Arsenal in the 70s part 23. Jan-June 79. The trophy drought is over

by Tony Attwood

January 1979 started in the traditional fashion with an FA Cup 3rd round tie; on this occasion it was Sheffield Wednesday away on 6 January, and the result was a 1-1 draw.

33,635 were in the crowd, and the team was Jennings, Rice, Walford, Price, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Gatting, Rix.  It was by and large the team without Macdonald that we were getting used to.

Terry Neill described the Wednesday pitch as the worst he’d ever seen and said he was concerned for the safety of the players.  He might have added that matters were made worse by the abject refusal of the referee to call for action to be taken against the Wednesday fans who pelted Arsenal players with snowballs throughout the game.

Whether a snow ball is dangerous or not is a matter for debate, but it is certainly off putting to have them shower down when trying to wriggle past a defender.  Jack Charlton said that if Neill thought this was bad he should have seen it earlier in the season – which might have been true, but was hardly an excuse for the pitch of this sort.

Sunderland scored for Arsenal, Leman lobbed Jennings for their equaliser.

Two days later, West Brom beat the English record for a transfer fee by paying £516,000 for Middlesbrough defender David Mills.  The press talked about football going mad and MPs muttered darkly about having the reign in the excesses and clubs setting a bad example to the young.

Two days on from that, on 9 January, there was a general expectation that Arsenal would have little difficulty in seeing off Sheffield Wednesday in the third round replay, but again it ended 1-1, this time with 37,987 in the crowd.

Brady was never fully on song in this replay, but on the 88th minute he scored after Wednesday keeper Turner made his one mistake of the night in failing to cut out a cross.

Wednesday had scored just on half time after latching onto a long punt upfield by Mullen and neither before nor after that event did they have any interest in stylish play, instead signalling their intent by using five in midfield ahead of four in defence.  Arsenal got frustrated, missed a dozen chances, but should have won it in extra time when Price hit the post.  Afterwards Charlton refused to toss for home advantage taking the second replay to a neutral ground.

Who cares about helping the fans?

Meanwhile on 10 January there was a little light relief as Tottenham Hotspur were held to a 1–1 draw by non-league Altrincham.  And the day after that Brian Talbot signed from Ipswich Town with whom he had won the FA Cup in 1978.  He went on to play 327 games for Arsenal.

With all the extra bits and pieces out of the way Arsenal returned to league form on 13 January with a home game against reigning champions who had just knocked Liverpool out of the European Cup: Nottingham Forest, which Arsenal won in front of a very excitable crowd of 52,158.

Brian Talbot played his first game for Arsenal, taking over from Steve Gatting in midfield, and taking over David Price’s shirt number.  It made an immediate difference.

Beating the reigning champions is always good news.  Seeing your new signing have an excellent first game is better news.    Forest had gone ahead but a Brady cross, nodded back by Stapleton to Price who scored took it to 1-1. Martin O’Neil and John Robertson constantly threatened Arsenal but ultimately Brady’s second brilliant pass of the game sent Stapleton running through to beat Peter Shilton for the winner.  And there was a strong feeling that Brian Talbot was exactly what Arsenal had needed to drive the team further forwards.

Unfortunately Talbot immediately picked up an injury and in fact couldn’t play in the next 3rd round cup reply, and so he had 15 January off as Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal met again, this time at Leicester and once more got a draw: 2-2.   25,011 made the trip.

That the saga continued was thanks to an amazing save in the last minute of extra time which kept the score at 2-2.  Brian Hornsby now of Wednesday who scored a penalty in this game was naturally interviewed by the press about his old and new clubs, operating two divisions apart.  He declared there was nothing between them, but philosophised that as Arsenal had tried three different formations in trying to win the tie, they would now be far more worried than Wednesday who always play the same way.  An interesting theory.

Arsenal were in front twice, first from Brady from distance and then again on 68 minutes when Brady passed to Sunderland who slotted home.

It is perhaps hard to remember in these days when it can take a couple of weeks to arrange a cup replay that in the 1970s it could be done in a matter of seconds, and so just two days later, Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday battled it out once more at Leicester, this time the result being a 3-3 draw.  The crowd was even lower at 17,088.

