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1993-94 The Football May the Fourth Be with you After all we are a football team, so I will get back to what was happening on the pitch after my attempt to figure out what the Premier league meant for Arsenal and by extension, other teams. I am guessing my audience here are well aware of the early days of the Premier league as I know quite a lot of the Arsenal supporters here in Bulgaria. But these times are also before many of you, so I hope I have given you an idea of how it felt at the time. The big number this season is the number 4, it just seems to pop up everywhere. Southampton, Swindon, and Ipswich were beaten 4-0. The hapless Ipswich were also beaten by four goals 5-1. Tony Adams scored 4 goals and Alan Miller deputized for David Seaman 4 times. And there are plenty more times it jumped up at me. But I will get to it, don’t worry. We Came Fourth Our league form was a lot better as we came, you guessed it, 4th. How did we manage it? The hard way as we were beaten 3-0 by Coventry in the first match at Highbury. Another groan for us poor supporters as we feared relegation after 10th last season. But we bounced back nicely with a win at the Seven Sisters Road 1-0 to the Arsenal. Always nice to send the Spuds home crying. 1-0 to the Arsenal away again against Sheffield Wednesday, then 2-1 against Leeds. 2-0 against Everton, 4 wins in a row and now we were dreaming of the title. By week 4 we were joint top with Man Utd, but after another 4 games they beat us 1-0 at Old Trafford to put us in our place. They were relentless and never gave us another sniff at the top spot. They ran away with the league and got 92 points. We had 4 0-0’s in a row from September 2nd starting with Liverpool and ending with Norwich. That put paid to our challenge really. 12 times we failed to score and we got a meagre 53 goals. Not good enough. Ian Wright was consistent with 23 and Kevin Campbell got 14 but the rest were not stepping up and putting the ball in the net. We needed something, that was certain. Out in the Fourth round The League Cup? Not for us as defending champions. We started well against Huddersfield, beating them 6-1 over 2 legs. Then scoring 4 against Norwich over 2 games to come up against Villa in the 4th round and that was the end of us, 1-0 to the Villa. The FA cup? Our trophy and defending champions? No, although 1-0 to the Arsenal against Millwall at the Den in the 3rd round meant Bolton in the 4th round. Two 4 goal games 2-2 and 1-3 meant we were out 4th round. A fourth trophy? By the 9th of February then, we were out of all 3 domestic trophies as we were 14 points behind Man Utd and not doing anything to suggest we could catch them. Was there a 4th trophy we could dream of winning? Yes, there was. We were in the Cup-Winners Cup courtesy of our FA Cup win. Could we win the second part of the glorious hat-trick of European competitions to go with our Inter Cities (UEFA Cup) win in 1970? Odense of Denmark were first up, and we beat them 2-1 away to make it easy at Highbury? With Wrighty and Merse scoring? We are Arsenal, we don’t make it easy, but we scraped through 1-1 with Kevin Campbell hitting the back of the net. Next round was a scorcher. Standard Liege of Belgium might have given us a hard time? Uh-uh. 3-0 at Highbury with Ian Wright (2) and Paul Merson the other. But we were going to make it hard in Belgium, being Arsenal? Nope, 0-7, we destroyed them with 6 different scorers and Campbell scoring twice. 10-0 aggregate. C’mon the Arse! The Fourth month Then Tony Adams despatched Torino in the quarterfinals next time with the only goal of 2 matches, at Highbury in the second leg. And on to Paris St Germain in the semis. 1-1 with Ian Wright scoring a vital away goal and Kevin Campbell with a lovely header to win it at Highbury. It was the 4th month of the year, and we were in the final. Our Alan - 4 letters and a winner We had beaten 4 teams on our way. We faced Parma of Italy, then with Gianfranco Zola, Thomas Brolin, and Faustino Asprilla, in Copenhagen. Could George Graham rescue our season with another cup win? It was no vintage performance from Arsenal, maybe because Ian Wright was suspended, but a superb goal from Alan Smith, one of his best, gave us the lead on 20 minutes, and we defended very well from that point. We dug in for the win, but I always remember that the Arsenal fans were able to sing 1-0 to the Arsenal for the rest of the match. Our match winner, who rescued our season, had 4 letters in his first name. And the kicker? It was the 4th of May, 1994. The Fourth was with us Ah, Arsenal, how do you always find