Category Archives: History

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Rogues Gallery: Nicklas Bendtner

God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hamlet, the Danish prince. A man with a volatile nature. One moment on top of the world and the next hiding from it. It could be so easily Nicklas Bendtner. Unfortunately, Hamlet is a man of introspection, whilst Bendtner never seems to learn from his often repeated mistakes. Hamlet is a character, whilst Bendtner is a mere caricature. He has become a person so hated by some fans, one fan said of his being let go at the end of 2014 season:-

Bendtner released ? Should of staked him on the centre spot tonight and let the jnr gunners at him

— SheWoreAYellowRibbon (@SheWore) May 23, 2014

 

Its hard to think that many, many years ago (less than 10 even), Nicklas Bendtner was held in pretty high esteem by the club and even some fans. Where did it all go so horribly wrong?

If Bendtner signifies anything about Arsenal and Arsene Wenger‘s management it is the importance of youth and the changing policy towards having English and foreign players within the premier league. One year after Arsene Wenger joined, Howard Wilkinson introduced the Charter for Quality, which meant that players under the age of 12 had to live within an hour of the training facilities and an hour and a half for 15 year olds. Therefore, Arsenal’s youth policy often meant looking beyond these area’s and borders and abroad for players and housing them near the training facilities of the club. Therefore, Arsenal had signed Bendtner from F.C. Copenhagen in 2004 The Official Arsenal Opus a book written in 2006 but published in 2011 discussed how Bendtner was seen as ‘another highly promising striker’ [alongside Arturo Lupoli]. The beginning of what would be termed project youth.

The introduction of Nicklas Bendtner for his debut as a sub in 2005 against Sunderland and a further two games that season hardly informed us of what was about to arrive at the club. At a time when Thierry Henry was seen as the focal point of the team, very few people could reach a feeling of self accomplishment and possibly arrogance except Nicklas. Philippe Auclair excellent book on Henry commented:-

The dressing room [of season 2005-6] of which Thierry was now undisputed leader was filled with newcomers, not all of whom – we’ll make an exception for Bendtner – had the force of character to claim a space of their own.

Any football player needs self confidence. A young player moving to a foreign country even more so, but Bendtner’s went way beyond self confidence, Bendtner seemed to suffer a Narcissistic personality disorder, which is :-

A person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and to others in the process.

I am no psychologist, but much of his behaviour seems to fit.

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Anyhow, after 3 games in 2005-6 Bendtner would be loaned (along with Johan Djourou) to Birmingham City in the championship for season 2006-7. In 38 appearances (plus for sub appearances) for the club he would score 11 times and get sent off once. Steve Claridge commented of him in an article of his time there  (rather ironically now):-

Some say he is a target man, but that’s too simplistic because he was prepared to come short, link play and commit defenders, finding other players who were unmarked because of his own good play. At times he needs to keep closer to his partner, because he’s usually the one to flick the ball on. But his work rate was good throughout and, the more you watch, the more you realise that this is a player blessed with a fabulous all-round talent. I just hope that, as with all players who find the game relatively easy, he’s prepared to work at the things that don’t come naturally as well as the things that do.

Proof of Bendtner’s self confidence was on display from the start when he started dating the Birmingham City manager’s, Steve Bruce, daughter Amy (see picture below). Bruce had to come home from work and find his star striker in his own home! Hardly what many employee’s would do unless you are Nicklas Bendtner. That he then dumped her whilst the Bruce family were on holiday in Marbella hardly made him popular either. At least his goals helped Birmingham get promoted though.

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After a successful season, Bendtner returned to Arsenal. I was fortunate enough to see his first goal for Arsenal in a 2-0 win over Newcastle in the League Cup , with a great header at the back post [video below was the only one I could find of the goal].

This was Bendtner at his best. He worked hard, was industrious and seemed a confident lad.

But for all Bendtner’s faults (and my god, there are a few), I’ll always hold him in high esteem for his first league goal on 22 December 2007. Against Spurs. In a season in which Arsenal had lost Thierry Henry to Barcelona in the summer, few had given us a chance. But there we stood. Top of the league and playing Spurs at home before Christmas. In a game where Arsenal were often slow, Spurs often (though it pains me to say) were often on top. Although Adebayor had put us 1-0 up, Spurs equalised in the second half. Then, disaster. Spurs got a penalty, with the odious Robbie Keane to take it. Up he stepped and Almunia saved (a term rarely used in a sentence).

