We were the Kings and we could beat everyone
In my second last blog on the season 1990-91 I wrote about how good we were. One defeat to Chelsea in the league and we had 85 points at the end, with 2 taken away for the handbags at Man U leaving us with 83 and seven points ahead of Liverpool. 2 championships in 3 years, this time clearly. I was cock-a -hoop, the big man, we were ready, we were Arsenal and nothing could stop us dominating the lesser teams around us. And we were the first team back in the European cup, surely we could win that as well? Why could we not win the FA cup and the League cup as well? We were the best.
To give a bit of background, this was the last year of the old First Division. The Premier League was about to start along with the changes that would be introduced with it. Constant live football and all sorts of different camera angles and analysis would change football forever but that is a story for next week plus a little rule change that was to have a huge impact on George Graham.
Better than the rest
But for now, I was strutting around at the start of the season, waiting for what I had been waiting for all my Arsenal life, the year when we are the greatest and ready to smack down any of the inept pretenders. Liverpool? With Graeme Souness? Mediocre. Alex Ferguson and Man U? Too inconsistent, manager out of his depth at a big club. Nobody could understand why he was being kept.
Crystal Palace had come 3rd under Steve Coppell. They were good, I loved what they were doing, they had Mark Bright and Ian Wright upfront and they played a simple straightforward game, which was defend in numbers and get the ball as quickly as you can to these 2, they were a nightmare. But we nicked Wrighty in September, their best player, and that put paid to their chances.
Ian Wright was the right choice
Ian Wright surely was the final piece of the jigsaw. We hadn’t really strengthened in the summer with only bit players coming in. This was reflected in our poor start. A draw with QPR and defeats to Villa and Everton. Oh, what it is to be an Arsenal supporter. Finally I felt we were top guns and now brought back down to earth. If I understood Graham correctly, he had his idea of the player he wanted in every position and that is why he didn’t strengthen, whoever he may have wanted wasn’t available until Wright pushed for his move in September. The other teams did reinforce, though, none more so than Leeds.
Leeds, under Howard Wilkinson, improved with shrewd signings like Rod Wallace, Tony Dorigo and Steve Hodge and the iconic Eric Cantona arrived in February. They contested with Manchester United for the title and won out at the end. We were 4th, 10 points behind Leeds and 6 behind Alex Ferguson.
To understand my frustration, Ian Wright was a great signing, he scored 26 goals in 33 matches, we were the highest scoring team in the division with 81 goals, we went on a long unbeaten run towards the end to get that 4th place. The same players as last season with the addition of Wright and we finished a long way back? I couldn’t understand it. Wright had 5 goals from Palace and 24 in the league with us to pip Gary Lineker for top scorer in the division.
But it all went wrong
The European Cup? A great start with a 6-1 over Austria Wien so that the second leg didn’t matter. Alan Smith, not the most prolific of scorers whacked in 4. Benfica did for us in the second round, though, beating us after extra time at Highbury in the second leg.
The League Cup? We struggled home against Leicester over 2 rounds with Ian Wright, who else?, scoring in both ties, 1-1 away and then 2-0 at home. But we went out tamely to Coventry in the next round 0-1 away.
The Fa Cup, our trophy? Rubbish. Wrexham from the 4th division took us on. When Alan Smith put us one goal ahead before halftime I thought this is it, maybe we could have a nice run in the cup, instead they equalized and then scored the winner in a giant-killing shock.
No Strut anymore
So, by then, we were out of everything, 7th in the league after a horrible spell around December/January and out of all competitions. Strutting around? Giving it the Big I am? No way, I was hiding away, politely saying to Leeds and Man U supporters that their teams were doing well. Liverpool had fallen apart under Souness, ending 6th, their worst in ages. They did win the FA Cup, though, and Man U the League Cup. For us, nothing. The excitement I had when Ian Wright came faded, we took way too long to get going. For us Irish, David O’Leary had garnered his 700 appearance although he was becoming more and more a bit player. The famous back four of Dixon, Winterburn, Bould and Adams played most games and Seaman was ever present.
The strong finish though, gave me hope. We were unbeaten from Feb 1. We trounced Liverpool 4-0 in our 3rd last match to send them home crying and Southampton 5-1 in our last. Ian Wright notched up a hat trick in that to beat Gary Lineker for top scorer. It was just a hangover from being so good the previous season. I believed Graham will have us ready next time, we will be the winners again. We just had to learn that we must prove we are Arsenal every season. I had great hopes.
Still 61 is our max.
We must beat Chelsea to keep alive the barest flicker of hope. They look good at the moment but perhaps Arteta should talk to Big Sam Allardyce to find out the secret to beating them. Lose this and our fire has gone out. I have hope still. A tiny little teeny piece of hope that we can somehow fluke a Europa league spot.