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How relegation loomed just four years after the Double

By Tony Attwood

It is easy to forget both how hard it is to keep a team that has not been used to playing at the top, at the top, and how easy it is to slip into the relegation mire.

Such is the way of football memory.  Arsene Wenger is berated by a small bunch of forgetfuls for not winning trophies more regularly since delivering the two doubles and the unbeaten season, but it is worth looking back to what happened after the first Double under Bertie Mee in 1971.

For what is often forgotten is that on 25 March 1975 the newspaper headline was “Luton force relegation anxiety on Arsenal”, following the appalling result, Luton Town 2 Arsenal 0.

And this was not a game in which Arsenal put out a totally lesser known team.  True they had injuries, suspensions and illness that shuffled the squad around quite a bit, but even so, it wasn’t an utterly hopeless line up…

Rimmer

Rice Mancini Simpson Nelson

Storey Ball Brady Rostrom

Radford Hornsby

Here is the league table after that defeat

Pld W D L F A Pts
1 Everton 35 14 16 5 49 32 44
2 Liverpool 36 16 11 9 52 35 43
3 Ipswich Town 35 19 3 13 53 36 41
4 Middlesbrough 35 15 11 9 47 34 41
5 Stoke City 35 15 11 9 56 43 41
6 Burnley 35 16 9 10 60 51 41
7 Derby County 34 16 8 10 52 45 40
8 Sheffield United 34 15 9 10 45 44 39
9 Queens Park Rangers 36 15 8 13 48 46 38
10 Manchester City 35 15 8 12 46 48 38
11 Leeds United 34 14 9 11 46 36 37
12 West Ham United 35 12 12 11 53 46 36
13 Birmingham City 36 13 8 15 48 51 34
14 Newcastle United 35 14 6 15 52 61 34
15 Coventry City 35 10 13 12 46 54 33
16 Wolverhampton Wndrs 34 11 10 13 48 44 32
17 Arsenal 34 10 9 15 40 42 29
18 Leicester City 34 9 10 15 35 49 28
19 Chelsea 35 8 12 15 39 64 28
20 Luton Town 35 8 10 17 34 50 26
21 Tottenham Hotspur 35 8 8 19 38 56 24
22 Carlisle United 36 9 3 24 35 55 21

The match report read…

“The Luton Town escape act continues.  Two second half goals brought them their third successive win and their revival must have the teams just above them including Arsenal looking over their shoulders with increasing anxiety…”

And this match wasn’t a smash and grab by Luton.  They got 12 corners in the first half to Arsenal’s nil.  Mancini, Rice and Rimmer were singled out as the players that kept Arsenal in the game in the first half, and that determination and the poor finishing from Luton kept Arsenal in the game.  Arsenal had one shot on target (a tame header from Radford) and one punt wide in that first half.

Luton kept up the pressure in the second half – they had all the belief and Arsenal didn’t.  A Luton corner went to Husband, his shot was deflected, Rimmer was on the wrong side of the goal, Sammy Nelson dived and saved.  In those days it was not a sending off offence, but just a penalty.  Luton scored.

Seven minutes later it got worse.  Buckley crossed and Futcher headed in.  Radford tried to rally the troops and headed against the crossbar but Luton kept going forwards.

The ground, if you know it, is tiny, and the facilities in those days were of a standard that would be rejected in the Conference for this century.  But the noise rattled around the terraced houses that penned in the ground and Arsenal looked like a team that just wanted to get out of there.

Of the newcomers there was a feeling still that Rostrom ought to make it, but he really needed a more balanced team to play in.  With Ball about to miss the next three games with a suspension, he wasn’t going to get it and the future was not looking good.

In the end Arsenal did survive, and so did Tottenham by just one point, although Chelsea found themselves with such luminaries as Luton and Carlisle in making the descent – and they didn’t even manage to bounce straight back.

Following this match Arsenal managed 3 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats in the remaining games, and so missed relegation by four points.  But overall the speed of Arsenal’s collapse was hard to comprehend:

  • 1969/70 – won the Fairs Cup
  • 1970/71 – won the Double
  • 1971/2 – 5th in the league, losing cup finalists
  • 1972/3 – 2nd in the league, cup semi-finalists,
  • 1973/4 – 10th in the league, knocked out of the league cup by Tranmere

Here is the final table for 1974/5, as I say, just four years after the double.

Pld W D L F A Pts
1 Derby County 42 7 7 7 26 31 53
2 Liverpool 42 6 6 9 16 22 51
3 Ipswich Town 42 6 3 12 19 30 51
4 Everton 42 6 9 6 23 23 50
5 Stoke City 42 5 8 8 24 30 49
6 Sheffield United 42 6 6 9 23 31 49
7 Middlesbrough 42 7 5 9 21 26 48
8 Manchester City 42 2 7 12 14 39 46
9 Leeds United 42 6 5 10 23 29 45
10 Burnley 42 6 5 10 28 38 45
11 Queens Park Rangers 42 6 6 9 29 37 42
12 Wolverhampton Wndrs 42 2 6 13 14 33 39
13 West Ham United 42 3 7 11 20 37 39
14 Coventry City 42 4 6 11 20 35 39
15 Newcastle United 42 3 5 13 20 49 39
16 Arsenal 42 3 5 13 16 33 37
17 Birmingham City 42 4 5 12 19 33 37
18 Leicester City 42 4 5 12 21 43 36
19 Tottenham Hotspur 42 5 4 12 23 36 34
20 Luton Town 42 3 5 13 20 39 33
21 Chelsea 42 5 6 10 20 41 33
22 Carlisle United 42 4 3 14 21 38 29

There is an index to recent articles and a list of today’s anniversaries on the home page.

The books

1 comment to How relegation loomed just four years after the Double

  • Steve Denby

    Yes I remember the season well, so when I listen to gooners moaning about lack of successes these days my mind always seems to go back to that season in particular.
    The game you mention in the post at Kenilworth Road I wasn’t there, but I can remember the season very clearly. The game I personally quote to the Arsenal moaners of these days from the same season is as I remember below
    I can remember as if it were yesterday standing behind the goal on the North Bank as part of a very small Highbury crowd, as Brian Kidd poked in his second goal in an awful goalmouth scramble to scrape us a 2-2 draw again against again Luton, with what I felt was on the day a very strong Arsenal line up.

    Oh how times and expectations have changed!

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