Still one all. Spurs had already brought on the saviour of British football (and Spurs), Tom Huddlestone. All week prior to the game, the British press had been talking up his importance especially in the derby match. How true. Four minutes after the save, Bendtner came on as a sub just as we were about to take a corner. A gentle jog up to the front post and then a burst of speed as Cesc corner comes in. Huddlestone just watches. 2-1 Arsenal and top of the league.

What could possibly go wrong from now on in Bendtner’s career? Well, just so much really.

Even in his opening season, Bendtner could not help but get into some form of trouble. Most famously when Arsenal were playing Spurs in a cup semi-final in 2008 and he and Adebayor came to blows. Adebayor said afterwards of the incident:-

I had a little difficult moment with Nicklas Bendtner.There was a rule at Arsenal where no one is allowed to come into the dressing room with trainers or house shoes on. I cannot understand why Nicklas came every day with his shoes on.

Nicklas, you are a footballer, I am a footballer, maybe I am better than you, maybe you are better than me but you have to respect everyone. There are rules saying you cannot come into the dressing-room with your house shoes. Take them off.

According to Adebayor, Bendtner “never took them off and things started from there. I cannot accept that”.

Bendtner was also remembered for his first season in 2007/8 for his clearance off the line against Liverpool in the quarters of the ECL. Unfortunately it was against his team mate Alexander Hleb against Liverpool:-

Although Bendtner had ability, for example the hat tricks he scored against Porto in 2010 :-

A game I think Tim might recall?

Or even the hat trick against Leyton Orient in the F.A cup:-

Nothing can mask that Bendtner was a good player, but if one game sums Bendtner up it was the miss in 2011 against Barcelona Camp Nou.

Kevin Whitcher described it thus:-

Going through on goal with just the keeper to beat, Nicklas Bendtner – ‘one of the world’s top strikers’ as described by himself – demonstrated the classy technique that makes him so feared by opposition defenders. If only. With an illusionary first touch that negated lessons that had been installed into him by Arsene Wenger, Bendtner ensured that the one and only chance of pulling off a shock result in Camp Nou was gone.

If his performances on the pitch were laughable, his attitude off it was worse. Where does one start. The shirt number of 52 for the amount of thousand per weeks he was paid? Maybe whilst on loan in Sunderland going on a wrecking spree in Newcastle with Lee Cattermole whilst drunk? Perhaps going to collect his pizza in Copenhagen, going down the wrong side of the road whilst under the influence?  His saying he did not want to return to Arsenal in 2011 but did so in 2013? His flagellation of a taxi in Denmark whilst Drunk? Maybe It is starting his own jewelry firm? Its a selection of them all. Thank god he never did anything foolish, like meet a princess or a member of the royal family and have a child. Wow. He did that too.

Although Nicklas Bendtner did come back this season after a loan period at Juventus (9 appearance and 0 goals), in many ways it was because Yaya Sanogo was injured and we had no one else to cover Olivier Giroud. Although he did score two goals this season. One against Hull City:-

One against Cardiff (in which he got immediate injured. Could only happen to Bendtner):-

By the end of this season I think Wenger felt incredibly let down by Bendtner. His whole ‘project youth’ had come to an end and Bendtner was the last remnant of this. Bendtner had been rewarded well and played badly. In many ways Wenger should take responsibility for this, especially when at one stage he was using him as a winger when he had neither pace nor guile for a tall man to cross (a tall man like…..Bendtner). He was also paying a lot of money on a long contract to a player who was just too arrogant and often lazy. By march 2014, Bendtner beating up a taxi had finally meant Wenger had enough. He said of the incident:-

Nobody gave him (Bendtner) any permission to go to Copenhagen. He will be fined for that.

Wenger therefore used Sanogo more and Bendtner was frozen out. His last cup game against Coventry, where he had a quite shocking game. Below, is one of his two misses:-

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Bendtner’s contract expired this year. Its hard to think he’s just 26. In his time at Arsenal he has scored 45 league and cup goals (I never knew it was that many):-

He had played 80 games and 85 as a substitute (a goal ratio of 1 in four games). To nearly all fans he was a terrible disappointment. He had talent. He had confidence. But he had no humility and believed he ‘was the worlds greatest striker that ever lived’, leaving him open to much ridicule from Arseblog who referred to him by the acronym TGSTEL.