Wednesday twice came back from behind, as everyone began to tire of the game, stadium, the lack of a crowd and the whole FA Cup replay thing.  Even two Stapleton goals failed to take them through and the frustration showed as Sunderland, O’Leary, Gatting and Nelson were booked.

Rushbury scored from a Porterfield cross on 59 minutes.  Five minutes on Arsenal got a penalty, but Brady’s kick was saved.  One minute later Stapleton headed in from Nelson’s cross.  Young headed in a Brady corner on 76.  Sunderland hit the upright, Brady shot inches wide but on 86 minutes Lowey scored.  Stapleton then scored in the 93rd minute but Rix fouled Hornby for a penalty and it was equal again.

Once more no time was wasted and on 22 January the two clubs played the tie for the fifth time and finally, at last, thankfully, it was all over.  Arsenal 2 Sheffield Wednesday 0.  At Leicester, with a more healthy 30,275 in the crowd.

Thus after nine hours and 16 goals Arsenal came through.  Two first half goals saw Arsenal make it, and with neither side ever having a two goal lead in the tie before, that looked to be it.  For the Gatting goal, Young, Price and Sunderland all took part in a complex move – for the rest it was Brady playing further forward than normal that made the difference, and it was Brady and Sunderland who combined before Sunderland crossed for Stapleton’s flying header which ended it all.

At the end Charlton was left saying “we gave them too much room”.  And those snowballs in the first match hadn’t helped their image either.

Thus Arsenal had played five matches and progressed one round, and having done so found that their next opponents were already there and waiting.  And so on 27 January Arsenal went into their fourth round tie.  Thankfully this time there was no replay necessary, and the result at Highbury was Arsenal 2 Notts County 0, with a respectable 39,195 in the crowd.

Talbot was back in the squad, and marked his return with a goal.

The pitch was slippery in some places, hard in others and treacherous down the middle, meaning that the skills of Brady et al were of little use except when he stayed out wide, which he increasingly did.    County did the now standard nine behind the ball routine and conjured up one shot in the entire game which Jennings nonchalantly saved with one hand.   Young scored with a pile driver of a shot on 72 minutes, and then Brady and Talbot combined for the second.  Brady ran down the left  and passed to Talbot who side footed into the net.

The month ended with one of the most improbable looking league tables of all time…

WBA top of the league, Arsenal three points off the top but having played more games, and Bristol City in seventh, they having played even more games (this due to variant weather conditions across England during this winter).

On 3 February Arsenal continued their upward surge beating Man U (who were at the time in 11th place) 2-0 at Old Trafford in front of 45,460.   The result meant that Arsenal had suffered one defeat in the last fourteen league games.

Man U fans showed what they thought of it all by holding a mass walkout after Sunderland scored his brace on 62 and 63 minutes, and indeed Arsenal could have had four by the end, but played a game of holding the lead to ensure there were no slip-ups.

Brady was in a class of his own, and O’Leary and Young dominated the centre, while Brian Talbot revealed exactly why Arsenal bought him – he simply never stopped running.  For Man U, McQueen and Buchan struggled to control Arsenal’s constantly moving formation which offered measured patience followed by sudden bursts of power.  As a tactic for this match that was perfect.

The following week, on 8 February 1979, Brian McDermott became a full professional.  He went on to play 38 league games for Arsenal and then took up a life in football management.  After ending his management career at the chaos of Leeds he returned to Arsenal as a scout.

The following day the ever escalating cost of players was back in the headlines as it was announced that Trevor Francis had become Britain’s first £1 million footballer when he is transferred from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest, doubling the earlier British record fee set when West Bromwich Albion signed David Mills the month before.

And then on the day after that we all came back to earth as Arsenal played out a goalless draw on 10 February at Highbury with Middlesbrough.   28,371 were there and probably wished they had stayed in the warm.

For this match Arsenal continued their patient game but this time it failed to produce the goods as Middlesbrough took the eleven man defensive plan to a new level of boredom.  John Neal, Borough’s manager, professed himself pleased, but it was quite clear why Boro’s own home crowds were so small.  No one in his or her right mind would watch this week after week when it is quite possible to lie on a bed of nails or walk barefoot across burning coals instead.

