At the end of February 1972, Arsenal, who had won the double the season before, we unbeaten in the last 16 league and cup games and there was the feeling that Arsenal were on the move once again. A defeat on 4 March 1972 to Manchester City was seen as just an occasional defeat.
But it was not. Arsenal had two cup draws with Derby, and then consecutive defeats to Ajax in the European Cup and Manchester City. Indeed the players looked tired from their recent defeats, and their trip to the Netherlands. Indeed in the second FA Cup game with Derby it took them over 20 minutes to launch even a single attack.
So there were nerves on 11 March when double-winning Arsenal went to Newcastle.
It was not a good game, and if Newcastle had noticed sooner that only Armstrong looked lively for Arsenal, they would have scored more. But as it was it took them until the second half to up the pressure. With George retiring to be replaced by Batson, Ball needed to step up and take control. He tried, but missed two great chances, while Newcastle started to hammer the Arsenal goal.
Only Wilson, as ever, was truly on form and with Kennedy continuing to look off the pace and Ball missing when it was easier to score, Newcastle broke in the 70th minute and Macdonald scored from 10 yards. The second came in the third minute of injury time as Arsenal pushed forward for an equaliser. Simpson was dispossessed, and with Arsenal caught forward Smith ran on to tuck the ball away.
There was a little relief thereafter as on March 13 1972; the result in the cup was Arsenal 1 Derby County 0, the game being played (as the second replay) at Leicester City’s ground.
That game was noted as being the Arsenal of last season; cool and commanding, assured and certain, held together by McLintock, with Graham and Armstrong filling in the gaps where ever they occurred.
Arsenal looked quite happy for Derby to have most of the ball, waiting instead of the occasional break. Clough tried one of his famous tactical switches which involved removing McGovern and pushing McFarland into attack, and it did result in their best effort – but effort was all it was. Arsenal were through.
Arsenal in fact went on to the Cup Final but lost 1-0 to Leeds. In the League Arsenal finished in fifth.
The following season Arsenal challenged again and came in second, just three points behind Liverpool. But then came the collapse. 10th the following season, 16th in 1975, 17th in 1976, and in those last two seasons, there was serious talk of relegation.
As fast as the Uefa Cup-winning team and the double-winning side had arisen, it has fallen apart. Mee, it seemed, had known how to manage players who had never won anything. He just wasn’t so good at managing players who had just won it all.
100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.
Details of other series can be found on our home page and on the column on the right side of this page. In particular, you might like to note…
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.