Category Archives: History


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.


Rogues Gallery: Christopher Wreh

By Les Crang

Some people are born great some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. -Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

There’s a term ‘one season wonder’ and in Arsenal’s double winning season on 1997-98 it seemed Arsenal got three one season wonders. In goal we had Alex Manninger, whose penalty saving exploits in the FA Cup against Port Vale and West Ham United pushed us to the final. In midfield was England’s ‘next new thing’ in Stephen Hughes and then, up front, Christopher Wreh. I’m never sure if he remembered for being Liberia’s second best footballer or being being related to George Weah, the best Liberian player, but for one (very short) moment in time he was a world beater in the Arsenal attack.

Christopher Wreh had joined us from Arsene Wenger’s old team Monaco in the summer of 1997. Kevin Whticher wrote:-

A couple of months after the arrival of his team-mates, Liberian striker Christopher Wreh also made the journey from Monte Carlo to north London……Wreh’s move was held up because, like Nicolas Anelka there was some dispute over whether or not the 22 year old was free to move. To avoid a legal battle, Arsenal again stumped up £500,000 to get their man. One of the advantages of Wreh’s arrival was that, being able to speak both English (one of the main languages in Liberia) and French, he could act as an interpreter between the English and French players.

Whilst at Monaco he had played a mere 13 games scoring 3 goals and during a loan spell at French club Guingamp he scored 10 goals in 33 appearance, not bad figures, but nothing to write home about.

The first time we really got to see Wreh in a major match was the Manchester United game at Highbury. In a game in which David Platt scored a late winner, our memory of Wreh’s even later miss against them showed his ‘skill’ [see about 5 minute 16 seconds of video below].

Of the miss Wreh said:-

[I missed] an absolute sitter. The ball came in late to me, and I knew I had a good chance to beat Schmeichel, and to make a real name for myself. But I flapped at the ball, and somehow dragged it wide when it looked easier to score. The crowd wasn’t too happy with me, but luckily the final whistle went soon afterwards anyway. If we’d lost, we’d have been seven points behind United. As it was we only trailed them by a point. The confidence sides take from beating teams like United cannot be overestimated, although ironically, we didn’t really play consistently well until the New Year. But the win against United made all the difference at the end of the season. Games against them were turning into the proverbial six pointers.

Hardly an auspicious introduction to his Arsenal career.

Atkins said of the 1997-8 team :-

The core of the team was so strong that for a (brief) while even Christopher Wreh looked like a top-flight striker, so while Anelka’s nine goals certainly contributed to Arsenal’s double, he wasn’t yet the crucial figure he would become the following season.

As the season went on, Arsenal would lose Ian Wright to injury and Dennis Bergkamp through suspension and injury and as a result Wenger used Christopher Wreh. Wreh got his first Arsenal goal against Wimbledon. Soar wrote about Wreh against Wimbledon:-

For both the Wimbledon and United games, Wenger rotated his young strikers. Anelka, whose form had been fitful in the early part of 1998 was replaced by Christopher Wreh. The young Liberian bubbled with confidence as he lined up for his first start of the season, against the Dons. Wreh on 22 minutes gave Arsenal deserved a half-time lead.

A few weeks later we played against Bolton at the end of March, at the Reebok:-

Once more Christopher Wreh stepped into the breach, playing alongside fellow rookie Nicolas Anelka. A fourth consecutive premiership 1-0 duly arrived courtesy of a sharply taken 20 yarder from the young Liberian on 47 minutes. Then, 15 minutes after taking the lead, Martin Keown was dismissed for a second bookable offence and Steve Bould replaced Wreh, but Bolton rarely troubled the gunners rearguard.

Brian Glanville wrote of the period:-

Yet with or without Bergkamp, and Vieira somehow largely surviving, Arsenal embarked on an imperious run of 10 successive League victories. A mercurial little Liberian centre-forward, Christopher Wreh, he too was from the Monaco club, added thrust to the attack when called on, not least in a dire overall performance at Wimbledon where Arsenal won 1-0.

It was in this period where he got his own song ‘“Riding along on the Christ-oph-er Wreh” went the memorable anthem conceived in honour of the Liberian striker who arrived at Arsenal in 1997.’

