of huge squads and we knew the team every week, except for injuries, or if George had a tactical tweak, such as playing O’Leary as a sweeper. Mostly it was 4 4 2.
The Wombles got Fired
Every year, since I have been an Arsenal fan, I would see signs that, at our best, we could beat the best, and I was always hopeful at the start of the season, that this could be our year. The previous year, as I said last time, we had led but fell away. This year we started well, a statement victory 5-1 away to Wimbledon, who had beaten Liverpool in the FA Cup the previous season, with Alan Smith notching a hat-trick and Merson and Marwood supplying the others. It didn’t leave us top of the table as Southampton had won 4-0. Then we were beaten by Villa 3-2. But we beat the hapless Spuds 3-2 in our next. Then 2-2 Southampton and then beaten by Sheffield Wednesday 2-1. We were 7th with 7 points and the same as a pile of teams down to 12th. My optimism was gone, another year of hoping for a cup run.
Ah, what it is to be an Arsenal supporter, I look at the players and think, they are good, let’s challenge, but certainly up to that point in my life, they rarely did. I looked at Liverpool and thought how can they be dethroned? They kept adding top players, from inside and out, always being the team to beat. I dreamed of Arsenal being similar, like we were in the 30’s.
Honestly I feel the same way about the current group, lots of top players who on their day can beat anyone. But we have too many bad days and we haven’t seriously challenged in a long time.
Second Best or The Best?
Then, of course, being Arsenal, we go 6 wins and a draw, including hammering the Hammers 1-4 and knocking down the Forest 1-4 and we are second on 19th November on 26 points to Norwich on 28. Norwich? No, I never heard of them either. Derby beat us 2-1, then 2 draws to leave us still second. It was a bit of a strange season where 2 draws and a loss means you don’t change position. Teams were taking points of each other, something like this season. Then 5 wins in a row including a nice 2-0 against the North London donkeys to leave us? Top, 5 points in front of Norwich and a game in hand on most of our rivals. This time could we do it? We did look like a good team and I was starting to hope.
However, around the same time, West Ham knocked us out of the FA cup after a replay in the 3rd round and I took the optimistic view. We had already been knocked out of the League cup early enough, so unlike other years, we are not going to face gruelling replays. We were in front, with George Graham, we were now the Arsenal, and we were ready to send them all home crying like babies.
Norwich were the danger? Really?
We drew against Sheffield Wednesday on my birthday 21st January 1-1, and then got beaten by West Ham again 2-1. They obviously took a big hump about being beaten 4-1 at Upton Park earlier. We were still top but now only 3 points above Norwich. Then 2 wins, a draw and a loss. We were top, Norwich were second but we were now 5 points ahead on the last day in February. Still they had a game in hand but we were strong enough to do it, surely? Norwich couldn’t beat us, not Norwich?
A loss to Forest and a draw against Charlton and now we were only 3 points ahead of them and they had 2 games in hand. I didn’t want to be beaten by Norwich. We went up the gears then and won 3 and drew one. Ah, we were Arsenal after all. Now, we had 66 points and they had 56 and a game in hand. They had dropped down to 3rd and it was 15th April. We had Norwich next. We needed to stamp on them, consign them to dreaming of tractors or whatever they do in Norwich. And we did! 5-0, Rocastle, Smith 2, Thomas and Winterburn stomped all over them. Quinn came on for Smith so we had 2 Irish on the pitch as O’Leary was already there. We rarely had 2 Irish by that point. Strangely for a Scot, the first eleven were often all English.
Did I Forget to Mention Liverpool?
We then beat Middlesbrough 1-0 to make it 3 one nils to the Arsenal for the season.
Bye bye Norwich, be careful you don’t get run over by a combine harvester on your way home. It was the 1st of May. We were 6 points above Liverpool in second but they had 2 games in hand. You might have noticed I barely mentioned Liverpool. Next week will be all the games against Liverpool (6) that season including the big one. Can we topple Goliath off its perch?
Now 69 Points Left
That 64 I predicted at halfway is not looking so good, is it? Liverpool next and a defeat there brings us down to a maximum 66. I would take 1-0 to the Arsenal for the rest of the season.