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Arsenal vs Leeds Rocky: Didn't want to leave us We Leed the way Leeds are our rollercoaster team, we either seem to go on long unbeaten spells or they do. Some of our greatest names have been involved with them as well, George Graham, David O’Leary, David Rocastle and John Lukic spring to mind. And I am going at the weekend to see them and I hope obviously, we win. It is particularly important as The Spuds have Liverpool away and they could easily drop points. We could be four or five points ahead come Sunday, making the showdown less of an ordeal on Thursday May 12th. He loved us both We first played Leeds on 20 December 1924 and we hammered them 6-1 in the old first division. It was their first season up and we showed them what Arsenal meant. They learned from that to beat us in the return in April 1-0. But we have had plenty of big wins since and they have put 3 and 4 past us a few times and paid us back for that 6-1 with one of their own in May 1973. Those early clashes were little dippers compared to the later ones. We won 3 and they won 3 of our first six. Between 1932 and 1938 we were unbeaten for 11 games. In 1959 to 1968 they were unbeaten for 10 games. We beat them 4-3 in May 1968 (I would take that this May even if it gave me a heart attack) but then they were unbeaten the next 6 until 1971. And for that win 1-0 in April, we thought we had handed them the league but we came back to win the double on the last match against, well you all know, the hapless Spuds. They like beating us in finals They beat us the next year in the FA cup final 1-0 for their only FA cup win. But we truly had a torrid time against them in the 60’s and 70’s, scarcely winning a match and they went on a another long unbeaten spell from their famous 6-1 in May 1973 to 1977, winning most. That time, in the late 60’s through a lot of the 70’s was Leeds golden spell, with 2 league titles, one FA cup and 2 Uefa cups plus challenging strongly all the time. They should have won more and Johnny Giles famously said years later the reason was that Don Revie, their manager, had a blind spot, playing Gary Sprake in goal instead of David Harvey. Most fans regarded them as the best team in England for many years until Liverpool finally emerged to dominate. 3 of these boys on the scoresheet for Arsenal - surely a record? But it all turned around in the 80’s. Just before that, in September 1979 we played them in the league cup winning 7-0 with 3 Irish getting on the scoresheet, Brady 2, Sammy Nelson 1 and Frank Stapleton 1, and that may be the only time 3 Irishmen scored for Arsenal in one game, I can’t remember another. After that match they missed have hated us as we let them beat us 1-0 in the league in January 1980 because we just kept beating them like poor whipped puppies after that with a long unbeaten spell of 15 matches until March 1992. It was like little dippers on the rollercoaster after that with us winning some and them winning some until November 2003 when we won 4-1 at Elland Road in the Premier league. We haven’t been beaten since and I really want that to continue this Sunday. We are the Arsenal, let’s show it, team. Make it 12 undefeated, we are the undefeatables, after all. We smash them on trophies Of course when it comes to trophies we are well ahead, they have 3 league titles to our 13 and one FA cup to our 14 and they beat us for that one in 1972. They have one league cup to our 2 but they also beat us in 1968 for their one. They seem to like taking trophies off us. They have 2 Uefa trophies to our one and one European cup final appearance to our one Champions League. The other Alan Smith who liked playing for Leeds So on most metrics we are nicely ahead, with 50 wins to their 41 and 33 draws. They have been up and down divisions regularly whereas we never have. I have to say I always liked Leeds even when they were a dirty team in their heyday in the 60’s and 70’s. They had Johnny Giles, one of our greatest ever, and a team of superb players such as Billy Bremner, Alan Clarke, Terry Cooper, Jack Charlton and many others. They took our gorgeous great George George Graham took them over when his Arsenal greatness disappeared with the bung scandal and he set about making them a top team again but didn’t stay too long as Tottenham, then pretending to be a big team, poached him from them. David O’Leary, his assistant took over and brought on lots of teenagers such as Alan Smith (the other one), Jonathan Woodgate (now England manager), Ian Harte, and others who went on a great run reaching Champions league semi-finals in 2001. George and David - among our greatest And so we have