My favorite Bendtner moment was him getting to enjoy watching Arsenal win the F.A cup [added because I still enjoy seeing it]:-

Then possibly my second would be watching twitter to see what Gav on Shewore and his twitter account would rant at Bendtner. My favourite? Well, the one below had the least profanity.

Nice to see nick Bendtnerget a shirt number with his worth in pence #NB23

— SheWoreAYellowRibbon(@SheWore) September 6, 2013

I would say good luck Bendtner, but its hard to say it when he seems to waste what he had. I mean, look at the picture at the start of the article?

Kenny Sansom

Rogues Gallery: Kenny Sansom

By Les Crang

Whilst recently on holiday I noted via some Arsenal blogs that Kenny Sansom, former Arsenal captain, had fallen on hard times. Kenny had returned to his two vices of gambling and drink and was sleeping on a park bench. A sad demise of an Arsenal legend, but not uncommon for Arsenal, with players such as Paul Vaessen and Tommy Caton who both died young from their heroin and alcohol problems respectively. What surprised me was that very few bloggers really knew or had seen Sansom play. That is a shame. If anyone has read my articles on the Rogues Gallery on 1980’s characters they will note the ‘dark ages’ and much of the crap we had to watch, but Kenny was never one of them. He often gave 100% for Arsenal and England. So before I start, I honestly hope Kenny can overcome his problems.

For Arsenal left-back we’ve had a few cracking one’s. Firstly, Arsenal legend Eddie Hapgood during the Herbert Chapman era. Then during the 1971 double team we had Bob Mcnab, one of a very few internationals in the team. After Bob came Sammy Nelson, a mad Irishman who mooned the north bank after scoring an equaliser against Coventry because the fans had spent the entire match barracking him. Then comes Kenny. After Kenny left came ‘nutty’ or Nigel Winterburn, a man known for his tenacity and for putting Brian McClair off his penalty in 1988 cup game. Then we have perhaps the greatest left back England has had (but a first rate scumbag) in Ashley Cole. To me, Kenny was the greatest Arsenal left-back and possibly the third best captain we’ve had. But don’t trust me, trust Rab MacWilliams who wrote in his wonderful book The Greatest: Arsenal’s Best 11 on his choice of left backs:-

My greatest ever team, if chosen solely by ability, would include Cole, but circumstances and temperament rule him out. Winterburn was a great favourite and a hard working servant for Arsenal, but he did not possess the urbane, unflappable personality required to blend in with the players he will have around him. The choice, therefore, is Kenny Sansom, who will bring intelligence, authority, application and technique to the greatest team, while Nigel sits quietly on the bench, awaiting his reappearance in the limelight.

Kenny Sansom had started his career at Crystal Palace, making his debut in 1975. In total, Kenny would have 175 appearances for Crystal Palace and would make his England debut whilst there. The team had come up from the old third division to the first division, under such eminent managers as Malcolm Allison and Terry Venables and is talked of as the team of 1980’s when coming up as champions of the second division in 1979. Whilst at Palace a young Kenny Sansom would be coached by George Graham, a former Arsenal player and future Arsenal manager, who would have an impact on Kenny’s career at the Arsenal.

The signing of Kenny Sansom in August 1980 was one of the oddest Arsenal transfers of the time to be honest. Having bought some perm haired striker called Clive Allen in July from QPR for our first £1,000,000 player, Terry Neill had a change of heart on the need for a striker, and swapped Clive Allen along with Paul Barron (our excellent back up goalkeeper). When I meet Terry Neill I asked Terry about this transfer and this is what he said:-

I then asked about Clive Allen. I personally can’t stand him, but that is because of his Spurs association. Terry said ‘Clive. Oh Clive. Lovely lad [Terry's favourite world]. Smashing lad. I went for him because we knew Frank [Stapleton] was going. We went to QPR to see their chairman. A car salesman. Me and Dennis Hill-Wood [Peter's father]. Their chairman was telling us he could do the deal on credit and everything. [Terry then said Dennis was not impressed]. In the end Dennis looked up and said “No. We will pay cash.’ [Classic "Arsenal are the Bank of England" put down].

I then pointed out Clive had lasted 2 months before being swapped Kenny Sansom. Terry said

Well, it was a good deal. Sammy Nelson [the regular full-back] knee was going. He was off to Brighton soon after. Also, Paul Barron was part of the deal. Paul was a fantastic keeper, and Palace needed a goalie [I think Budgie was playing there at the Time]. Paul was a tremendous keeper, but Pat [Jennings] just kept playing. It was a good deal all round.

