1991 pre season: after the record breaking, a sad reality

Tony Attwood

Arsenal had finished 1990-91 season as champions, seven points clear of their nearest challengers, despite having two points ludicrously deducted by an ever eccentric League.  Within the season Arsenal lost only one match, scored 74 goals and let in only 18.  It was an amazing achievement.

In the close season there were two early departures: on 2 June 1991 Gus Caesar moved to Cambridge United on a free transfer but did not play for the club.  He soon moved on to Bristol City, but it was not until he reached Airdrieonians and then Colchester Utd that he recovered any sort of form.

Them on 5 June 1991 Kwame Ampadu was sold to WBA.  He had played just twice for Arsenal, but went on to have another 16 years in football including playing four times for Ireland.  He later returned to Arsenal as an Academy coach.

The friendlies began on 17 July (see below) but with no transfer window, the comings and goings continued.

Steve Morrow went on loan to Watford on 14 August and the following day Alan Miller went on loan to WBA, followed by Andy Cole on loan to Fulham on 5 September.

But the big move was still to come: the buying of Ian Wright for a club record of £2.5m later in September.  After that move, which proved very successful came two unsuccessful arrivals: defender Pål Lydersen and Jimmy Carter in midfield at £500,000 each.

The Friendlies

  • 17 July: Team Malarvik 1 Arsenal 4.  Campbell, Smith, Groves (plus og)
  • 20 July: FC Trollhättan 0 Arsenal 1 (Hillier)
  • 22 July: Eskilstuna City 1 Arsenal 6 (Dixon (pen.), Hillier, Campbell, Davis, Smith, Limpar)
  • 26 July: Plymouth Argyle 0 Arsenal 2 (Campbell, Smith)
  • 30 July 1991: Arsenal 2 Celtic 2.  (Dixon, Smith) Paul Davis Testimonial.
  • 3 August: Arsenal 1 Panathinaikos 0 (Davis)
  • 4 August: Arsenal 1 Sampdoria 1 (Merson)
  • 7 August: Watford 1 Arsenal 3 (Dixon Campbell) Watford centenary match.   This was Ray Parlour’s first game. Siggi Jonnson’s last game.

The Charity Shield was a singular non-event against FA Cup winning Tottenham (Tottenham beating Arsenal in the cup semi final also at Wembley) and the first all-London encounter in the history of the Shield.  It was also the last in which there was no extra time and no penalty shoot out provisions.  The game was the last appearance for Andy Cole and the clubs told they could share the shield, holding it for six months each – as if anyone really was worried.

Anders Limpar missed the game being injured playing in an international (it was ever thus).  Steve Bould was injured also so O’Leary played, and the soon to be transferred Micky Thomas was replaced by David Hillier.

The team was…

Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Adams, O’Leary, Hillier, Rocastle, Davis, Merson, Smith, Campbell

Subs: Miller, Linigham, Thomas, Jónsson, Cole

Having won the league so astoundingly and against all the odds, and then strengthened the team with the record signing Arsenal had a poor start to the season and by Christmas it was quite clear that there was going to be no league trophy repeat.  Then Michael Thomas moved to Liverpool.  None of it seemed to make any sense.

The opening games were…

17 August 1991: Arsenal 1 QPR 1 (Merson scoring in the 90th minute).

20 August 1991: Everton 3 Arsenal 1 (Winterburn on 87 minutes)

24 August 1991: Aston Villa 3 Arsenal 1.  Alan Smith scored. As league champions Arsenal had opened the season with two defeats and a draw – scoring three and letting in seven.

31 August 1991: Arsenal 2 Man C 1 (Smith, Limpar)

7 September 1991: Arsenal 1 Coventry 2.  Lee Dixon from far out on the right ten yards out from his own goal line, punted the ball back to Seaman but it went beyond his grasping hand.  Arsenal’s first home defeat in a year and a half

14 September 1991: Crystal Palace 1 Arsenal 4.  At last there was the start of a run of four successive wins in which Arsenal score 20 goals, after just 10 in the first seven matches, but it was never enough to give Arsenal any hope of retaining the title.

Having won the league Arsenal were in the European Cup, but disappointingly went out to Benfica which you can see on You Tube   The clubs drew 1-1 in Portugal on 22 October  but Benfica won 3-1 at Highbury in extra time.   This was particularly disappointing not just because of last season’s strength but because this was the pilot year for the Champions League (which started in the next season).  Arsenal were the first English team allowed back into Europe after the Liverpool riot at Heysel, and to go out at the first hurdle showed how far behind Europe we had slipped.

The pre-season series

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