Arsenal in the 70s, part 5. After the double, double doubts.

By Tony Attwood

A link to the earlier articles in this series, which starts with the 1969/70 season, can be found at the foot of this piece.

Note: Apologies the wrong league table was originally published at the end of this article.  This has now been corrected.


There was a feeling that Arsenal had grown into the Double.  Two League Cup final defeats, the Fairs Cup win, and then the Double.  It was a progression, and I think there were many fans who really thought this rise and rise would be inexorable.

As we know, it wasn’t, and in a very real sense the sign that things would not be the same came as early as 8 July 1971 when Don Howe left Arsenal to manage WBA.  The move was not a success and WBA was relegated in 1973.   Don moved on to Leeds and to Galatasaray, before coming back to Arsenal in 1977 as coach with Terry Neil as manager.  But his loss as the footballing assistant to Bertie Mee was keenly felt.

Then on 22 July Jon Sammels was sold to Leicester for £100,000, after becoming a victim of the “boo-boys” in the crowd.  He had played 215 league games including 13 games in the Double season and went on to play 241 for Leicester, leaving them for Canada in 1977.  There is not question that he would have got a lot of games in 1971/2 had he stayed, but he would have been a valuable reserve.  But that element in the crowd that Arsenal have suffered from even since Chapman, was out in force and it was Sammels they went for.  If he had to go because of that, so be it, but a good replacement was needed.

Two days later the friendlies began…

24 July 1971: Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic 0 Arsenal 5.   (Simpson 2, Radford 2, Kennedy).  Although there doesn’t seem to be a full team sheet available for this game, it is noted that Marinello played in the starting XI – an attempt to rehabilitate him after missing out on last season.

27 July 1971: John Matthews joined as an apprentice.  He became a professional in 1973 and then made his first appearance in the league in the opening match of the 1975/6 season.

31 July 1971: Benfica 2 Arsenal 0.   This was designated the “Champions Challenge Match,” celebrating with each club’s victory in their respective leagues.   Again we see Marinello in the starting XI, and there were thoughts that maybe he had turned the corner.

4 August 1971:  The return of the Champions Challenge Match ended Arsenal 6 Benfica 2.  44,244 turned up to celebrate Arsenal as double winners.  Storey, Roberts, Graham 2, Armstrong, and Radford were the scorers.  Unfortunately the ref then reported Benfica for the behaviour of the entire team after he was attacked by several Benfica players.

7 August 1971.  Feyenoord 1 Arsenal 0  (63,000).  This was Charity Shield day, and Arsenal had of course won the double in 1970-71 but did not take part in the 1971 Charity Shield match having organised a pre-season trip to the Netherlands long before the end of the season.  I guess the excuse was that it was so long since Arsenal had played a Charity Shield game (1953 to be precise) that no one even wrote it in their diaries.   With Feyenoord threatening to sue if Arsenal didn’t show, and with no profit to the club from playing in the Charity Shield, the 1971 FA Cup Final runners up Liverpool and second division winners Leicester City were invited to take part instead.

 14 August 1971: And so the season began, and it got off to a cracking start with an opening match of Arsenal 3 Chelsea 0.  49,174 turned up and McLintock, Kennedy and Radford scored.

The team for the first league game, one year before, in numerical order was

  • Wilson, Rice, McNab, Kelly, McLintock, Roberts, Armstrong, Storey, Radford, George, Graham.

When Charlie George was injured Marinello came on as a substitute (only one sub per game being allowed).

For this match at the start of the 1971/2 season the team was

  • Wilson, Rice, McNab, Storey, McLintock, Simpson, Armstrong, Kelly, Radford, Kennedy, Graham.

Charlie George did not return until October.  Otherwise Simpson replaced Roberts

On August 17 there was more good news with Huddersfield 0 Arsenal 1.  The  attendance was a paltry 21,279.