had lots of interactions, a true rollercoaster of emotions as we start winning and keep winning, then they start winning and keep winning and then we start again. We need to keep it going. C’mon the Arsenal. Beat a team near the bottom and make us all happy. Mikel needs Champions league, or does he? I feel qualifying for Champions League will be the boost Mikel Arteta needs in his quest to gain respect from experienced professionals. My good friend Zdavko Talvi of this Arsenal parish ventured his opinion that maybe Europa League might be best in some ways next season as it will allow him to play the youngsters in that. I like the way he thinks longterm. This is a strong argument, for sure, but I believe a greater need is for Arteta to believe in himself and for the players also. When David O’Leary took over Leeds he may have had the same problems, experienced players giving him problems, and he preferred to play the youngsters. It mostly worked out for him but he was probably too nice to be a successful manager longterm. Arsenal are a far bigger team, expectations are far higher, and Arteta is not too nice to make hard decisions, we have seen that. But he must be able to have an experienced spine in the team and bring in big names if necessary, and not have them acting like prima donnas. A strong finish to the season, knocking over the Spuds on the way, will do that. It will do wonders for his confidence and the players attitudes. Let’s start with Leeds and continue our rollercoaster climb upwards. Keep smiling till the end of the season, Mikel
They stopped Arsenal from scoring 1992/93 part 2 As I said last time, this was the first time that football had ever been played. All the previous years of my life was a mirage, a dusty cloth-capped vision in which I imagined all the trips to the grounds, peering at black and white screens, and horsing down the drink as I cheered on the Arsenal. But Sky had given us the new improved version with greed at its core and we lapped it up, eventually. But that was the story of last week, this week I will delve into Arsenal’s first year in the glittering Sky invention. It was not good. We finished 10th with 56 points and couldn’t score goals. 40! That’s all we could manage! In 42 games. Ian Wright scored 15 of them despite the addition of John Jensen. Maybe he was missing his good buddy David Rocastle who was sold on to Leeds for reasons that I was never sure about. The backpass rule had its impact for sure. What to do when your tried and trusted method lets you down? When the football authorities decide you are boring boring Arsenal and stop the way you play? John Jensen linked well with Mr Wright But they couldn't stop Ian Wright Well, what we did was play well in the cups. Wrighty did better there as well. He also got 15 in far less matches to bring him up to a respectable 30. Wrighty was never our problem. And so to the League Cup. First up was Millwall and we struggled both legs at 1-1 with the underrated Kevin Campbell scoring both times. It meant penalties after extra time and Lee Dixon stood up for the first. He was our penalty taker and very reliable so he should have frightened them. Maybe the fact that he had scored an own goal earlier gave them heart and meant that he didn’t! Kasey Keller produced a great save and my heart sank. I find penalty shootouts hard to watch but missing the first is even worse. But David Seaman was unstoppable almost that day. He saved the first to level things up and Ian Dawes knocked one past him for the second but that was it. We won 3-1 and it ended up one of our easiest shootouts. My heart could beat again. Until Derby in the next round. They seemed to be all over us with our defence kicking them all the time and Seaman producing save after save but we fashioned a replay 1-1. We beat them 2-1 at Highbury this time and we were 2-0 up very quickly. They got one back with a penalty but we had done enough. Did it end at Scarborough? 1-0 to the Arsenal at Scarborough next time with the pitch a quagmire and Scarborough’s jersey is very like Arsenal’s so it was a bit confusing to watch particularly with the heavy fog. But Nigel Winterburn scored and we were through. Forest next with a young Roy Keane playing under Brian Clough. But he couldn’t stop Ian Wright scoring 2 magnificent goals and we won 2-0. Then Palace in the 2 legged semi-final. We had a good season against Palace beating them twice in the league and twice here. 3-1 in the first leg at Palace with Ian Wright and Alan Smith (2). Then 2-0 in the second with Ian Wright again and Andy Linighan. On to Sheffield Wednesday in the final. They were good then with plenty of top players like Mark