In April, Ian Wright was still injured and Arsenal had a cup semi against championship team Wolves. Wreh was picked up front alongside Nicolas Anelka. Within 12 minutes, Anelka broke from the halfway line and went on one of his famous galloping runs. With the outside of his boot he moved the ball to Wreh coming into the box, and shot across the goalkeeper who buried it into the corner. Arsenal were on the way to Wembley with a double on the cards and our new manager had a striker that had scored 3 very important goals in 1-0 wins. 3 goals in five starts.

3 games later, Wreh would score his last league goal in a 5-0 victory over Wimbledon at Highbury.

Wreh did play in the famous 4-0 victory over Everton, which bought Arsenal the title:-

Wreh described it as ‘a beautiful match, a beautiful team performance, on a beautiful day, with the growing realisation that Arsenal were becoming a beautiful team.’

He added:-

In the dressing room before the match, Arsène Wenger talked about the fact that we were on the threshold of a great achievement, and how wonderful it would be if we could win the title at Highbury. He was extremely calm, as ever, and urged us to go out and play our natural game; to relax. I looked around the room, and saw what this could mean to the others.

Wreh was then surprisingly chosen for the cup final against Newcastle with Bergkamp out injured and Ian Wright left on the bench. An Anelka goal helped us go on to a 2-0 win:-

Wreh was substituted off in the 62 minute for David Platt. Platt was a man making his last appearance for the club but more than a few fans were annoyed Wright didn’t get the farewell appearance he deserved.

By the following season Christopher Wreh, striker of vital goals in the double campaign, couldn’t rediscover his form, although the season did start well. When Arsenal played Manchester United in the charity shield, they beat them 3-0. After Overmars put us 1-0 up, Arsenal went all out, destroying Manchester United expensive center back purchase in Jaap Stam. The Mirror wrote:-

A first-half goal by dangerous Dutch winger Marc Overmars was the body punch to United’s ribs that sucked out all the breath after they dominated the opening skirmishes.

Then, a soul-destroying strike apiece from youngsters Christopher Wreh and Nicolas Anelka sent them crashing to the deck after the break.

It was all done with the same sharpness of mind, fleetness of feet and strength of body which carried Arsene Wenger’s team to Double glory last season.

As the season of 1998-9 became a battle between the best team (Arsenal) against the best squad (Manchester United), Arsenal strengthened his team with Nwankwo Kanu from Inter and the extremely profligate Kaba Diawara chances became less and less for a team player like Wreh. By the following season Wenger had signed Davor Suker and Thierry Henry and Wreh moved on, becoming the typical journeyman.

By 2000, Wreh moved on to such clubs as Birmingham, Den Bosch in Holland and St.Mirren. By 2006 an overweight Wreh was playing in Indonesia for Perseman Manokwari. By 2007 Christopher Wreh retired. Last year he resurfaced when a fan went in search of him [video below]:-

He’s almost the size of Steve Bruce now.

When you think of the 1998 double winning team, it’s usually the Dutch skills of Overmar and Bergkamp, or Ian Wright’s goal against Bolton to get the goalscorer record:-

or even Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira busting up the midfield. But that team was often required to dig in with bit part players like Gilles Grimandi, Luis Boa Moarte, Alex Manninger and especially Christopher Wreh. Although some of them were not there for long, their contribution was invaluable. Its quite weird, I couldn’t see a journeyman player like that come in to a team and making a difference, but back then, Arsene Wenger seemed to have a golden touch for these unknown players.

Anatomy of the Arsenal: Benfica 1991

This is a new series running in conjunction with Rogues Gallery, as me and Tim felt we needed to ‘freshen up’ some articles. We therefore discussed looking at some historic matches in the Arsenal lexicon and what impact they had up the team. What went right? What went wrong? This is based loosely around Jonathan Wilson’s excellent book Anatomy of England: A History in Ten Matches and Gunners’ Glory: 14 Milestones in Arsenal’s History by Graham Weaver. I’m not a major tactical genius like Tim, so these are only my presentations of how I felt the games went. If you feel I’ve been unfair in what I say, please say so on the comments below. – LC

by Les Crang

The season of 1990-1991 was one of glorious success apart from three defeats: the 6-2 defeat to Manchester United in the League cup at Highbury, the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea which was Arsenal’s only defeat in the League, and the FA Cup Semi defeat at Wembley to Spurs. Arsenal won the League but had come close to a double and an unthinkable (at the time) feat of going a whole season unbeaten. It was, however, a season in which just 18 league goals had been shipped in the league and Arsenal had brought in a some exciting players and some effective players (more of that later).