Arsenal took the route of efficiency rather than fine football to beat Huddersfield, dominating the game, but taking no risks.   They could have won by three or four but it looked as if the side were under orders to hold the back line and wait.

That they dutifully did and they were finally rewarded by Kennedy scoring with an easy header after 68 minutes.

After that Arsenal reverted to a defensive tactic of ending Huddersfield attacks by hoofing the ball as far up field as possible, leaving the workmanlike Huddersfield looking the more likely to score towards the end.   Wilson was at his bravest and best and Armstrong the only outfield player willing to run as he had all the previous season.  But in the end even he seemed to get  fed up with the endless amount of back pedalling and misjudged passes.

But then came disaster in the oddest possible circumstances on August 20 with  Manchester Utd 3 Arsenal 1, in front of just 27,649.

The game was played at Anfield with Man United banned from playing their first two home matches anywhere at all within Greater Manchester, after their fans had thrown objects, believed to be knives into the away section at a match at the end of 1970/71 season.  Anfield and Stoke’s ground were selected as the replacement locations.

Matt Busby had left Man U in June 1971, Frank O’Farrell, being the new manager, and everything looked wonderful for Arsenal as Frank McLintock put Arsenal in the lead on just four minutes.  In the second half however George Best took control, equalised with a lob over Wilson, and after George Armstrong had a flick tipped onto the bar at the Kop end, Arsenal could find no way back.

The front page of the Guardian announced with ill-concealed excitement and mock horror that “About 100 fans” were thrown Anfield, and that “the windows of some houses in Anfield were smashed and “600 skinheads” were said to have been “kept in check” by police.

Eric Todd continued:

Once again, certain sections of the crowd, whatever their places of origin were the villains of the piece.  And those psychiatrists, amateur or professional who spend many hours trying to explore the minds – the word is used quite loosely of course – of certain members of the footballing public would have enjoyed last night.

As soon as the teams arrived on the field the Kop vomited scores of young ‘supporters’ of both sexes who ran down the field to the end where United were warming up. The police, although hopelessly outnumbered, did their best and removed as many as they could capture. When the invaders discovered that United would attack the Kop end they retraced their steps and suffered further losses.

That was the popular answer.  The hooligans were mindless, but were also to blame.  No thought about their home lives, family upbringing, social facilities or lack of.  No the kids had no minds to speak of, and so it was there fault.  So there we were.  As an explanation it left a little to be desired in terms of cause and effect, or indeed anything else.

Liverpool were instructed by the FA to pay Arsenal compensation, as the gate was below the 48,000 that attended the fixture at Old Trafford the previous year.

So Arsenal had an early defeat but in odd circumstances, and for match 4 on August 24 it was an even greater shock with Arsenal 0 Sheffield United 1 in front of 45,395.   That things were not going to go as well as everyone had hoped was now completely apparent and it was clear that the result against Man U could not be put down to being “just one of those things,” what with the game played at Anfield.

But this was different.   Newly promoted Sheffield United based their game on endless energy – everyone ran constantly looking for the best position, and it left Arsenal unsure who was where, and who should be marked by whom.  Mee’s tactics looked askew, and there was no Don Howe to make suggestions.

In fact it was Arsenal that looked more like a newly promoted side than the visitors, who controlled the pace of the game in the manner and style of Graham last season.

Unfortunately, having found the game not going as they expected Arsenal didn’t seem to have another plan, and with no Charlie George to provide the unexpected, Arsenal were reduced to looking very ordinary indeed.

With a second home game just four days later Arsenal needed to pick themselves up, but instead August 28 gave us Arsenal 0 Stoke City 1 in front of 37,637.

If it needed confirming that something was going seriously wrong, this result gave that confirmation.  True, Stoke had beaten Arsenal 5-0 in the Double year, but three defeats in a row with two of them at home, the future looked decidedly ominous.