Brady was man-marked throughout  and Arsenal failed to score at home for the first time this season.  But the most worrying thing was that other clubs would now copy this approach to stopping the Irishman.

But it was another match without defeat and on 13 February the record was extended further with the result Queen’s Park Rangers 1 Arsenal 2 in front of 21,125.  That made it just one defeat in 16 and this was Terry Neill’s best run during his time at the club as manager.  

After the snow covered hard grounds, this was a pitch that was quite clearly unfit for football.  But second half goals by Brady and Price carried Arsenal  up to fourth in the league so in the end Arsenal’s complaints were tempered.  That made it one defeat in 15 – even with Brady reduced to trying to find the occasional piece of pitch where his boots would not get stuck – and the first time he did it almost resulted in a goal with Parkes just saving at the last.

Young brought down Bowles, Bowles threw the ball at Young’s head from a distance of about 10 inches.  Both were booked.  Arsenal changed to lifting every pass above the mud and on 59 minutes Young smashed the ball at the goal, it bounced back to Price who scored from 15 yards.  Brady added the second and the mud was beaten.

And as a result, amazingly Arsenal were suddenly second, and by some careful ignoring of the number of games played by each side a little dreaming of a second double started to emerge.

Better still only Leeds United of the top clubs had better current form than Arsenal at this time.  Liverpool had lost two of their last six, winning four.  Arsenal had won four, but also drawn one.

And thus, with such exciting thoughts in mind, and a seriously excited supporter base, Arsenal then contrived to lose to Wolverhampton Wanderers, currently sitting 15th in the table on just 17 points.  Wolverhampton who had won one, drawn one and lost ten of their away games in the season.  And the result was…

24 February: Arsenal 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1.   Attendance: 32,215

Sammy Nelson had secured his position in the club as left back, forming an excellent partnership with Rice, O’Leary and Young in defence, and there had been concerns following his injury in the Norwich away match on 9 December.

But the ever adaptable Walford had stood in, until Nelson returned on 13 January.  However when Nelson pulled out 15 minutes before the start having reported pulled a muscle, Walford was already being deployed in place of Young in defence, so Gatting moved from his normal number 10 slot to play full back… and it didn’t work.

Wolverhampton scored on 21 minutes and Arsenal stepped up a gear.  But try what they might the goal wouldn’t come.  The post was hit three times, with two shots bouncing back into the goalkeeper’s arms.  It was that sort of match.

February ended with another cup game, this time away against Nottingham Forest, and fortunately on 26 February the team regained its regular line up: Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Walford, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.  35,906 were in the crowd.

After this game one began to wonder how newspaper headline writers could have the nerve to accept their pay cheque.  Forest had not been beaten in Nottingham since April 1977, and three times Forest hit the woodwork – which resulted in every paper running the “Lucky Arsenal” headlines without one of them thinking back to the reverse situation in the Wolverhampton game.  Brian Clough’s team dominated the game – true – but quite simply didn’t know how to take the chances they made.

For the goal, Anderson fouled Sunderland.  Brady took the free kick Stapleton  headed it past Shilton.  Arsenal defended coolly and calmly and O’Leary was outstanding.  McGovern, Gemmill, O’Neill tried everything but Arsenal held.  Lucky Arsenal?  Not a bit of it.

But, but, but… when it goes right, it really goes right.  When it goes wrong…

And this was exactly the problem.  One defeat in 17 was the record, and Arsenal were in second.  And then we had the blip of the Wolverhampton game.  But next came another blip. For on 3 March the score was Southampton 2 Arsenal 0 with 25,052 in the Dell and although I am trying to take this in chronological order I think I must forewarn you that what we were now entering was a run of just one win in eight.  From triumph to collapse, from hope to despair.

Southampton put an unknown reserve (Andruszewski) on Brady-marking duty  once it was clear that Brady was going to play up front , and amazingly it worked.   Alan Ball worked very hard to show  his ex-employers just what they were missing and on the half hour Hayes scored.

The to rub it in on the hour Ball sent a free kick over to Waldron who made it two.  In the end Brady came off to be replaced by Walford, but it made no odds.  With Talbot and Brady nullified and Rix returning to his less impressive form Arsenal had no other providers for Stapleton, and the option of continuing the recent good run was lost.