Bright, David Hirst and Chris Waddle. But the match is synonymous with Steve Morrow. We won 2-1 and he scored but Tony Adams lifted him up at the end and he fell, broke his arm and that was the end of his season. It sparked umpteen newspaper hardlines but was truly dreadful for Steve Morrow. He never really seemed to get his place back after that. But a difficult season so far had given us a cup. Getting into cup finals has always been a strong suit for the Arsenal. Our Trophy? Of course it's ours And the FA Cup? Our trophy? We had Yeovil to start, the famed giantkillers. But they didn’t kill us giants. Ian Wright whacked in a hattrick including a delightful lobbed goal that sticks in my memory as we won 3-1. Ian Wright could score a goal by himself, similar to Henry and Bergkamp, he didn’t always need assists like a lot of strikers. As I have said in a previous blog, Lineker and Shearer blocked his path to many more England caps but I truly believe he was better than either of those. They needed providers. I liked him long before he became an Arsenal player and a compilation of his best goals will always include that one. Next up was Leeds at Highbury, the champions but struggling this season. We were without Ian Wright who was enjoying the cups but was suspended for this one. Gary Speed did a cheeky dink past Seaman to score the first for Leeds and then Lee Chapman scrambled another in. It looked bleak but it’s only Ray Parlour slotted one home and then Paul Merson hit a screamer to give us the draw. On to Elland Road for the replay but Ian Wright returned to score 2 and set up the other for Alan Smith. John Lukic for Leeds probably should have done better but we weren’t complaining. Why did we sell David Rocastle? On to Ipswich and Ian Wright was bang in form again creating and scoring a penalty, then scoring another that was credited as an own goal but he really made it happen. Tony Adams and Kevin Campbell got the others for 4-2. A Sweet 1-0 Hello, the Spuds next and it was time to show them who was boss. Paul Merson chipped in a free kick, Tony Adams stole in and headed it in to send the Spuds home crying and we once again proved we were the Arsenal. 1-0 to the Arsenal is always sweet on the Seven Sisters road. Sheffield Wednesday again in the final. I doubt if that has happened before or since but as I have said, they were good then. They were probably the better team on the day as David Seaman produced some great saves but Ian Wright our talisman scored first before David Hirst, their talisman, finally managed to beat Dave Seaman and a replay was next. They shouldn't have given us a second chance This was much better with both sides creating chances until Ian Wright scored. Then Chris Waddle got one in from a deflection by Lee Dixon. It went to extra time and was just about to go to penalties when Paul Merson whacked in a corner. Andy Linighan, who was carrying an injury from earlier in the match rose high to knock it in and we were the winners again, a rare double of both cups and even rarer against the same team with the same score 2-1. Honestly, I felt a bit sorry for Wednesday, they had a good side and they don’t get many chances at such things. But we had done it again. Poor Mark Bright. His good friend Ian Wright broke his heart twice The league was poor though as I have said. Highlights were few. We beat Palace and Coventry 3-0 and Southampton 4-3. I guess we could argue that we were kings of London despite finishing below QPR and the Spuds. David O’Leary finished up that season with a record number of appearances, 722, which will probably never be beaten. He scarcely featured and moved on to Leeds. Why is there no statue? And Ian Wright notched up 50 goals in 68 appearances this season as well. A testimonial but no statue A strange season, all the same. The 2 cup wins were fantastic and showed great resilience but the league form was poor. I put it down to the backpass rule as the team looked discommoded in the league whereas, as you have to win a cup match, they played with more freedom. The cups wins gave me hope, that eternal emotion of a football fan. Next season we would be back to winning the league. I was sure of it. A freak accident for Steve Morrow epitomised our season!
1991-92 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. We bought him and Wrightly so 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. Howard Wilkinson had his finest year 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. Wrexham's Mickey Thomas did us 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. You will always be second best with Tottenham, Gary 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.