I did point out I thought we got a good deal. Kenny Sansom was often the only highlight in the early and mid 1980′s of Arsenal. Captain, Full-back and often our only English international.

Kenny though could have joined Liverpool at the same time as he joined us. Kenny had rung home to tell his mum to inform her that he had signed for Arsenal. She told him the great Bob Paisley (unknighted, but still winner of 3 European titles at Liverpool) had rung to speak to him about signing for Liverpool. Fortunately, Kenny’s head had been turned by the marble halls of Highbury and the idea of staying in the capital appealed to Kenny. On joining, Sansom said to The Times [licence required]:-

Allen won’t be disappointed with Palace. They have a good set-up there. I would have been happy to stay at Selhurst Park if Arsenal bad not come in for me.

For me, just supporting Arsenal around this time, swapping a striker for a full-back seemed odd to say the least. It kind of summed Arsenal up really, other teams like Manchester City and Manchester United were spending £1,000,000 on strikers and Arsenal bought the first million pound full-back. As Willie Young even said later:-

It did seem a strange move – swapping Clive with Kenny.

Strange maybe, but Kenny would prove his worth in the seasons to come.

Although Sammy Nelson had been a handy full-back, Kenny was better. Only 5’ 7”, he was never going to be a corner king with diving headers, but he could cover his fly up and down the wing all day, never tiring it seemed and he could put in a cross too and keep up and tackle the trickiest of wingers. He was also consistent. In fact he was so consistent for Arsenal he was an England regular 77 times whilst at Arsenal. An international record only superseded by Patrick Vieira in 2005.

As said so many times in these articles, the 1980’s up to 1986-7 were worth forgetting. One of the few good things was Kenny’s performance, but even he suffered that self destructive urge that Arsenal seem to often to suffer in his first F.A Cup final game against Everton in January 1981. A month after beating a dire Everton 2-1, we got beaten 2-0 in the 3rd round of the F.A Cup. Kenny slicing the ball into his own net to give them the lead. In his biography, Kenny says how upset he was, but then adds something which seemed to underline Don Howe and Terry Neill’s teams when he talks about the joking on the team bus home, saying:-

We shouldn’t have been that happy. We should have cared more. With hindsight  the speed of how quickly we’d all managed to get over this FA cup disappointment was a travesty. We were all playing well as individuals. But as for knitting together and going out there as a unit who could deliver enough to be winners, it just wasn’t happening. We were way off the mark and so the silverware eluded us.

Amen to that.

I could consider Kenny and his games for the Arsenal, but in many ways Kenny to me is a figure of his fun, his problems with drink and gambling problems and his honest and forthright views and most importantly that naff cap he wore when we beat Liverpool in the Milk cup in 1987.

Kenny’s forthright views can be best underlined when he and Graham Rix learned Neill was going to sign Lee Chapman [the Chamakh of his day]. Kenny told the manager that Lee ‘was crap and Garry Thompson a much better player.’ Not that Terry listened.

Of his drinking, well this was a fairly well known secret at Arsenal. Kenny’s nickname reflected his love of booze when the press called him Mr.Chablis. Ironically, prior to joining Arsenal, Kenny rarely drank and disliked the taste of beer. It was only after meeting his old man after an England game in Switzerland that he first got drunk. After that, Sansom’s drink became legendary, with Spurling wrote :-

Tony Adams learned how to booze in the mid-80s alongside Arsenal’s infamous drinking crew Kenny Sansom and Graham Rix.

By 1985, Kenny Sansom was made Arsenal captain, but his problems with drinking and gambling were still there. In his biography wrote:-

I was still gambling and my drinking was on the increase. It’s really strange how well I was still able to play. In fact it was a bloody marvel most of us [players] were able to play. In fact it was a bloody marvel most of us were able to play as well as we did, given the drink culture that was growing at an alarming rate.

As a player, Kenny was about to have a new manager in George Graham in 1986 who would bring about his first (and only) cup final appearance — the Littlewoods cup in 1987. I could obviously talk about the semi against Spurs  (but its been covered before in Gunners’ Glory: 14 Milestones in Arsenal’s History) or even the final against Liverpool (check this for a good source Proud to Say That Name: Arsenal Dream Team, but for me it’s the god awful cap (see below) he wore whilst collecting the cup.