a way to make me happy? George Graham had done it again. In many ways a lot better season than last. Now we could take on Manchester United, surely, who were becoming the kings of the Premiership? We just needed the rest of the players to score in the league and not leaving it to the magical Ian Wright. I always liked Parma Ham Ah, I was optimistic, but we always do things the hard way and there were dark days coming. But that is a story for next week. A morality tale but with many sides to it and the truth difficult to discern. Anyway, we now had an Irish player again in Eddie McGoldrick, we were high up the table, we had our second European trophy, and did I mention we had our first Bulgarian? Paul Dickov, with a Bulgarian grandfather, made his debut, and hey, he had 4 letters in his first name. 4 letters and Bulgarian
The Greatest Match Ever Note for my Bulgarian friends Scouse is a type of stew, typically made from chunks of meat, usually beef or lamb, potatoes and onion. It is particularly associated with the port of Liverpool, which is why the inhabitants of that city are often referred to as "scousers". Eating Scouse for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner? We played Liverpool in 3 competitions in 1988-89. The League Cup, The Centenary Cup and the 1st Division. The first one was the Centenary Cup to celebrate the 100 years of the Football League. So breakfast was this trophy. The top 8 teams from the previous season were chosen to participate so we had QPR in the first round, also the quarterfinals. 2-0 to the Arsenal was good enough to see did we like the taste of Scouse in the semi’s. Liverpool were down some players although they still lined up strong enough even if Kenny Dalglish popped up himself towards the end. The wonderful Perry Groves knocked in the first, then Steve Staunton, one of 3 Irishmen on the pitch for Liverpool, got the equaliser, but Brian Marwood signalled that breakfast was served with a super volley. George had got his taste of Scouse. He liked it. He decided he also liked Hotpot as we gobbled up Man Utd in an exciting final 2-1. A trophy for the Arsenal early in the season putting 2 big Northern clubs in their place. Next up, lunch and the League Cup It wasn’t easy eating Scouse for lunch. They gave us indigestion. 1-1 in the first match at Anfield although they had still had players out. A strong side though with echoes of Arsenal in the late 70’s and plenty of Irish players. We had only English. John Barnes and David Rocastle scored. A replay at Highbury and 0-0. Then 2-1 Liverpool at Villa Park for the next replay. Steve McMahon and John Aldridge scoring with Paul Merson getting our lone goal. John Aldridge was scoring goals for fun The League Title for dinner? Could we swallow them down them in the League? Two matches to play. The first at Highbury on 4th December. As I mentioned last time, Norwich were the supposed danger all season. We were 3 points behind them with a game in hand and 3 points above Liverpool and we had a game in hand on them. Bizarrely, we were sandwiched between Norwich and George Graham’s ex, Millwall who had come up and were doing very well. Liverpool were 4th. Beat them and we go top on goal difference. We, and George, were not stupid, though. Liverpool were the benchmark. Only an idiot would think otherwise. At Highbury we also needed to beat them to lay down a marker that we were Arsenal and we were coming for them. We beat them in the Centenary Cup and they beat us in the League Cup so now in the league, at home, we should show them we eat Scouse straight down the throat. However, we didn’t. It was 1-1. It was a good match, lots of chances, maybe more for Liverpool. They had a strong side with 4 Irishmen, Whelan, Staunton, Houghton and Aldridge. John Barnes and Peter Beardsley would terrify any defence in the world. But our players were coming into form. We caused them problems. Alan Smith (2), Rocastle and Winterburn had good chances and couldn’t put them away. 0-0 at half time. Second half and John Barnes scores a superb individual goal to show us that they wanted to give us indigestion again. Maybe we weren’t good enough after all? But chances kept happening at both ends, the bumpy December pitch throwing up chances. Till finally Rocastle lobbed the ball towards Smith and this time nothing was going to stop him scoring, it took him 3 touches in a scramble but in it went. Now we chased the winner but it wasn’t to be. We were second. And second best? We had hope. The Big Match So, the business end. We had beaten Norwich on May 1st to kill their chances. Liverpool had gone top in April but this was the