After Ritchie scored in the 19th minute Stoke looked for all the world as if they had done what they wanted and would now just see out the rest of the game – which is what they did.  Where the Arsenal forwards had previously looked capable of finding some kind of way through, now they looked uncertain when facing the packed defence.  It was as if everything that had worked last season, no longer worked this season.

There really was only one explanation: after the games against Man U and Sheffield U, Arsenal had started to lose belief in their own invincibility.

“You can’t argue with results,” screamed the papers, but it would have been good if Arsenal had given a sense of trying to do just that or at least having an answer to what was going wrong.  As it was, and unlikely as it seemed, it was Stoke who showed their class, not the home side.

By the end of the month the season was not looking promising, not least because the teams Arsenal had beaten made up two of the bottom three.

This was not where the double champions expected to be and there were double doubts as the title suggests.  Doubts about not having brought in a player or two to boost the team, and doubts about Mee’s tactics which had looked so right for three years, but suddenly didn’t seem to be all there.

However at this time of year the games came thick and fast and so after five games in the first 14 days of the season Arsenal were playing again on September 4 and this time they won, with the result West Bromwich Albion 0 Arsenal 1 in front of 29,922.

The pre-match talk in the press was about there being bad-feeling between Don Howe, now managing West Brom, and his former team-mates, but after the game that was forgotten amidst the relief that Roberts had scored his first ever goal for Arsenal.

The Arsenal fans present were given an uncomfortable time of it as Jeff Astle could easily have equalised and possibly won the game in the last couple of minutes with two easy chances but somehow we hung on.

West Brom’s approach was to adopt a typically Don Howe defensive mode that looked like Arsenal of the late 1960s.  After the game McLintock said he thought Arsenal had become over confident after the first two matches, but now after three defeats had started to turn things around. 

Then, having won three and lost three in the first six, Arsenal moved their attention to the league cup on September 8.  The result was hardly emphatic being Arsenal 1 Barnsley 0 and the crowd was a modest 27,294.  Marinello and Roberts made their first starts of the season.

Arsenal took an early lead through Kennedy and then played as if the whole game was a bit of a bore for such high calibre players forced to face third division opposition.

But Barnsley never lost their composure and appeared to have equalised in the second half when Seal scored before colliding with Bob Wilson.   Following what seemed to be new directive towards referees concerning impeding the keeper, the ref gave a free kick to Arsenal.

Marinello perhaps having learned his lessons, looked to be the most likely Arsenal player to break down a solid defence but the rest of the team appeared not to recognise he was playing and rarely got the ball to him. Graham, Kennedy and Kelley all failed to convert reasonably easy chances and towards the end the crowd was vociferous in voicing its displeasure which led McLintock to express his annoyance at the crowd’s fickleness, in the press, the following day.  It was not a clever move.

September 11 saw a return to league action, and this was a game that no one wanted to miss.  And to Arsenal’s relief it ended Arsenal 2 Leeds United 0 in front of 51,196.  Indeed the size of the crowd showed how much this game mattered, after the events at the end of last season, and it resulted in Arsenal’s best performance so far.

That it was achieved while that most reliable and tireless of players, George Armstrong, was having a rare off day, made it all the more pleasing.

Leeds were without Sprake, Cooper, Jones, and Grey – which undoubtedly weakened them – but it is doubtful if anyone would have been able to deal with George Graham’s brilliant opener.

As the match wore on Leeds became ever more desperate in trying to find a way back.  As they pressed so Arsenal looked ever more dangerous on the counter, and when, late in the second half Kennedy was pulled down in the box Storey made the result secure blasting home from the spot.

After weeks of mass criticism, the media was now full of calls for Radford and Kennedy to be in the England team, but Alf Ramsey, the most idiosyncratic of England managers seemed more interested in Peter Storey.

Thus we hadn’t even had a month of the season gone and Arsenal had played eight games before the making a trip to Stromgodset Drammen in south eastern Norway for their first ever European Cup match on 15 September.  The result was Stromgodset Drammen 1 Arsenal 3, in front of a capacity crowd of 23,000.