But it wasn’t total doom and gloom, for there was one win to be had which occurred on 10 March 1979 with the score Arsenal 2 Bristol City 0.   Rix and Stapleton scored but the crowd of just 24,288 showed that in the league at least, the club had very suddenly lost the interest of many local supporters.  It was however notable as being the first game for Brian McDermott.

What was particularly interesting in this game was that after months of handing the spotlight to Brady, Rix stepped out of the shadows to head in Arsenal’s first on 31 minutes and to set up Stapleton for the second on the cusp of half time.

Bristol used their traditional ultra physical approach which, if it were ever seen on the streets of Britain, would lead to immediate arrest, but which apparently was perfectly acceptable within a stadium.   It was a style that had worked when they first entered the top division since coming up in 1976, but now the top clubs were getting used to it, and knew how to play around it.  That this was City’s sixth successive away defeat proved, if it needed proving, that a single tactic is never enough to win matches.

But as you were warned, that was our one victory, and on 17 March we were back to losing ways with Ipswich Town 2 Arsenal 0; 26,407 at Portland Road.

The team was pretty much the same team as had been seen through most of the season, although notably Young was missing.   But the press had got it into their collective minds that Arsenal were about to sign Rudi Krol and Johan Neeskens, and made much of what turned out to be a total invention, given the Ipswich connection with the Netherlands in the shape of Muhren and Thijssen.  The truth of it all was that Ajax were demanding over £750,000 for the duo, and Neill was not going to pay that price.

Both the Ipswich foreigners did well, although Arsenal dominated much of the game.  The best Terry Neill could say at the end was, “It was a good run out for Alan Sunderland.” But an own goal from Graham Rix really summed up the fact that Arsenal were losing their way.

However that was the league and the cup was… where we played out lots of draws.   As, for example, on 19 March on which date the result was Southampton 1 Arsenal 1.

There was significant sympathy in the media for Southampton having to play three games in five days, and no journalist seemed able to recall Arsenal’s marathon effort against Sheffield Wednesday in which Arsenal were called upon to play on January 6, 9, 13, 15, 17 and 22.  I make that six games in 16 days.  And if the press couldn’t quite do that because it involved big numbers like “six” and “16” they could have simply taken the games on the 13th, 15th and 17th and got… yes… three games in five days.

But having undoubtedly spent an inordinate amount of time down the pub, yet again “Lucky Arsenal” was the journalists considered response, and Terry Neill was so fed up with it all he refused to speak to any of the press pack at all for the next five days.

Hayes of Southampton scored on 63 minutes.  Six minutes later Rix took a corner.  It hit the cross bar and bounced out, and for once there was an Arsenal man there in the shape of Price to head home.

But hey, who needs details when you can re-run an old headline.

The replay was on 21 March and the result was in Arsenal’s favour being Arsenal 2 Southampton 0; 44,820 in the ground.

At least Arsenal were spared another mammoth set of replays as Sunderland scored two, to take Arsenal into the semi-finals.  Southampton fielded Charlie George, playing his first game in five months, perhaps remembering how Charlie had played against Arsenal in his Derby days and hoping for more of the same.

Charlie’s appearance took everyone by surprise, but Sunderland’s first goal on 34 minutes as he received a pass from Rix, ended any doubt or debate.  It also left Arsenal noting that they had lost only one cup tie at home in 15 years.  The bad news was that 30 minutes from the end Brady was taken off injured.  Not the news Arsenal wanted.

Back to the league, and back to the run of one win in either, as on 24 March the score was Arsenal 1 Man City 1, 35,014 in the crowd.  Clearly the word was out that Arsenal were focussed on the FA Cup.

Malcolm Allison just back from a touch line ban raged, shouted, screamed, ranted, waved his arms a lot and raged some more, mostly against David O’Leary for some imagined foul on transfer listed Mick Channon.  After the game Channon said he didn’t know what all the fuss was about but when on the final whistle Allison started pushing O’Leary a posse of players and assistants were called on to hold him back.