The previous year we had won the title in spite of everyone. Chris Harris said of the team:-

Without the special ingredients needed to extend its shelf life, the ‘91 title can get overlooked when the conversation turns to Arsenal’s finest. But that’s unfair because the statistics and circumstances suggest that Graham’s second championship team was as potent any post-war Gunners’ side – with the possible exception of the bar raising, history-shredding invincible………Yes Graham was that close to beating Arsene Wenger to the punch by 13 years. Either way, his team did suffer fewer defects than any other top-flight side in the 20th century – a magnificent achievement.

In the season of 1990-1991 Arsenal’s two major signing had been another defender in Andy Linighan from Norwich City (even though we had Colin Pates, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and David O’leary) and we had also signed a Swedish winger that not many of us had seen except in the world cup in 1990, in which Sweden had lost every game (including to Scotland). That Swede was Anders Limpar and cost just over £1,000,000. Although we knew we needed a winger after losing Brian Marwood from the previous title winning team in 1989, he hardly seemed to have set the world alight in Italy at Cremonese.

Despite winning the title, the season of 1990-91 was full of ups and downs. We went the whole season with just one league defeat but got deducted two points for the battle of Old Trafford:-

Arsenal also had Alan Smith as our top scorer in our league (as he was in 1988-89) and were the top scorers in the first division. But we also suffered the indignity of Tony Adams being sent down for four months for drinking driving and his getting barricaded with carrots after being called a donkey. And of course, so much indignation often left the oppositions fans calling us ‘boring, boring Arsenal’? Really? We had Anders Limpar out on the wing, scoring 13 goals (11 in the league) including a hat-trick in the final game of the season against Coventry in a 6-1 victory.

On the other wing we had Paul Merson scoring 16 league and cup goals. We’d also added some youngsters such as the much underrated and maligned Kevin Campbell scoring an important 10 league and cup goals, as well as a young, aggressive midfielder called David Hillier. Of Hillier and the Arsenal midfield,it was said:-

The depth of Graham’s squad had drawn praise all season…..The midfielder had been shuffled around without any apparent weakness, but the fact was that until Hillier broke into the team, all the Arsenal midfield options involved players who were basically attacking in nature. Thomas, Davis, Rocastle, Jonsson, Merson and Limpar were all of this ilk.

In a recent Podcast Hillier said he felt he’d have helped Arsenal win that semi-final loss to Spurs (if he had been fit), as Mickey was a more attacking midfielder than he was, therefore Thomas being left to mark Paul Gascoigne seemed an error of judgement on George Graham’s part. Paul Davis also felt David O’leary should have been used as a more defensive measure.

A season of almost winning the double, almost going undefeated would seem to suggest Arsenal with a great future. Arsenal also looked like a team with some great attacking flair. And we were the first English team back in the European Cup since the Heysel Ban [the previous year Liverpool had won their LAST league title and still banned from European competition]. Nevertheless the impressive league form prompted Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson to comment that Arsenal had the platform to “do really well next season”, particularly in Europe.

If you wanted to face a competition where Arsenal seemed to have a chance of winning it (or at least thinking they could) this was it. The years previous winner, Red Star Belgrade had lost a load of players, lost  their stadium, and were a country at war. AC Milan had been banned after losing 1-0 at Marseille and walked off on the 87th minute after a light failure. The League champions representatives from Spain, Germany and Italy were Barcelona, Kaiserslautern and Sampdoria. Hardly the worst teams to face. And dark horses in the race would be Benfica and Glasgow Rangers (yup, Rangers).

After winning the title, most teams would go out and improve the side. Most sides. Not George. As with two years previous when we won the title, he had decided that the team did not need strengthening. In 1989 Arsenal’s only major team signing was Sigurdur Jonsson. In the pre-season of 1991 George did not even take his cheque book out. Worst still, he started arguing with his team that had won him two league titles in the last 3 years.

He’d already started to argue with the hero of Anfield in 1989 in Michael Thomas, who by the end of 1991 would move to Liverpool. Others would soon go the same way. Almost predictably, the season started disastrously with 1 point out of a possible 9 in the first 3 league games. But in Europe Arsenal had been given a 1st round against Austrian champions Austria Vienna, with us winning 6-1 and Alan Smith smashing in four goals:-

Afterwards, George said of the game:-

It was a great night to admire the strengths of English football, pace, skill at speed, determination, resilience. We imposed our style on them, and some of our football was excellent. If we could play like that every game, my life would be ideal.