Of the cap, Kenny said:-

Lots of fans wanted to know why i was wearing a dodgy Arsenal cap, and I don’t know why. Someone must have plonked it on my head and I had far too many wonderful thoughts racing through my mind to think about taking it off. All I wanted to do was get my hands on that beautiful Littlewoods Cup.

Well, by the following year, when George Graham bought Nigel Winterburn from Wimbledon Kenny went ballistic on George for buying, what he regarded as a replacement to him. Kenny said of the incident when he had gone to the Sun and wrote ‘Sign me or Sell me’ :-

It was I  who was my own worst enemy, not George and Arsenal… the tabloid headline had wound George up; perhaps that was what I wanted. I’m not sure. All I know is that I wasn’t happy and something had to change. I had reacted to a situation that, in my opinion, would never have arisen had I been properly informed George’s reasoning. But that again was the arrogance of the booze and of always having to blame someone else.

Within a month of the article, Kenny had been dropped from the team and lost his captaincy to Tony Adams. By December he’d been moved on to Newcastle.

Since retiring from football Kenny’s problems have been well documented. Even though he seemed to have turned a corner when Tony Adams got him to come to Sporting Chance Clinic to face up to his problems and Kenny had remarried and was working at the Emirates Legend tours. But as said previously, Kenny seems to have fallen back in with the booze and gambling. Which is pretty sad.

What I would say is that reading Kenny’s excellent biography To cap it all Kenny has had his family and fans there to help and criticise Kenny. The family and fans support can be seen when I found out via the excellent new podcast A Bergkamp Wonderland that Kenny’s nephew had started a twitter feed called @getsansomsober (no longer active) in which:-

[Kenny’s Nephew] Raising awareness & increasing the already amazing amount of support for Kenny Sansom and people that are homeless/suffer from alcoholism.

Get Sansom Sober : justgiving.com/getsansomsober

This site has presently over 2600 followers (though only £300 in money raised).

Anyhow, in a time where Arsenal are offering over £40,000,000 for a player who has never shown a love for any team but himself, our first million pound player seems to be struggling with his ‘inner demons’. Having watched Kenny consistently play a high standard for us in a period in the 1980’s, I think like many of us fans hope he overcomes them and I hope (and most likely expect) the club are helping him. Come on, Kenny.

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Anatomy of Arsenal: Tottenham 0 Arsenal 5 1978

By Les Crang

If you were only going to win two games in the season, they had to be the two against Arsenal. There was no way you would do anything less than go out and die against the Gunners. Crossing over to Highbury I found the attitude just as strong. Pat Jennings

When you look back over the years of Arsenal in the 1970’s it begins well, slumps in the middle and improves in the later years . Lets not forget in the 1960’s we had won nothing, although we had made two league cup finals (losing to Leeds and Swindon). Moribund would be the best word to use for Arsenal. After Arsenal had won the double in 1971, Arsenal had gone into decline, with us finish 16th in Bertie Mee’s last season in 1975-6. The time for change was needed.

In 1977, Arsenal had signed a new manager in Terry Neill and he had come from Spurs as their manager. As important as Terry was the reintroduction of Don Howe as the coach. Don Howe had famously left the club at the end of the 1970-71 team to become manager of West Bromwich Albion. Prior to his departure, Arsenal skipper Frank McLintock showed how highly he was regarded when he ‘released a statement, purporting to be from all the players, expressing concern that the directors would even consider letting Howe leave the club.’ Howe’s attempts at management ended in failure, but as a coach he was regarded very highly by the double winning team. His reintroduction at Arsenal led one of Arsenal’s all time greats (in my opinion) to say of him (Liam Brady):-

He is the type of coach who will discuss a particular tactic with his players for age, then remind them that all the best devised plans in the game can be, and will be, wrecked by one stroke of individual genius.

And when he says that, you know that he has found the simple way of telling you how magical football can be.

Howe’s return is often overlooked, but his coming back as coach was one of Neill’s biggest signings.

The season of 1976-7 had no trophies and mid table whilst Spurs were relegated. In the following two of Arsenal’s new signings Alan Hudson and Malcolm Macdonald had helped push us to the F.A cup final, where we had disappointing lost 1-0 to Ipswich Town:-

We had also come fifth and made it into Europe for the first time since the season of 1971-72 in the UEFA cup. We had also made the Semi-final of the league cup, losing out to Liverpool. Arsenal seemed to be on the rise. On the negative side, Spurs had been promoted back to the First Division (but not as champions, but third behind Bolton and Southampton, winning only on goal difference from Brighton and Hove Albion) .