year of the Hillsborough disaster. That is a blog for another day but it was perhaps the worst ever tragedy in English football. Liverpool stopped playing for a while and they had games in hand on other teams. We would have to eat a big Scouse dinner as they just kept winning matches when they restarted playing. In their final few matches Aldridge and Barnes were frightening, throwing the ball into the net time after time. And so was John Barnes We became ropey, nervous. Middlesbrough were dispatched 1-0 but then we were beaten by Derby and drew against Wimbledon to hand the league to Liverpool. We made it impossible. We had to go to Anfield against probably the greatest team ever in English football to that point and beat them 2-0. They had done it again. No Scouse dinner for us. It was televised worldwide. Obviously, people believed that an upset was possible. A Liverpool win and they win the league by 6 points, just another year for them. Even a draw and they win by 3. But I have spoken to people from all over the world who watched that match and the tension was – could it be done? Arsenal, who hadn’t won the league or really contended in a long time, could go and cause an upset? At the most scary fortress in world football? People tuned in, in huge numbers, all the same. It was certainly not just Arsenal and Liverpool supporters. The Finest of Dining We had played them 5 times already, and only a 2-1 win in the Centenary Cup to show for it and that against a weakened team. They had that 2-1 in the League Cup. But they had momentum, we were stuttering, and they had the emotional tide of the Hillsborough disaster to win it for their supporters. You are mostly Arsenal supporters, reading this, you know what happened, but for me, watching, most of the game I felt like I wasn’t watching normally, but somewhere in the sky, looking down. It seemed surreal, time was passing slowly, things were happening on the pitch but it was like things were not happening on the pitch. Alan Smith scores a clever header on 52 minutes and I sorta think, it’s too early to score, we need two late goals to have a chance. Now, we have woken them up, they will show us that Scouse is not for the likes of us, and we certainly won’t dine on it. But we had Michael Thomas There were chances, for both sides, but it was painful to watch. It just went on and on, inevitably towards a Liverpool title. We didn’t really seem likely to score and nor did they. John Barnes got the ball on 91 minutes, with all their fans whistling at the ref, and ran at Arsenal. Maybe he had that Liverpool instinct to win, not only the title, but not to lose the match. He went on a typical Barnes mazy run, but was dispossessed by Kieran Richardson, who slipped it to Lukic, who overarmed it to Dixon, who passed it on to Smith, who knocked it on to Thomas, who went on a run to be faced with Steve Nicol blocking his path. He tried to hook it over him, made a mess of it but it bounced off him perfectly for Thomas to be left one v one against Grobelaar. I was frozen, up in the sky watching, but he dinked it in. It didn’t make any sense to me. We can’t possibly win. Reports can say it was the last kick of the game but it certainly wasn’t. Liverpool mounted another attack and I was certain, in that hour it took from Michael Thomas beating Grobelaar, that they would score. We could not do it. But we did! We were Arsenal and we sent them home crying. Scouse was our favourite dish and we had eaten all of it. We had our greatest night ever, and all that the Liverpool legends could do was lie down on the floor, stunned, bewildered, and shellshocked. Liverpool Arsenal GK 1 Bruce Grobbelaar CB 2 Gary Ablett RB 4 Steve Nicol CB 6 Alan Hansen LB 3 Steve Staunton RM 7 Ray Houghton CM 5 Ronnie Whelan (c) CM 11 Steve McMahon LM 10 John Barnes CF 8 John Aldridge CF 9 Ian Rush 32' Substitutes: DF 14 Barry Venison FW 12 Peter Beardsley 32' Manager: Kenny Dalglish GK 1 John Lukic SW 5 David O'Leary RB 2 Lee Dixon CB 6 Tony Adams (c) CB 10 Steve Bould 76' LB 3 Nigel Winterburn MF 4 Michael Thomas MF 7 David Rocastle MF 8 Kevin Richardson MF 11 Paul Merson 73' CF 9 Alan Smith Substitutes: MF 12 Perry Groves 76' MF 14 Martin Hayes 73' Manager: George Graham
1988-89 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. Top Guns? 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. Lucky you weren't playing Arsenal in that Final 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. Could Alan Smith Fire us to the Title? 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? We Were worried about Norwich all season 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.