In the return leg, Arsenal were given a warning when they were defeated 1-0 in Vienna. Prior to the next European game, and Arsenal leaking goals and showing no solidity George did the most obvious thing imaginable. He bought Ian Wright from Crystal Palace, even though we had Alan Smith, Kevin Campbell and a couple youth players called Andy Cole and Paul Dickov. Unfortunately, Wright would not eligible for our European games until after the 2nd round.

In the next round Arsenal had been drawn against Benfica, who a year previously had played AC Milan and lost 1-0 in the final:-

They were managed by a young Swede, named Sven Goran Eriksson, who had won the UEFA cup in 1982 with Gothenburg. Arsenal there had to play Benfica at the famous stadium of light and came away with a famous 1-1.


Fan Richard Montague described the game thus:-

It was electrifying and frightening. So much noise and colour and the size of the stadium! One corner was empty, but still there were over 80,000 there. We played really well after a shaky opening. Kevin Campbell’s goal after David Rocastle slipped him through was excellent – we went mad, all 2,000! But when Benfica scored through Isaias, it was as if a volcano had erupted. Suddenly all their fire crackers exploded, and my ear drums nearly split.

The second leg was set for the 6th of November 1991. More metaphorical fireworks would be going off this day and again it would be for Benfica. The month hardly started well, as on the Saturday before the Benfica, we played West Ham (a team relegated that season) at Highbury and lost 1-0.  Arsenal’s conservative performance was attributed to their upcoming European Cup match, something Graham categorically denied: “I’m not even thinking about next Wednesday.”

As it was a European game, ITV had the rights to show the game and I sat down to watch us win. Always foolish for a Arsenal fan. The team line up was as follows:-

Arsenal:- David Seaman - Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Colin Pates, Nigel Winterburn - Paul Davis, Anders Limpar, Paul Merson, David Rocastle † - Kevin Campbell, Alan Smith

Benfica :- Neno - Paulo Madeira, António Veloso, Vasili Kulkov - Rui Bento, Rui Costa, Vítor Paneira, Isaias, Stefan Schwarz, Jonas Thern - Sergei Yuran

If you notice one thing about the Arsenal team, its the omissions. The one persons name that stands out is Colin Pates. Pates was an average defender at best who we signed from Charlton for £500,000. Seeing we had also signed Andy Linighan and had Adams, Bould and O’leary as defenders, though Bould was on the bench, it would have been more practical to start with Bould. Bould had been our outstanding defender the previous season with his absence in our one defeat being often cited as the reason we lost to Chelsea. Many felt Bould should have been picked for England in this period. I asked Andy Kelly and a few other why he was not at least playing Linighan. Andy said:-

@plasticspam @RoyalArsenalMRA @garythegooner56 Think Graham wasn’t confident with Linighan or O’Leary.

— Andy Kelly (@Gooner_AK) May 8, 2014

Also, in the midfield one is quickly struck by the lack of ‘grit’ in Arsenals middle. Hillier would certainly have been a better option as Benfica had struck me as a team with a strong middle. The two Swede’s of Jonas Thern and Stefan Schwarz would push their international team to the semi-finals of the European Championship and World Cup in the next 3 years. Jonas Thern was my favourite of the two. A combative midfielder who got sent off in the world cup semi-final, one could see his class. It was always a concern to me that George Graham would consider buying Geoff Thomas from Crystal Palace at one stage but not Thern. With Schwartz in the middle, Benfica had a strong basis for ball retention with these two here working in unison. They also had Rui Costa an attacking midfielder as well as striker Isaias Marques Soares in the Benfica side.This was a damned good side. Well drilled as well, by an astute manager.

In the FA Cup semi-final the previous year, we had seen how playing on the counter against us could cost us dear. So it would prove again. In a game in which Kevin Campbell hit the post in the opening five minutes, Arsenal took the lead, via Colin Pates (his only goal). But just before half-time  Isaias got the equaliser. Spurling wrote:-

Campbell almost shattered the goal frame with an explosive shot and Alan Smith fired inches wide. Then Isaias, our torturer in Lisbon got into gear and thumped in the equaliser. Extra time kicked in and frankly Arsenal panicked. In Tony Adams words, we employed ‘helter skelter’ tactics. Alan Smith shot into the despairing north bank when only a touch was needed. Tony Adams shinned his shot against the post and we resorted to desperate punts forwards to the heads of Smith and Campbell. Twice, though, arch ball snaffler Stefan Schwarz fed Isaias and Kularov killer balls, and Arsenal were out, beaten 4-2 on aggregate.

