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The 80’s 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. We had no sponsors at the start 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. He would have kicked out Tony Adams? 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. Mr Arsenal liked to win 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. Not a Stroller as a manager 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.
The Kings? But of where? Arsenal - KIngs of English football 1971 This time I have decided to look at the decade, the 70’s, and try to sum up what it was like going from a kid to a man. As you know from my first blog, Swindon beating Arsenal in 1969 was the catalyst for me choosing Arsenal. They kept trying to win but somehow couldn’t. I was selecting gallant losers then, was I? Probably, and certainly I had no idea of what was to come as I hungrily devoured knowledge of this red and white team, but winning and greatness was well in the past. And so, in 1970, as we finished 12th in the league, out in the 3rd round of both cups and single wins over West Ham and Palace, beaten both times by Spurs and Chelsea, we were a long way from the best team in London, let alone the league. But we won that year! The Inter cities Fairs Cup (now the Europa League) was captured by the Arsenal. It lifted my 12 year old heart, particularly as we came from well behind to win and beat Anderlecht, then a top team, 4-3 over 2 legs. Nothing whatsoever there to prepare me for the astonishing double that was to come in 1971. The league won at White Hart Lane and beating Bill Shankly’s Liverpool in the FA cup final. Matt Busby’s Manchester United couldn’t do it, nor Don Revie’s Leeds, nor Bill Shankly’s or Bob Paisley’s Liverpool, all the great teams that had been around since I first got into football or emerged in the 70’s. Somehow a little above average Arsenal battled their way to the impossible and I became ten feet tall. Kings of London? We were the Kings of England. Or were we jesters? Gunnersaurus brings fun to Arsenal 1972 brought me back down to earth, 5th in the league, 4th round of the League Cup, beaten by a wonderful Ajax in the 3rd round in Europe and at least got to the final of the FA cup but beaten by the aforementioned Don Revie’s Leeds. We were still Kings of London as we finished above Spurs, a win and a loss, Chelsea, 2 wins, West Ham, win and a draw, and Palace, win and a draw. We also beat Orient in the FA cup. Enough good performances to make me hopeful and Irish players were starting to come through. 1973 was the most topsy turvy of the decade for me. We finished 2nd in the league to Bill Shankly’s Liverpool, starting on their road to becoming a winning machine. We finished way above any London teams, West Ham, Spurs and Chelsea well down from us and Palace relegated. But Spurs got the Uefa Cup place because the English FA alone kept to the one city, one team rule and they had won the League Cup. We did beat Chelsea in the 6th round of the FA Cup to cement our place as kings of London. But we were hammered 6-1 away to Leeds and 5-0 away to Derby as bad points of the season. Such defeats were hard for me, watching on Match of the Day or the Big Match with Arsenal sent home crying and me wondering will we ever be Arsenal again? The Irish coming through was making me hopeful that next year we could do it. A Royally Bad Time But we didn't want this type of fun 1974. No we couldn’t. The bad years started with 18 year old Liam Brady getting playing time, joining Rice and Nelson but we were 10th, doomed by a bad start. But, you know, it is a pattern with Arsenal, just when we think we are ready to dominate, we go backwards, even the invincibles never won the league again. We did little in the cups, beaten by Tranmere (League Cup) in our 1st round and Aston Villa in the 4th round of the FA cup. And London? No, promoted QPR finished above us in the league, the Spuds did the double over us, no kings of London for us. 1975 was worse, 16th! And the quarter finals of the Fa cup was our best effort, beaten by West Ham. Kings of London? Don’t make me laugh. A very poor London that year and we couldn’t even top them. Luton (sort of London) came up and went down again and we only took a point off them. QPR were 11th and West Ham 13th, the Spuds in 19th and Chelsea relegated. But a very young Stapleton and O’Leary appeared on the scene and Brady had nailed down his place, the only bright spark that year. Surely we couldn’t do any worse? 1976. Oh, yes we could. How about 17th? Out in our first round in both cups. 1 point from Spurs, and they finished 9th, way above us. QPR finished 2nd, totally out of our sight, and only West Ham behind us. We did beat them 6-1 in our second last game and we beat Coventry 5-0 earlier in the season but well away from being kings of London. We now had 7 Irish (with Terry Mancini declaring late for Ireland) challenging for places but were we going down? A New King Arrived King Terry to bring us success? 1977. No we weren’t. Bertie Mee was out and Irishman Terry Neill brought in. We jumped to 8th, the top London team, QPR fell apart to 14th from 2nd, West Ham took our position of 17th and the Spuds? Down at the bottom and relegated. We did the double over them and QPR did the double over us and knocked us out of the League Cup but I will still claim kings of London for that year, wouldn’t you? 1976-77 was the year that all 3 Irish newcomers became regulars so we had 5 starters as Terry Mancini had moved on. 1978. But then Neill pulled a masterstroke and got Pat Jennings on a free from the poor old stupid Spurs to become our best keeper in my time. 6 Irish, now we could win things surely? Definitely closer. 5th in the league, semi’s in the League Cup, beaten by the mighty Liverpool, and in the FA Cup final against Ipswich 1-0. But definitely kings of London. West Ham, win and draw, QPR won and lost, Chelsea win and draw and beat Orient in the Cup. Chelsea were the highest of those at 16th, and West Ham got relegated. Surely now we were ready to be Arsenal? 1979. Almost. A bit weaker in the league at 7th but we won the FA Cup creating the memorable Liam Brady final and beating Man Utd 3-2 at the last gasp. Although we had a low point getting knocked out by Rotherham in the League cup in our first round. As for London, we were easily the kings. We beat QPR 5-1 and 2-1, Chelsea 5-2 and 1-1, and the Spuds? With superstars Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa? 5-0 and 1-0. Kings of London? We were the steamrollers of London, helping to send Chelsea and QPR down to the second. Could we be Emperors in the 80’s? Could we bring the great days back? So, we finished the 70’s with 1 League title, 2 FA Cups, and 1 Uefa cup including a magnificent double. What else did we get? Liam Brady was 3 times in a row club player of the year and in 1979 was PFA player of the Year, the first foreign player to do so. If it wasn’t for Arsenal, London would have had a not so good 70’s, but the Spuds did win the League cup in 1971 and 1973, plus the Uefa Cup in 1972. Chelsea won the FA Cup in 1970 and the Cup Winners Cup in 1971. West Ham won the FA Cup in 1975. But we were clearly the kings of London for that decade, with our trophies, despite the almost disastrous years from 1974 to 1976 being the low point. We are Arsenal, we don’t get relegated but all other London teams did, Spurs, Chelsea, West Ham, Palace, QPR and also if we include Luton. The 80’s would be Arsenal, I could feel it in my bones. My first decade had been amazing, up and down, a scary rollercoaster, but we started with a win and we ended with a win and now I was ready to win all. We were Arsenal.