1986: George Graham’s first pre-season. A slow start indeed.

By Tony Attwood

On 22 March 1986 after reports circulated that the board were seeking to appoint Barcelona manager Terry Venables in his place. Don Howe resigned as manager 10 years to the day after Bertie Mee had resigned.  Steve Burtenshaw took over.

Normally of course managers walk out or are sacked when things are going badly on the pitch, but on this occasion they were not.  Indeed just one week later Arsenal entered the north London derby with one defeat in 11.  But the disruption of the managerial resignation was too much for the team and it ended Tottenham 1 Arsenal 0.  It was the start of three successive defeats in which Arsenal failed to score a single goal.  I don’t think Don was a vindictive sort of guy, but he probably allowed himself a wry smile.

It was clearly time for change, and on 8 April 1986 Paul Mariner played his last league game for the club in Arsenal 1 Nottm Forest 1.  In his final season he made just five starts and seven sub appearances in league and cup but failed to score.

The crowds declined too.   On 26 April 1986 for Arsenal 2 WBA 2 just 14,843 turned up.  The draw made it one win in eight.  Just how serious the plight was, was confirmed when on 3 May Tony Woodcock scored his 11th and final league goal of the season.  He was Arsenal’s top scorer as he was the previous season when both he and Brian Talbot got 10 each.  Only 6,234 were in the crowd to see it.  Two days later Tony Woodcock played his last game for Arsenal – a 3-0 away defeat to Oxford.  I was there.  It was awful.

Then with the season over, (Arsenal finishing in 7th) on 14 May 1986 George Graham became manager.

These days, when we think of Graham as a manager we think of the back four, so it is interesting to remember that on 9 June 1986 Graham’s first transfer activity was to sell Martin Keown to Aston Villa.

There was no more major activity before the pre-season began:

  • 3 August 1986: Sporting Lisbon 0 Arsenal 0
  • 5 August 1986: Celtic 2 Arsenal 0
  • 10 August 1986: Shamrock Rovers 0 Arsenal 2 (Davis, Rix)
  • 13 August 1986: Waterford 1 Arsenal 1 (Allinson)
  • 15 August 1986: Southend 0 Arsenal 1 (Allinson)

The second match in the list above was David O’Leary’s testimonial.  Quite remarkably he still had seven more seasons left in him at Arsenal.

Also of note from those five games was the paucity of Arsenal’s attack delivering four goals in five games, with three of them against very modest opposition.

The game on 10 August 1986 was Tommy Caton’s last game as the new partnership of O’Leary and Adams took over in defence.  The final game on the list 15 August 1986 was Paul Merson’s first senior game and the start of an 11 year career with Arsenal before moving on to Middlesbrough in 1997.  He made his league debut on 22 November.

What happened next…

23 August 1986: Arsenal 1 Man U 0.  George Graham started his career as Arsenal manager.  Unfortunately this was one of only two wins in the first eight league games.  Charlie Nicholas scored.

4 September 1986: Perry Groves signed.   He made his début as a sub one week later against Luton Town.  He eventually started 91 league games but was a sub in 65 others, scoring 21 goals.

6 September 1986: Last game for Stewart Robson who later went on to commentate on Arsenal, and become renowned for his outspoken anti-Wengerian views, even when broadcasting on Arsenal TV.

And thus slowly but surely a new team was put being put together.


When did we last win every game pre-season?


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