Channon gave City the lead on 25 minutes with a free kick.  Arsenal equalised on 50 minutes when Sunderland headed in from close range.   Allison should have had a second, longer, ban but the powers that bad, as was their wont, decided to do nothing.

Sadly, such a performance could not be continued into the league, and as a result worse was to come as on 26 March we had Bolton Wanderers 4 Arsenal 2, in front of 20,704 paying guests.

The rain poured down, Arsenal battled, but Bolton were two up within 30 minutes.  A minute later Talbot almost scored which would have brought them right back into the match, but it was not to be and two penalties in the second half ended the contest.  For the first Gatting pushed Worthington, for the second Morgan was pulled down, but no one quite knew by whom.

Only then did Arsenal stir fully, with Price and Heely scoring, but it was all far too late.  Suggestions after the match that Talbot was seriously injured proved, thankfully, to be untrue.

So that was four defeats, one win, one draw in the last six league games – it really was all about the Cup.  And there was relief at hand in the form of the FA Cup semi-final against Wolverhampton Wanderers, with the game played at Villa Park in front of 46,244 on 31 March.  Arsenal won 2-0 to go through to their second consecutive cup final for only the second time in their history (the only previous occasion being 1971 and 1972.

Stapleton talked to the press before the game about Arsenal’s determination to return to Wembley, and that successfully took the chatter away from the continuing speculation concerning the effect that the absence of Brady would have.

As it was the game turned out to be quite ordinary as O’Leary and Young were calm and controlled and Wolverhampton took 83 minutes to have their first shot.   Stapleton’s goal came on 15 minutes after Price had played the ball through.  Sunderland completed the affair by scoring against his old club seven minutes from the end, and that was it, all done and dusted.  A second cup final in succession and their fourth of the decade – the most the club has ever achieved.

The opponents for Arsenal in the Cup Final were not immediately known as Man U and Liverpool drew 2-2 as Arsenal were beating Wolverhampton.  The replay was on 4 April and Man U won 1-0.

Meanwhile the league looked like this at the end of March.

Arsenal had in fact lost four in the last six and only won one, while Man U, their opponents in the final had won three and drawn two.   Arsenal now had April to sort themselves out and recover some form.

But form wasn’t really there in the first game of the new month with a 1-1 home draw with Coventry on 3 April, in front of 30,091, with Heely getting a short run in the side as cover.

But the game was memorable as it came with a rare, perhaps even unique event, Nelson scored twice.  Unfortunately the first one on 34 minutes was an own goal.  But Coventry, with three key players injured accepted it happily.

Arsenal without Brady were clearly not the complete Arsenal seen so many times this season, but Sunderland, Talbot and Rix were still there providing the power, width and invention and in the second half Arsenal were much more assertive.  Rix hit the bar, Talbot sent a volley only fractionally wide and then on 75 minutes Rix took control and sent Nelson to the left.  He moved forward and scored with a low shot.

Then on 7 April we had a little diversion from the misery of the league results.  Not because Arsenal won – the score was Liverpool 3 Arsenal 0 – but because the game saw the appearance of Steve Brignall who became the Arsenal player with the shortest ever career up to that point.  It was his only game – coming on as a sub for Stapleton, and his contract was cancelled the following December with the player moving to the Norwegian side Harstad.

47,297 were in the crowd and Terry Neill had the grace to admit that Liverpool (3 to 1 on for the title) had shown Arsenal the level they had to reach to be the best in the country – and on occasion the best in Europe.   But Arsenal, without Brady and Nelson (Walford standing in) looked unbalanced throughout.

After the second goal went in it was clear that much of the Arsenal  team really were holding themselves back in readilness for the cup final, and that offered Liverpool the chance to knock in the third on 88 minutes.

And then, when the League looked an utterly hopeless case for Arsenal we had the north London derby on 10 April, which Arsenal won 1-0 at Highbury, 53,896 turning up to do the honours.  And thankfully the regular team was back together, lining up as…

Jennings, Rice, Walford, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix

Having performed so brilliantly in the away game against Tottenham back in December Liam Brady clearly relished the chance to perform some other mischief against the noisy neighbours.