Our youngest ever manager Terry Neill at just 34 took over as manager in 1976, our youngest ever. And I can’t see that record ever changing as Arsenal is such a big business now. He played 275 times for us in the 60’s and scored 10 goals as a centrehalf. He was our youngest ever captain at 20 so he had a good Arsenal pedigree. He was a Northern Ireland international and captain playing 59 times. He was one of the youngest ever managers in the game when he took over as player manager at Hull in 1970 at only 28. He was a good player, a born leader and I always liked him. I was very happy when he took over. There was something reassuring about his face. Bertie Mee had ran his race, I couldn’t see any prospect of him turning things around, and nor could the board. Although maybe he really did resign. Turned to black and white Terry Neill, then, was Arsenal. He knew what it was like to wear the red and white. But he turned to 2 players more used to black and white for his first important signings, Pat Jennings of Spurs, and Malcolm MacDonald (SuperMac)of Newcastle. Jennings took over from Jimmy Rimmer and MacDonald from John Radford. MacDonald was a great player to have, a goalscorer, flamboyant, and everyone knew who he was. He only managed 14 appearances for England but still he was regarded as one of the best in the game. Jennings was famous for the size of his hands and his perfection of using his whole body to save shots. Peter Schmeichel, years later, was the next great such keeper. His hands were big The unmatched Irish trio Liam Brady was an Irish international who would go on to become a world great, and to this day Gooners talk about him with awe. He had a skillset unmatched. Watch the youtubes, you young Gooners, to see the magic. He couldn’t tackle or defend, but his left foot mesmerized defenders, and his ability to see the game as a great player, meant having Brady in the side always gave you a chance, even when the game is slipping away. Such as the time against Manchester United in the 1979 FA cup final when they came back from 2-0 down to draw level to 2-2. Everything was going wrong. United were all over us, and we looked shellshocked. If United didn’t score another they would surely annihilate us in extra time. We were gone. Except Brady said no, we are Arsenal, we will win. Despite there only being one minute to go, he got the ball, went on a mazy run, right up to the edge of the box, slipped the ball to Graham Rix, who lashed it across to Alan Sunderland who popped in a simple goal to destroy the Mancs and send them home crying to Salford. It was the Liam Brady final when he proved we were Arsenal. Again, young Gooners, watch the youtube, you will get a feel of his majesty on the ball. Frank Stapleton was another Irish youngster who came through the ranks. He was a top class forward, always causing trouble to defenders as he was good in the air and with his feet. He was strong and classy. For 3 years he was our top scorer and himself and SuperMac terrorized defences everywhere. He scored 108 goals in 300 matches. Very good going for a team who were not at the top of the league. He was a certain starter for the Republic of Ireland and that was the big difference between this team and the teams I had been used to up to now. It was packed with first choice internationals at a time when the international game was the most important. Arsenal were gathering fans like crazy in Ireland and I was definitely not alone as I had been as a kid. Why no statue of David O'Leary outside the Emirates? David O’Leary was another and I do not understand why there is no statue to him outside the Emirates. 772 first team appearances! 20 years a player! Now a club ambassador and there is strong talk of him joining the board as a football expert like Bobby Charlton at Man U. He was a real player, he forged partnerships with so many centrebacks it is hard to credit. He was cultured, played beautiful football for a defender and claimed many a scalp of top players, most notably the sublime Mario Kempes was shackled in the Cupwinners cup final of 1980 and couldn’t get near scoring, ending 0-0. It went to penalties and we were beaten 5-4. I hate to say who missed our first penalty to give the advantage to Valencia but it was Liam Brady, our penalty taker. But then Kempes, their penalty taker, missed as well so the two greats let their team down. But O’Leary certainly didn’t and as far as I know he never took a penalty for Arsenal. I think the only time he ever did was for Ireland, against Romania in the 1990 World Cup in Italy. It went to a shootout to take us to the quarterfinals, and when Packie Bonner saved from Daniel Timofte, O’Leary stepped up to fire it home and started the most crazy celebrations in Ireland ever. Everyone from that era always remembers that day. O’Leary of Arsenal showed Ireland they were Arsenal. We could win. But there is plenty more to talk about from the late 70’s. We have 3 FA cups in a row for next time.