Arsenal experimented with their line-up as well they might against a team of part-timers who had just won the Norwegian double.  Peter Marinello, yet  to play a league game this season, set up the first goal in two minutes before on 20 minutes getting his own goal after a long run from near the half way line, and then retired hurt with an ankle injury just before Eddy Kelly scored the final goal that made progression to the next round a certainty.

Simpson then missed an open goal and his night-to-forget was made worse when his poor clearance was to blame for the Norwegians getting one back.   Bertie Mee suggested Arsenal should have won 6-0, and was unhappy that the players took life too easy.  He certainly had a point.

The result could have stimulated Arsenal to greater efforts, but on return to England, and with the two games a week season continuing without a break, Arsenal lost 2-1 away to Everton on September 18 before a crowd of 39,710.  Kennedy scored, but it meant we had now lost four games in the course of the first eight league matches in the season.

It was vital that Arsenal’s league form picked up, and this message must have got home to the players on 25 September with the next league game which ended Arsenal 3 Leicester City 0.  The crowd was 40,201.

There was little style in evidence here, and little sign of insightful tactics, but Arsenal dominated with ease, scoring the first goal on 19 minutes as Radford received a corner from Armstrong, chested it down and volleyed it into the net from the edge of the area.

Leicester focussed on lobbing high centres into the Arsenal area if they ever got the chance – but with Roberts and Simpson on form, that always looked pointless.  Wilson only had a couple of saves to make.

Arsenal played the opening period of the second half without Storey, who was being stitched up after receiving a nasty cut.  When he came back on Rice seemed not to notice, as he started a move from right back in the 69th minute, and ended up at inside left to score an unlikely goal.

Charlie George came on as a sub for his first appearance of the season and his brilliant ball to Graham was sent on to Radford who scored his second.

This improvement in form continued with the next game – the return leg of the European Cup first round tie being won 4-0.  That the local support thought the game was done and dusted in the first leg was shown in the crowd: only 27,176 turned up.

On a night when Chelsea beat the Luxembourg village team Hautcharage 13-0 in the Cup Winners Cup, that Arsenal had to make do with just four was largely due to the Norwegian goalkeeper (a postman by trade) who decided to make this his night to remember.

His saves gave the crowd much to cheer – which was good because Arsenal did not do that well in terms of accurate shooting   George Graham – captain for the first time – played well along with Eddie Kelly and George Armstrong but the rest showed little enthusiasm – including Charlie George.  He was back for his first full game of the season but looked as if he really didn’t want to be there.

Ray Kennedy scored after four minutes and then flicked the ball to Radford on 18 minutes for the second.  Radford got the 3rd on 60 minutes and then Armstrong who as always never stopped running made it four close to the end.

The month end showed the league table revealing something of an improvement.   No one expected Sheffield Utd to end the season at the top, but Arsenal were five points behind second place Man U with only one game in hand.  A real improvement was needed.

And if we didn’t actually get a “real improvement” we got a quite a significant improvement on 2 October with Southampton 0 Arsenal 1 (23,738 being crammed into the Dell).

If ever there was an easy victory that belied the score it was this, with Arsenal playing against a side who seemed to be anxious to uphold their  reputation as the most physical outfit in the league.

Kelly, Simpson, Roberts and Graham looked to be back to their form of last season, and with Radford playing at outside right, the home side looked as if they couldn’t quite fathom what was going on.

To be fair, Southampton were hampered by Fisher being carried off with a broken leg, following a challenge on Wilson (who had already got the ball), but even with him they never really looked like scoring.

Arsenal finally broke through in the last minute of the first half from a free kick midway into the Southampton half.  The Saints called everyone back but merely succeeded in clearing the ball to Simpson, and he shot just inside the post.