During his absence Arsenal had had no wins in the last seven league games and with Tottenham desperate not to be humiliated again the game was played at a frantic pace.  Every ball was chased, everyone moved forward when possible, but as with 1971 it was a last minute header (this time from Stapleton) which gave Arsenal the game.  Unfortunately this year it didn’t also win them the league, but at least it was a win.

The next match, on 14 April, a 1-1 away draw with West Brom (28353 present) was part of a run of nine games in 34 days, in the run up to the FA Cup final, (although once again the press were not counting).  

Sadly only two of those games were won – the games against Tottenham and Chelsea.

Brady scored on just two but West Brom scored a goal after Tony Brown appeared to foul Jennings as a cross came over.  Jennings was edged sideways by an all important couple of inches and so missed the ball which hit the head of Brown and went in.

Arsenal dominated the rest of the match, although Albion, having their best season for years, still thought it might be possible to win the league, if Liverpool and Forest lost enough points in the remainder of the season, and they were disappointed not to win.

Two days later came an Arsenal win however, 5-2 over Chelsea at Highbury.  Not only was it a spot of pleasant relief it also relegated Chelsea but a great score too. Coincidentally the three times Arsenal scored five were all against London clubs during the season, but Arsenal didn’t win any of the remaining five games after this derby.  Sadly only 37,232 turned up.

The pleasure for Arsenal fans was increased by the fact that ex Tottenham captain Danny Blanchflower was now the manager of Chelsea, and he said afterwards, “we aren’t good enough” and it was difficult to imagine anyone not agreeing with that.  He also bemoaned Chelsea’s lack of financial muscle and the difficulty he had of operating in the transfer market, but no one felt sorry on that account.

A Brady cross to O’Leary gave Arsenal the lead, Stapleton got the second while Walker pulled one back for Chelsea just before half time.  That’s how it stayed, but the game then went from 2-1 to 5-2 between the 80th and 87th minute.  It was more of a kickabout than a serious first division game, and a fit way for Chelsea to recognise the inevitable.  Stapleton got a second,  and Sunderland and Price made it five.

But fun such as that cannot last and on 21 April we had Derby County 2 Arsenal 0 in front of just 18,674.

Willie Young was sent off for a second time following a tangle with Roy Greenwood, and so faced a disciplinary hearing which could stop him playing in the Cup Final.  But for once the press were on Arsenal’s side, noting the bizarreness of the referee’s actions.  However with O’Leary out injured and Nelson suspended Young’s dismissal looked ominous.

The pitch resembled in parts a beach more than a professional football arena, and Derby, anxious to avoid joining Chelesa in the second division next season gave it everything and after Young’s departure, and the heart went out of Arsenal.

But then, on 25 April just nine days after beating Chelsea 5-2, Arsenal lost 1-5 to Villa.  The main excuse (not that anyone listened) was that in total Arsenal played nine games in 33 days ahead of the Man U cup final.

Fortunately only 26,168 saw the match.  Devine made a rare appearance covering for Young, and Walford stood in for Nelson while Gatting covered for O’Leary

And for a moment it looked like it could have worked as in the second minute Arsenal scored a superb goal as Rix crossed to Stapleton who headed home.

But by half time Villa were one up, and looking for all the world like a team who might struggle if Arsenal could put them under renewed assault.  Then two Villa goals from ex-Walsall man Gary Shelton in the first five minutes of the second half took the game out of Arsenal’s reach, and Arsenal were glad to let in only one more – in the 86th minute as Shelton completed his hattrick.  With no Young and no O’Leary and no Nelson, the defence crumpled in the second half.

By 28 April interest in Arsenal’s league matches was in decline to such an extent that a crowd of 28,885 for the home draw with Norwich looked reasonable.   And indeed after the Villa affair a 1-1 scoreline looked like a decent result, not least because the team still included Devine, Gatting, and Walford.

Nelson was back, but without Rice, Young and O’Leary the defence was  hopelessly below par and the performance was dull and unappealing.  Martin Peters, aged 36 and playing for Norwich did his usual press wind up warning that Arsenal were likely to be slaughtered by Man U in the Cup Final.   Steve Walford got the goal, and edged up his chances of playing at Wembley, Justin Fashanu equalised.