Highlights can be seen below:–

The next day The Guardians David Lacey wrote*:-

Arsenal went out of the european cup last night because they did not understand the body language of continental football when they met it at the highest level. For a time they waved their arms and shouted at foreigners to good effect but they ended up tongue-tied and left the arena more than slightly dumbfounded…….Once the Portuguese champions had realised that a midfield propped up by the busy Merson was little more than a curtain of beads, their movements whirled and eddied Arsenal half, so much so that their victory became inevitability in extra-time whereas earlier in the match had been finely balanced.

So what did the Benfica game mean? What it meant was many things. Firstly, from a financial view it meant a large financial loss to the club. £2,000,000 alone from reaching the group stage. David Dein also lost out on other cash. This money was:-

He traded on Arsenal’s status as a desirable addition to any sports agency’s portfolio of clients. Indeed, so keen were the German agency UFA to represent Arsenal that they guaranteed them the huge sum for the time of £1 million for their broadcasting rights in the 1991/92 European Cup. This backfired spectacularly for UFA when the English champions lost to Benfica in the second round.

Arsenal also went in decline in the season of 1991-2. Already out the league cup, struggling in the league and then played to 92nd club Wrexham in the 3rd round of the FA cup and lost.

Although Arsenal nearly got back into Europe by catching Sheffield Wednesday for 3rd spot, we ended 4th. The only high point being Ian Wright getting a hat trick to finish top scorer in the league ahead of Spurs Gary Lineker.

But worse still, was although other fans called us ‘boring, boring Arsenal’, with players like Limpar and Davis the Arsenal team was actually highly skillful and exciting players and we were an exciting team, Unfortunately, George Graham had gone for a negative approach to football. Firstly :-

Paul Davis recalls: ‘After drawing 1–1 in the Stadium of Light, we were in a better position, but we panicked a bit, got carried away, and ended up playing helter-skelter football, which George always hated. He withdrew into his shell after that, and realised that winning in Europe required a great deal of control, patience, and possession.’

Also, Davis, one of the finest midfielders at the club was dropped to the reserves for 18 months after George felt he had gone too far forward. Paul discussed it recently on a podcast and in it felt it took away some of his finest years and a chance of getting an international cap.

Limpar was also slowly given less games and by the 1993 double season appeared in neither finals. Michael Thomas was sold to Liverpool and David Rocastle was sold to Leeds. When George told him Rocky broke down in tears. All the creativity was being sucked out of the club (excluding Ian Wright and a fitful Paul Merson).

If Arsenal seemed to win anything that night it seemed to be present in the middle, to mix it with Thern and Schwarz. Arsenal had played the game at a high tempo, trying to send the ball over to the wingers and cut in. What we needed was some strength in the middle. Which is just what George did. But not just for the middle but the wide players. Out wide he bought Eddie McGoldrick and Jimmy Carter. Then he looked for a strong midfielder. We should’ve gone for a strong midfielder from Scandinavia, with a successful international team. Like Stefan Schwarz. We got John ‘Faxe’ Jensen’s instead.

Stefan would join us 2 years later. Too little, too late. Arsenal would also miss out on signing Andy Townsend and Roy Keane as George felt they were too expensive.

Playing this way did bring us cup success in the next 3 years and:-

Alan Smith believes that the game had a great significance for future European campaigns. ‘That was a milestone, not just for the players but for George Graham. He recognised that you can’t be so gung-ho in European football . . . When it came to the next European competition I think we’d all learned.’

So if anything, the worst part of the game with Benfica was how boring we became. We lost players such as Limpar, Rocastle, Thomas and Davis for 18 months. As I’ve said we replaced them with really poor players. The Benfica game for me, was the beginning of the end for George Graham as in the same month as the defeat George bought Pål Lydersen which consisted of him taking illegal payments for him and Jensen. Oh George, why did you do it?

*Big thanks to this article for the guardian article via AFC History blog.