2 March 1971: A 0-3 thrashing of Wolves and the great Arsenal revival begins

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Arsenal in March – all the anniversaries day by day 

  • by Tony Attwood

It is strange to think, but February 1971 gave Arsenal three defeats in five games, leaving everyone uncertain what Arsenal would deliver in March. And certainly, no one was talking of a possible double.

And yet a 0-3 away victory on 2 March to Wolverhampton in League match 30 made everyone think again.  And well they might, for it turned out that this match was the first a run of nine consecutive wins, five of which were played without conceding a goal.

But before taking matters forward, there was the little detail of the FA Cup.  Arsenal had just beaten Wolverhampton 0-3 away, with Wolverhampton lying fourth in the first division.  But next was Leicester, a second division club, although one destined to win that division at the end of the season and gain promotion back to the first after two seasons out.

At the moment of this game they were third in their league, just one point away from the leaders, but with two wins, two draws and two defeats in the last six.  It was anticipated that they would attack Arsenal at Filbert Street, and then if they scored, try and hold onto the lead.

42,000 turned up on 6 March for the game, and not too much happened (except for one classic Wilson diving save at the feet of Fern in the 69th minute).   But then in the 88th minute, Dick Glover saw the ball coming towards him, two yards out and with the goal beckoning.  He swung a boot – and missed the ball completely.  So as with Portsmouth in the previous round, a replay was needed, the game ending 0-0.

Normally at this time, replays were held within a matter of days.  Delays for the police to make the streets safe and check their diaries had not been invented, and few of the games were all ticket.  However on this occasion Arsenal now had the small matter of the Fairs Cup fourth round to consider and on 9 March  Arsenal beat FC Koln 2-1 in the first leg of the tie.  The crowd was 40,007.

The following Saturday Arsenal were away to Crystal Palace – the team that had knocked Arsenal out of the League Cup earlier in the season.  But Crystal Palace after early promise now stood 14th in the table with four defeats in the last six, and here the form guide was accurate as it finished Crystal Palace 0 Arsenal 2.  Four wins in five restored the faith that this might just be Arsenal’s year, although Leeds remained six points ahead and Arsenal only had two games in hand.  Graham and Sammels got the goals.

Next it was back to the FA Cup as Arsenal saw off Leicester at Highbury 1-0.   “Wembley ahead by George” was a common headline, as in the games against Portsmouth and Man City in the cup, Charlie George had scored.  Leicester attacked constantly, and Shilton in goal was at his best for the odd moments when Arsenal launched a counter.  And indeed Leicester did get the ball in the net, only to be ruled offside.  The players protested long and hard – and perhaps used too much emotional energy on that protest, for after that Arsenal took control.   57,433 came to the game – the highest crowd of the season thus far.

20 March 1971: Arsenal 1 Blackpool 0.  Five wins in six gave Arsenal renewed hope of winning the league but with Leeds continuing to win there were also doubters. The crowd was modest (given what was happening): 37,372.

And the pressure was utterly unrelenting for three days later Arsenal were in West Germany where they were defeated 1-0 by FC Koln 1 Arsenal 0 in the Fairs Cup 4th round 2nd leg in front of 50,000 spectators.  The result left the score overall at 2-2, and Arsenal went out on the away goals rule.  Thus the holders were gone, and Arsenal were left with just two competitions to fight for.

Without a pause for breath, Arsenal were back into the FA Cup, facing the one team that had humiliated Arsenal during this extraordinary season: Stoke City, and on 27 March Arsenal drew 2-2 at Hillsborough in the semi-final against them.  Having drawn games in the 4th and 6th round Arsenal seemed to be working their way to the final the hard way,

And wouldn’t you know it?  Suddenly Charlie was not the flavour of the month, anymore accused by the media of being “extravagant” and “careless”.    As for the team, they were in “urgent need of raising their game” and were “desperately seeking striking power.”  (This was the team about to win the double!)  Man of the Match was Storey who scored both, including a penalty in the dying seconds of the game, during the taking of which Bob Wilson went down on his hands and knees facing away from the goal, not bearing to look.

After the match Bertie Mee gave a rare insight into the dressing room atmosphere, revealing that during halftime the players talked the game through saying “there was no reason to be beaten by two silly goals,” which Stoke had scored in the first half.  One was a crazy spinning rebound off Storey and the other was a poor back pass from Charlie George.

Such were the topics of the contemporary reports, but what most records of this remarkable season forget to mention at this point is that on this day the league match that was scheduled was Tottenham v Arsenal.  Because of this cup game, and the need for a replay, the scheduled match was moved to the end of the season – a decision that led to the eternally famous final match at White Hart Lane.


The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club, and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.

100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

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