5 May saw another game, another draw, this one 0-0 away to Birmingham, the crowd a miserable 14,015.   This time Jennings took a break and Barron got a game in goal, but elsewhere it could be noted that the team was getting back to its regular shape.

Sadly the approach of Birmingham, like Chelsea already relegated, resulted in Paul Barron being carried off with blood pouring from a gashed knee on 53 minutes.  David Price went in goal, Arsenal went down to 10 men, and still Birmingham couldn’t even get in a shot, let alone score.  Brady sorted himself out as the game progressed, Talbot and Rix put in some good shots, but it was altogether a game to forget, not least because next up was…

The Cup Final.  12 May.  Arsenal 3 Man U 2.   100,000 in attendance.

The Arsenal team was Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price (Walford), Rix.   The scorers were Talbot, Stapleton, Sunderland.

In the end there had been little to choose between Man U and Arsenal in terms of league results.  True, Arsenal had flirted with the notion of winning the league for a short while, but the marathon battle with Sheffield Wednesday had put all the focus on the cup, and league results had been at best average in the second half of the season.  If anything Man U looked the favourites.

Reports at the time and since have suggested that this was and remains one of the greatest cup finals.  But in truth for some 85 minutes, Arsenal had it under control, with goals from Talbot and Stapleton, making the game seem straightforward and not particularly memorable by any other than Arsenal supporters.

But then on 86 minutes McQueen scored after a set piece, and before Arsenal could settle McIlroy by passed the Arsenal defence to equalize.

Arsenal hearts sank – the psychological effect of losing a two goal lead was surely too much to carry through extra time.  But then Alan Sunderland scored, and was filmed running towards the camera shouting his head off with words that we can all lip-read, but which were a great embarrassment to the media who kept up the pretence that Mr Average didn’t know what such words meant.

The 90 minute game had become “Five-minute Final”.  Arsenal had their first trophy since 1971, and Terry Neil had what was to be his only trophy as manager.

Of course the celebrations went on and on, but there was still one more game to play – an away match on 14 May against Chelsea.

That 30,705 turned up was more to do with Arsenal fans wanting to celebrate than Chelsea fans seeing their last game in the first division before returning to the second.

But it was also memorable for the return of Macdonald and a first appearance by Vaessen.

Vaessen went on to play 32 times for Arsenal, in a career cut short by injury and the tragedy of his subsequent life story which has been well documented. Macdonald scored, but also tragically it was to be his last ever game in England – although he did have a short career in Sweden.   

A win could have taken Arsenal to 6th instead of 7th in the league, but no one really worried, as the trophy of the FA Cup was all that counted.  Arsenal playing without Stapleton, Sunderland and Price made little effort.  Chelsea scored in the 8th minute and Macdonald twice went close, and finally did get a goal to round off the season.  Most of the Chelsea home support stayed away, and Arsenal’s away support enjoyed their day out, and who could blame them.

QPR, who had declined since the departure of Dave Sexton in 1977 were the third team relegated just three years after finishing second in the league. Chelsea’s manager Danny Blanchflower paid for his team’s shortcomings by losing his job.

After that, Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest added the European Cup to their League Cup victory with a 1–0 win over Malmo of Sweden in the final.  Trevor Francis, their £1m signing scored the only goal of the game.   Liam Brady became the PFA Players’ Player of the Year.

On 15 May Arsenal played their one post-season friendly against Lyngby Boldklub  of Denmark.  Macdonald once again played but was substituted, as Arsenal won 4-2.  Gatting, Brady, Price and Rix scored.

With the playing season over on 1 June West Bromwich Albion who had just had their best ever season decided to sell winger Laurie Cunningham to Real Madrid for £995,000.

Finally, on 18 June 1979 Paul Davis signed professional forms for Arsenal having signed as an apprentice in 1977.  He made his debut in 1980 and went on to play 447 league games for the club.

Arsenal in the 70s.

One Reply to “Arsenal in the 70s part 23. Jan-June 79. The trophy drought is over”

  1. With regard to our 4th Round FAC tie v Notts County at Highbury, I was at the match and recall distinctly that Willie Young scored with a back post header at the North Bank End and not with a pile-driver as descrived.That was reserved for another time,another game.

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