In an attempt to recover Southampton engaged in an approach which the Observer called a “pre-historic assault” rather than football.   But Arsenal showed they could take such tactics, and held on firmly.

Next it was back to the league cup with a 4-0 defeat of Newcastle on 6 October.  34,071 turned up.

Suffering from an array of injuries Newcastle never looked likely to trouble Arsenal, but it took Arsenal a while to get going and the crowd got decidedly restless as Simpson hit the bar, Radford and Kennedy had shots cleared off the line and Wilson had one of those nights with nothing to do other than contemplate going back into teaching.

On 51 minutes Radford finally scored to celebrate his recall to the England squad, sprinting between two defenders to take Kennedy’s through ball.  Kennedy scored on the 75th following a cross from Simpson, Graham tapped in a cross from Armstrong, and two minutes from the end Simpson chipped the ball into the area for Kennedy to pass the ball on to Radford who wrapped it all up with his second.

As if that were not enough for Newcastle it was Arsenal again the following Saturday, October 9.  This time it ended 4-2 to Arsenal in the league, this time in front of 40,509.

Arsenal had clearly gained in confidence from four league wins in a row (not to mention success in Europe and the league cup) and at last the crowd saw a return to the style and zest of the Double side of last season with a combination of strength and skill that allowed the side to move from the elegant to the physical and back again depending on what was required.

A sublime early move saw Kennedy break up a Newcastle attack, pass to George, who passed to Radford, who moved the ball to Kennedy who was now in attack and who centred.  The keeper cleared, George headed back in, and Graham scored.  That was, indeed, much more like it.

Kennedy got the second from George’s probing pass, and in the second half Armstrong added a goal  after he found himself clear from Kennedy’s long pass.  The pressure continued until Kelly’s lob back from yet another keeper clearance made it four.

Newcastle’s goals, both from Macdonald came in the last few minutes, and in fact he could have had a hat-trick at the very end but for Wilson’s fine save.

On 13 October 1971 there were international matches and Bob Wilson and George Graham played for Scotland for first time.  It was one of just two caps for Bob Wilson.  Graham played 12 times for his country.

Back in the real world however the question was, could Arsenal keep up their winning ways up against a Chelsea team that was looking uninspired to say the least.   On 16 October we found out as Arsenal made it five in a row in the league with Chelsea 1 Arsenal 2 in front of 52,338.

This was Arsenal’s first league win at Stamford Bridge in 10 seasons, and there was no doubt Arsenal could have had a lot, lot more goals in the game.

In fact it was a balanced Arsenal that outsmarted a very unbalanced Chelsea, who packed their side with midfielders, but seemed to forget that forwards are needed to win a game. As a result the home side’s finishing was weak, too many players wanted to grab the same position, and there was a continual air of confusion, much to the amusement of the Arsenal contingent in the crowd.

Kennedy got both goals, after which the Arsenal players soon recognised that there was little chance of Chelsea getting anything out of the game, and so allowed the home team to invent ever more elaborate ways of falling over each other while going nowhere.  Rarely can a home team have got so many cheers from a set of visiting supporters.

With the league season at last getting into gear Arsenal were once more off into Europe and the result in Zürich was Grasshoppers 0 Arsenal 2 in front of a capacity 23,000.

Arsenal started the game superbly, but then having scored in the fourth minute decided to take it easy – very easy in fact.   The opening goal was simple: Armstrong crossed, Kennedy hit the ball straight into the net, and it looked for all the world as if Arsenal considered this a match of secondary importance.  After all they had done the real business in beating Chelsea on Saturday – and high flying Derby were to be visited  next weekend.

And so it was that from that point on every player seemingly wanted to see the match through not only without sustaining any injury and also without breaking sweat.  Indeed only McLintock, Graham and Armstrong really looked interested in showing their skills.

Inevitably, when such an attitude dominates, as matters went on Arsenal passes started to go astray and it was not until two minutes from time that George Graham managed to tap home the second and ensure that there would be no concerns relating to the return match at Highbury.

