The aftermath of greatness
The mystical double had been achieved. Arsenal and Spurs were the only teams to date to have done it. Arsenal, though, at the time, did not have any players who were regarded as first choice internationals, and many who never got a cap. This was a time when the international team mattered more than club sides to most fans. Arsenal fans, who, to this day, can still sing out the names of Charlie George, George Graham, George Armstrong, and even players without George in their name such as Bob Wilson, Ray Kennedy, John Radford, Frank McLintock and Peter Simpson, may not realise that they were eclipsed by famous players from other teams.
Other teams, Manchester United with Best, Law and Charlton, Leeds with Giles, Bremner, Clarke, Hunter, Liverpool with Toshack, Callaghan, and Heighway, Manchester City with Bell, Lee and Summerbee and Everton with Labone, Royle and Alan Ball had players at the top of their game. We had none. Not one.
The Arsenal double winners of 1971
We made a big statement
But then we bought Alan Ball, crucial to England, World Cup winner and one of the best midfielders in the world. We broke the British transfer record at 220,000 pounds sterling. Now we had a top player. And we were the double kings. We had young players coming through like Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson, and Peter Marinello had been signed as the next George Best. We were surely ready to take our place as the top team in England. But as can happen with the Arsenal, something like what happened with the Invincibles years later, happened. Just as we were ready to kick the ass off all other teams, we went backwards.
We didn’t do much in the League cup being dumped out by Sheffield United in November after a replay. We were doing pretty good in the league, though, and retaining our title was certainly possible. A lot of teams were bunched together and maybe we could do it again, sneak ahead at the end.
The extraordinary Johan Cruyff
Playing against total football and the Ides of March
We were in the European Cup, of course. As with today, it was the glamour trophy to win. You had to be the champions. In those days, Europe had far fewer countries. Much less matches were played. We hammered Strømsgodset from Norway in round 2, our first round. Then destroyed Grasshoppers from Switzerland in the next. Unluckily we came up against Ajax in the quarterfinals in March. They were the champions of Europe and one of the best teams of all time. Johan Cruyff, Ruud Krol, Johan Neeskens and Arie Haan were some of the standouts. Total football had arrived but we played well, though beaten by one goal both home and away. We gave them tough games and they went on to win it again that year against Inter. What Ajax were doing with football was amazing.
March was a bad month for us just as it was for Julius Caesar. We were beaten easily enough three games in a row in the league by Manchester City, Leeds United and Newcastle. The European impact. In what was one of the tightest leagues of the time, that destroyed our hopes. Derby, under the miraculous Brian Clough, won with 58 points. Man City, Leeds and Liverpool had 57. We ended fifth with 52 so you can see the effect those 3 losses had. March finished our season. Or did it? Or were we still Arsenal?
We were still fighting
We did have the FA cup. But, as always with the Arsenal, we had to fight the hard way. Swindon, our nemesis from 1969, were dispatched 2-0 in round 3. Reading 2-1 in round 4. Then 3 tough matches against Derby, who would win the league. But after the second replay, we won 1-0. Those 3 matches were played in March as well, if we can consider the 29th February as really the 1st of March. Then we had Orient in the quarterfinals, also in March, and we won 1-0. March just seemed to be match after match, against top teams, and except the win against Derby, only beating minor ones. But we battled. We were Arsenal and we got through to April and the semifinal against Stoke. They made us play another match but we did it in the replay, 2-1 with Charlie George and John Radford stretching the net for us.
The final was against Leeds. We had stolen the title from them the year before. This was their best ever team even up to now. And they had never won the cup before. They were full of superb players at the top of their game, being mostly first choice internationals. They had a world cup winner in Jack Charlton, but hey, so had we, in Alan Ball. (Both sadly passed on)
Maybe, though, it was the hard season, all the replays, or maybe it was hard to keep our players playing above themselves as they had been doing so often. The final wasn’t great. Leeds were better and scored through Clarke early enough in the second half. We couldn’t really threaten them and a poor final petered out. They were a tough physical side, known for their intimidatory tactics. Charlie George, John Radford and Ray Kennedy, were easily held by them. Leeds won with that goal and won the cup for the first time.
Alan Clarke of Leeds who destroyed our final hope of glory
The last promise of glory was gone. But that team was going to make way for a new one with plenty of Arsenal youngsters waiting in the wings to grab their chance. The Irish were coming. And a different chapter was about to be written.