In the build up to the match Eddy Kelly asked for a transfer, Jimmy Rimmer asked for an assurance that Shilton wasn’t going to be signed, and Arsenal managed to avoid defeat for two matches running for the first time since getting a couple of draws in September.
Thus it was not the best of times but what makes this interesting is that it was only the fourth season after winning the first double – a sign of just how quickly things can change, both in terms of going up and going down the snakes and ladders board of football.
In 1969/70 Arsenal had come 12th in the league – something we tend to ignore because we also won the Inter Cities Fairs Cup that year. 1970/1 you will of course know: the double. 1971/2 we slipped to fifth but made the Cup Final again. 1972/3 we were runners’ up in the league and cup semi-finalists. It all made Arsenal look like serious contenders for trophies.
And then… 1973/4 we slipped to 10th, and 1974/5, the season of the crowd dropping into the 20,000s, Arsenal ended up 16th. One year later we were 17th and in both those seasons looked for a while to be very serious candidates for relegation. Which would have put the kibosh on AISA’s 100 years in the First Division celebrations last season.
In the end we missed relegation by just four points, a horror that was only slightly lessened by the fact that Tottenham only missed relegation by one point, and Chelsea did actually drop down – along with Carlisle United.
Yet the 1974/5 season opened promisingly with a 1-0 away win at Leicester, but that was followed by a 1-0 defeat at home by Ipswich. A 4-0 win against Manchester City four days later made the horizon look a little bit more promising. But then the horror struck.
In the next ten games Arsenal got three draws and suffered seven defeats. During that spell we also went out of the League Cup – to Leicester. It really was a gruesome time, for on 19 October 1974 after a 2-0 away defeat to Tottenham, we were bottom of the League, one point behind Luton Town, and two points behind QPR and Tottenham themselves.
What made matters worse was the vision of Bertie Mee, the man who had brought us the “impossible” double, in that he adopted a vision of military discipline combined with retrenchment. He fought players over salaries, he proposed winding up the academy and just having 18 professionals on the books, and above all seemed completely unable to accept that in the modern era players were demanding to be more than club servants.
As Ray Kennedy, Charlie George and Fran McLintock all left in quick succession, the club became a shadow of its former self. Yet when Mee finally left he did so with the the knowledge that under his management the club had won more games than with any other Arsenal manager – 241.
But that was a misleading figure, because when we measure the percentage of games he won it was just 44.71% – way behind the likes of Allison, Chapman, Graham, and of course later, Arsene Wenger. He most certainly did win our first European trophy and the first Double, but he left the club with a very dispirited support on the terraces and internally in need of a complete overhaul.
Instead of the first Double being the springboard to success it turned out to be the opposite, and we would not win the first division title again for 18 years.