Were we Better?
My first full decade as an Arsenal supporter was the 70’s. It was an amazing time but a rollercoaster. We flirted with relegation, we got to many cup finals and won the impossible double. We had an astonishing Irish presence that is unlikely ever to be achieved again at any English club, and so many legends were of this time. Charlie George, John Radford, Frank Mclintock, Bob Wilson, Terry Neill, Don Howe, Alan Ball, our longest serving player, David O’Leary (why is there no statue?) and our sublime magician, Liam Brady were among the names and in fact almost every player we had could fit into that frame.
But the 80’s belonged, more than anyone else to a player also from that era, Stroller himself, George Graham. He took over in 1986 from Don Howe, who had taken over from Terry Neill. George was different. I am not sure that I have ever seen a manager who decided that things had to be done his way as much as he did. Possibly Jack Charlton also was similar. He imposed discipline and did away with any weak links. John Lukic was his goalkeeper and there were few better but he was replaced by one who was, David Seaman. Kenny Sansom was a superb fullback but it seemed that Nigel Winterburn better fitted Graham’s ideas. Niall Quinn was working hard on his game, was always a handful but was deemed, probably fairly, to be a bit short of greatness and had to go elsewhere. He often elected to play David O’Leary as a sweeper as he had a good touch and could find the midfielders.
We had good players in every position
He played a solid spine of black players, Thomas, Davis and Rocastle were the right blend of strength and finesse to provide goals and attacking flair. Alan Smith, in another era, might have been an England regular but the England front three of Lineker, Barnes and Beardsley picked itself and players such as Mark Hateley were also pushing strongly. But for Arsenal, he caused huge problems for the opposition, he scored with his head, he had a deft touch, right foot, left foot goals, and he held the ball up very well. Graham always played him and never seemed to consider selling him.
So what did we do in the 80’s? We started well. Got into 2 finals but lost both. The Fa cup to West Ham and the European Cup Winners Cup to Valencia in 1980. After that we were waiting for George Graham to arrive to make us challenge again. In 1987 he delivered a League Cup, our first. In 1989 he gave us the League at Liverpool in the most dramatic game ever and we also won the Centenary Trophy that season.
Not so good in the rankings
Where did that leave us in the 80’s? Quite a bit down the rankings it has to be said. A long way behind Liverpool as I would need a calculator to tot up their trophies. Well behind Everton who had a purple patch in the middle of the decade with League wins in 1985 and 1987, FA Cup in 1984, Cup Winners Cup 1985, but they contested many finals and were runners up in the league as well.
Aston Villa won the league and charity shield in 1981, the European Cup in 1982 and the UEFA Super Cup also. Forest won the European Cup in 1980, the League Cup and the Full Members Cup in 1989. Manchester United won the FA Cup twice in 1983 and 1985 winning the Charity Shield in 1983. Tottenham won the FA Cup in 1981 and 1982, Charity shield shared twice following those, and a Uefa Cup in 1984. I am going to argue that the League trumps both of the last 2 but Spurs and United fans probably wouldn’t agree. As I always wanted Arsenal to win the European Cup/Champions league I am going to give Forest a marginal nod over us. Feel free to disagree.
The Fifth team in England?
That puts us as the fifth team in England in the 80’s and only barely above Man U and Spurs. We were the last champions though so the best at the end. That is reflected in our league positions as well. 4,3,5,10,6,7,7,4,6,1 which would put us around fifth as well. The 80’s weren’t so good for us but a definite improvement when Mr Graham took over.
As he was at least 3rd choice behind Terry Venables and Alex Ferguson could we have done better with those two? I never wanted Venables but Ferguson? I think with the players that were coming through at the time and the fact that he reckoned Tony Adams was a Manchester United player maybe he could have come through quicker with the league at Arsenal than Man U. But despite his admiration for Adams he hated a heavy drinking culture so would he have booted him out? And Niall Quinn, his drinking buddy? And others who liked a drink? George Graham, though known as a tough disciplinarian, obviously tolerated that aspect of players lives. I never heard of players being kicked out for that reason. I would say that we got the right man.
The Kings of London
I think we can say we were kings of London though. Spurs really were the only challengers to us. They had a good decade for them and still we beat them. Their league positions – 14,10,4,4,8,3,10,3,13,and 6, I feel gives us the edge. West Ham and Wimbledon won the Fa Cup once and Chelsea the Full Members Cup. Watford, QPR and Palace had some good seasons but a long way behind us. Kings of London for sure.
The difference for me was palpable as we headed towards the end of the 80’s, though. We had a team that was hard to beat, well organized and packed with top players, although we didn’t have many England regulars, even though virtually all the team were English. It was an exciting time as I felt we were on the verge of greatness. I must point out that 2 FA cups and a League title plus a UEFA cup in the 70's meant we went backwards in trophies but I felt that finally we were going forward.
The board took a gamble with George Graham. Typically Arsenal, they took the cheap route, and appointed an unproven manager at the top level. It worked. In boxing, it is where you are at the end of the fight that matters. At the end of the 80’s we were Champions, we were Arsenal and ready to send all teams home crying to whatever footballing dungeon they operate from.
Still 61 points total to play for.
For a change we won easily at Newcastle and it should have been easier. They rarely mounted an attack and made us look good. I hope it is great for our confidence as our next match is our biggest so far. We must win. And play a striker Arteta! We have Aubamayang, Lacazette, Martinelli, Pepe, Nketiah and Balogun but none are considered good enough to play as a striker? Nonsense! However, if you said at the start of the season that we needed to beat Villareal 1-0 or better at home to reach the final, we would have said that sounds doable. It is. Let’s do it, Arsenal.