Neill had also signed some other players though and if there is anything better than beating Spurs it’s buying their players. We had started with my favourite goalkeeper big Pat Jennings for a mere £40,000. Then we signed their centre half big Willie Young in march 1977, even though he was reviled for taking out Frank Stapleton in his last North London Derby. After a disastrous debut against Ipswich, Willie said of one fan:-

An irate Arsenal fan appeared from nowhere and began hurling verbal abuse at him. ‘This guy started calling me all sorts: a prick; a Scottish wanker. “Why don’t you fuck off back to Spurs, you useless bastard?” he asked.’ Lesser men may have been intimidated, but the fighter in Young rose to the surface. ‘I had my family with me, and there was no way I was going to be spoken to in that way. So I told him that if he didn’t bugger off, I’d throttle him. The guy backed off and scarpered. Although I’d proved my point, I realised I had a massive job on my hands to win over the Arsenal fans.’

Three weeks later, as Arsenal prepared to take on Spurs, Young’s form hadn’t noticeably improved. The Islington Gazette predicted that Young would be ‘rested for the match, in order to give him time to adapt to the rigours of life at Highbury’. Yet when the Arsenal team trotted on to the pitch at 2.55, Young was there. The reaction from both sets of fans can best be described as ‘unique’. ‘I was the first player to be booed by both sets of fans at a north London derby,’

At full-back (or centre defence and midfield) was another ex spurs player by the name of Steve Walford. The other full back was the great servant and captain Pat Rice.

Alongside big Willie was a young Irish centre half by the name of David O’leary (voted 14th in the all time great list of Arsenal players), who had a gangly stance and was nicknamed ‘spider’. A player often overlooked as a defender with technique and capabilities. Terry Neill said of the defensive partnership :-

On the deck, David’s pace would sort out most problems, but if anything was in the air Willie would clear the danger.

In the midfield we had David Price, Graham Rix, Liam Brady and Steve Gatting. David Price had been a youth player. What is often forgotten about the 1970-1 double winning team was that Arsenal’s youth team won the cup, with Price in the team. In Robert Exley article The Unforgettable… Whatsisname : Unsung Arsenal heroes wrote:-

Though Price was often overshadowed by the sweet skills of Brady and Rix……my father assures me that he was a talent grossly underrated by Neill.

Price was also a hard working midfielder.

Steve Gatting, was the ultimate utility player, best remembered as being Mike Gatting younger brother. Meanwhile, Graham Rix was:-

Perhaps an inside-left rather than a natural wing……lacking an essential change of pace, but his left foot was a precise and productive figure.

As for Liam Brady. Well, what can you say. Brian Glanville wrote of him :-

The splendid left-footed player, a supreme strategist and at times goalscorer as well, had been coming to Highbury in his school holidays from the age of 13, having been discovered felicitously by the Gunners Welsh scout, who happened to be visiting Dublin. Brady began out on the left wing, where he fared well enough, but it was when he moved subsequently to his natural position of inside-left that one would see the best of him, a playmaker in the Arsenal tradition exemplified by Alex James.

We had also signed a midfielder from Wolves by the name of Alan Sunderland for £220,000. Sunderland would later be converted to striker, when it became clear that Malcolm MacDonald’s injured knee kept recurring and would eventually curtail his career at 29. Supporting up front was a young republic of Ireland striker called Frank Stapleton who ‘had come through the youth ranks with O’leary and Brady and made it to the first team in 1975. He was never a prolific scorer, but his ability in the air and on the ground provided constant menace to the opposition and he would invariably create as many goals as he scored.’

The season of 1978-9 had started fairly well and prior to the North London derby on December 23rd 1978, Arsenal had lost 3 games and were fourth and just a mere four points behind leaders Liverpool. Arsenal had already scored five prior to the derby, in a 5-1 victory over QPR in September (they would Also put five past Chelsea in March). Prior to the match Arsenal had beaten Derby 2-0 at home, whilst Spurs had lost 2-0 at Old Trafford, The match prior to Christmas was what every Arsenal fan wanted for Christmas. A real spanking of Spurs at White Hart lane (see below).

