1987: six without a goal, 10 without a victory, the first signs of the famous back five

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal had just won their first trophy since 1979, by winning the league cup on 5 April 1987, but even before that win Arsenal had tried to reform their major crisis: a complete lack of goals.

Thus on 26 March 1987 Alan Smith signed and was then loaned back to Leicester for the remainder of the season.  Questions were asked about the legality of such a move which had not been seen before but the league agreed there was nothing amiss with the manoeuvre.

Just how vital this signing was, was rammed home on 28 March 1987 as Arsenal 0 Everton 1 was the sixth consecutive league match in which Arsenal failed to score – the longest run in the club’s league history.

Then came the league cup victory on 5 April 1987.   Until this moment every commentator would say boringly, endlessly,  “Liverpool never lose if Rush scores…” every time he scored. He scored, but two goals from Charlie Nicholas gave Arsenal the League Cup for the first time.

But despite the cup triumph the awful league run continued.  On 8 April 1987 WHU 3 Arsenal 1 made it 10 without a victory.  On 4 May 1987: QPR 1 Arsenal 4.  Martin Hayes scored his 19th goal in 31 starts to make him far and away the top scorer for the season.  Second highest was Quinn with eight.

As the end of George Graham’s first season came, so did the transfers, but perhaps not as many as we might have expected.

26 May 1987: Nigel Winterburn signed from Wimbledon for £400,000.  He went on to be one of the famous back five, playing on the left with Dixon on the right, with Adams and Bould in the centre.

20 June 1987: Ian Allinson released to Stoke City.  After further moves to Luton and Colchester, Ian has subsequently had a career managing in non-league football, including notably at Boreham Wood, where his connection with Arsenal has continued.

1 July 1987: Viv Anderson sold to Man U.  He had played 120 league games for Arsenal and scored nine goals and was Ferguson’s first signing after taking over at Old Trafford.

Then just before the pre-season games began, on 18 July 1987 George Graham signed a new five year contract as Arsenal manager, having taken the club to 7th in 1986/7, the highest position since 1982.

The Pre-season games

21 July 1987: Gloucester City 0 Arsenal 6.  (Adams, Smith, Nicholas, Hayes 3). This was Alan Smith’s first appearance for Arsenal, in the Barrie Vassallo Testimonial.

25 July 1987: Morton 0 Arsenal 1 (Groves).   Nigel Winterburn’s first game.

1 August 1987: Celtic 1 Arsenal 5.  (Nicholas, Samson, Davies, Hayes 2)

5 August 1987: Brighton and Hove Albion 2 Arsenal 7.  (Adams, Smith, Nicholas 3, Hayes 2, Wilmot 1)

10 August 1987.   Tottenham Hotspur 3 Arsenal 1. (Adams)

The season itself did not start well with two defeats and a goalless draw in the first three matches and it was clear that more players were needed.

On 26 August 1987 Kevin Richardson signed from Watford and on 29 August went straight into the team.  On that day Alan Smith scored three – his first goals for Arsenal as Arsenal beat Portsmouth 6-0 having failed to win any of the first three games of the season, the team scoring just one goal in them, and then on 12 September 1987: Arsenal started a series of 10 straight wins (ending November 14).

By the end of the season Adams, Dixon and Winterburn were now in the team.  Of course we didn’t realise quite what that meant at the time…

When did we last win every game pre-season?


2 Replies to “1987: six without a goal, 10 without a victory, the first signs of the famous back five”

  1. Have you got any details of how Rhys Wilmot scored his goal against Brighton? Was it a long punt upfield, penalty, did he play as an outfield player, something else?

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