So, it was all looking good as Arsenal went to Derby, who in third were sitting one point and two places ahead of Arsenal.   Arsenal were five points off the top with a game in hand.  A win would take them into second.

But on 23 August it ended Derby County 2 Arsenal 1.   Brian Clough was already known as a manager who prepared his team differently for each individual game, and here he certainly proved the point.  They attacked in waves giving Arsenal no chance to settle into their own routine or launch their own attack.  Bertie Mee looked baffled.

Arsenal retreated, and started to make errors, and ultimately lost the ability to pass.  The clearances became wilder, and hoofing upfield became the order of the day as Graham retreated further and further and ultimately gave away the corner that led to Derby’s first goal.

But gradually Derby tired.  Bolton failed to deal with Armstrong’s curling corner, and Graham back in his more natural position, stole in to equalise.  However a minute from the interval Hector made it into the Arsenal area, but was facing away from goal.  He teased Kelly, inviting him to make the rash tackle.  Kelly fell for it, and gave away the penalty from which Hinton scored.

When Hinton attempted to score in the second half despite having Wilson lying injured in the area there was argument and pushing a-plenty and the kerfuffle broke Derby’s concentration.  Arsenal ended the game on top but the Derby defence held firm.

That match was a setback, but with Sheffield Utd starting to slip in the league after their flying start to the season, Arsenal were given the chance to see them off in the fourth round of the league cup.  But it ended 0-0 although remarkably 44,061 turned up.

Goalless draws can be dull, but not this one, although Arsenal left not particularly relishing the notion of a replay in Sheffield.   Sheffield meanwhile looked for all the world as if they had studied Clough’s approach in the previous game, while Arsenal looked like a team that had still not learned how to combat the combination of slick passing and wave upon wave of attack.

That the game remained at 0-0 was due to the fact that Scullion failed to convert his chances hitting the bar on one occasion and then missing an opening goal on another.   With Wilson out injured Barnett played his first match since December 1969, such was the way in which Arsenal were harried and forced back that most of his problems came from dealing with back passes from his own team mates.

In the end Arsenal adopted an off-side tactic which did nullify Sheffield’s approach.  Indeed one might argue that this was the game where George Graham first saw the approach which he drilled into Tony Adams and co some 15 years or so later.

The last match of the month on 30 October saw Arsenal with an attempt to redeem their position in the league somewhat, and they duly did so beating Ipswich  Town 2-1 in front of a crowd of 39,065.

So boring was the first half of this game that it would have made a perfect advert for snakes and ladders as a mass spectator sport.   The “professional foul” was the central attraction combined with a “no one shall pass” attitude from Ipswich which the ref seemed to find perfectly acceptable no matter what it entailed.

Then on the hour Nelson stood in the way of an Ipswich shot that seemed certain to take his head off, and without pausing the check that his body was still in one piece, raced up field to combine with Radford at the other end.

Suddenly everyone remembered that this was football.  Storey took the hint and raced upfield elbows waving, Arsenal started to get freekicks, although Radford had his name taken in asking for still more.  But clearly he did it just to distract the Ipswich defenders for the moment play restarted he took down the ball while seemingly walking away from goal, before turning and spinning the ball into the net.

Eight minutes later Ipswich responded with a header in off the post, before Charlie George finally decided to take part in the match and score through the inevitable Ipswich 10 man ruck.

The series will continue shortly.


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One Reply to “Arsenal in the 70s, part 5. After the double, double doubts.”

  1. Why did Charlie George miss the start of the season was he injured?

    “Liverpool were instructed by the FA to pay Arsenal compensation, as the gate was below the 48,000 that attended the fixture at Old Trafford the previous year.”

    Why did Liverpool have to pay compensation? Seems a bit harsh. Did they have to pay compensation to Manchester United as well?

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