A often heard cliche about away matches is ‘score early to silence the crowd’. Well, Alan Sunderland would score after a mere 43 seconds, when, with Arsenal pressing, the Spurs player Pratt, belted the ball back from the Arsenal half back to his goalkeeper. Alan Sunderland ran on to the ball and with his second touch smashed it past Kendall from just inside the box. Although Kendall got a touch the ball hit the underside of the bar to roll in. 1-0 to the Arsenal. On twenty minutes Willie Young fell unceremoniously on his arse (not a rare site), Spurs permed Striker Colin Lee lashed it wide from a difficult angle.

Having missed the equalising goal, Alan Sunderland attacked down the Spurs right, trying to get pass Lee. Whilst barged to the floor, Sunderland attacked the ball (and Lee’s shins). Lee lost the plot and pushed Sunderland’s face to the ground, with the linesman having to part them. No booking and a free kick to Spurs. We’d got under their skin and not even 30 minutes on the clock. Spurs reverted to type and after Arsenal had cleared a cross, Osvaldo Ardiles took out Sunderland on the attack. At last Ardiles was booked.

In the 38th minute Arsenal again pressed in the middle of the park and Liam Brady, from virtually the left wing put a flighted ball 35 yards over the Spurs defence. Again, Sunderland controlled with his chest, fainted right and moved past the defender on his left. Again, Kendall got a hand to the ball and the ball cannoned off the underside of the bar. In it went. Before half time Spurs ‘fine’ captain left his foot in on Steve Gatting and a melee of player caused a minor ruckus. No booking and Perryman feigning he had been stamped on. As one fan remembered it ‘At half-time the players left the field to a raucous chorus of “Alan, Alan Sunderland” from the Park Lane.’

Early in the second half Sunderland got his head on to a corner and smashed the ball on top the bar. Arsenal were totally in command now. On 11 minutes 8 seconds of the youtube video, Rix gets the ball outside the box. Moves inside, ghosting past 3 Spurs defenders and chipping a  ball to the back post, where David Price bullets a header downwards, only for Kendall to just get it.

Then, it happens. You just watch a master class from Liam Brady. After Rix charges down a Hoddle attack, Rix releases Brady on the left wing and two Spurs running backwards to slow Brady down. Brady charges past the defenders chips a similar ball to Rix’s earlier but slightly higher and with Frank Stapleton at the back stick to head home a ball only a foot off the ground. 3-0. As another blogger wrote:-

By this point, the Arsenal fans were singing, “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way! Oh what fun it is to see The Arsenal win away!”

Then came ‘the’ goal. Liam Brady took the ball off Taylor about ten yards outside the box and advanced a little and hit a curler into the corner (see below):-

Brady later said of the goal:-

I scored one of the best goals of my career, bending the ball with the outside of my left foot from the left-hand side of the area.

Then, with a few minutes left Pat Jennings booted skywards with Stapleton knocking on for Sunderland to complete only the second hat trick scored by an Arsenal player (the other being Ted Drake. 5-0 to Arsenal. That was the full time score.

So why is this as a defining match? Well, ironically the 1978-9 ended with us winning a trophy. The 1978-9 team had lost some of the more ‘temperamental’ players in Alan Hudson and Malcolm Macdonald. Though Willie Young would still be there to cause as much anguish to Terry Neill as possible. The game also proved a few other things. One being we were too inconsistent to win the league. For example, the next game we lost 2-1 at Highbury to WBA and ended up in 7th position with Spurs finishing 11th. But we also proved we were a good cup team, as was proved in the ‘5 minute final’ in may of 1979.

Also, it proved that we needed a great coach in Don Howe and what a player Liam Brady was. In his biography though Brady is highly critical of the manager Terry Neill and his lack of quality and depth in the team. Neill had insinuated he could have brought players like Johan Neeskens:-

Amongst other players. Instead of signing a world class player, like he should, Neill signed the highly proficient Brian Talbot. A good player with a good engine but not an exciting player to say the least. No wonder Brady became disillusioned in Arsenal lack of wanting to win the league, leaving in 1980 with Stapleton leaving a year later.

Five years later Arsenal’s decline was complete when Spurs would beat us 5-0 at the lane. But that game on the 23 December 1978 was a game of what could have been. Arsenal had a team that could have gone on to great things, with Brady running the midfield and Stapleton heading them in. It was a chance Terry Neill should have taken.