travel

On trophies and European football: notes from three late fall programmes1979/80

This here is a stone cold fact: if I write a 200 word, horribly researched, factually incorrect, article on an Arsenal transfer target, I will get 10,000 hits and at least 50 comments; if I write a 1000 word, well researched, thoughtful article on Arsenal history which ties in nicely with what is going on at the club right now, I will get 3,000 hits and 5 comments. Those who don’t know their history, it seems, are not only doomed to repeat it, but also spitefully refuse to learn it.

One of our regular readers sent me three Arsenal programmes from three consecutive home matches between 17 November and 4 December 1979. In each, Arsenal played Everton and Liverpool in the League and Swindon Town in the League Cup quarter final. These programmes are timely as some of the themes within are repeated to this very day and these programmes can give us a sense of perspective.

Things were very different for Arsenal supporters in 1979 as The Arsenal kicked off that season in a celebratory mood, having beaten Manchester United to the FA Cup in what is easily one of the most famous cup finals of all time. You see, 35 years ago this May, Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-2 in what is often called the “five minute final”.

As a result of the FA Cup win, the club were playing in Europe and these two facts (cup winners and European football) are sprinkled liberally throughout all three programmes.

In the first, against Everton on 17 November 1979, Arsenal were still flying high after the 4-3 aggregate win over Madgeburg in the European Cup Winners Cup competition and the talk was all about Arsenal dealing with the rigors of twice-weekly football both in Europe and domestically.

Terry Neill’s interview in the feature “the week’s personality” was especially telling. Arsenal had been rocked by injury prior to the match against Madgeburg and the interviewer asked Neill about how he planned to cope with playing twice weekly. Neill’s response was

Well, let me put Europe into perspective first of all. There’s no point talking about tedious journeys and the games being hard and tough. We desperately want to be in Europe – the players want to be in Europe.

…we know that the way some Europeans play the games are going to be hard and perhaps physical, and that we are going there mid-week with a League game on the Saturday, but if that is what we want – and we do – then we learn to live with it. Don’t let us be complaining about success.

1978-1980 marked a return for Arsenal to Europe after six years, so it was natural for Neill to want to put everything into this competition. Meanwhile, the team were lion hungry to prove themselves on the international stage.

This is a far cry from the routine boredom and even angst many current Arsenal fans have come to greet Arsenal’s Champions League record under Arsene Wenger. Wenger, knowing his history and the importance of European football to the club (both the current and potential future players and not just the bottom line as is so often spouted), has fought tooth and nail against bigger spending rivals to keep Arsenal in the Champions League. I’m fairly certain that 18 years in Europe is one of the greatest achievements in sport. And I say that knowing that Arsenal have been one of the weakest teams in that competition for three years.

Arsenal had a great run in the ECWC in 1979/1980, beating the Old Grey Lady, Juventus, 2-1 on aggregate including a brilliant header from a young powerful forward named Paul Vaessen. Only to go on to lose on penalties (4-5) in the final to Valencia.

Winning the FA Cup six months earlier seemed to give the Arsenal a bit of swagger throughout the club and after brushing Everton aside 2-0 and with just three points difference between Arsenal and Liverpool it was billed as a big occasion between two clubs who like to play football.

If there is one team that doesn’t come to Highbury… looking for a draw, it is Liverpool, and if you get beaten by Liverpool then you can be sure that they will have beaten you on football skill…. we still reckon this is the team we have got to beat if we are going to win the Championship.

Consider that last sentence again. Liverpool were the Manchester United of that era. Between 1970 and 1990 they would win 11 League titles, 3 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 4 European Cups (Champions League now), 2 UEFA Cups, and the UEFA Supercup. It is this era of Liverpool that makes their fans so unbearable and lest you think that “plastic fans” is something new to the modern era, there is even an advertisement in the Arsenal programme for “The Liverpool Supporters’ Club London Branch”.

Incredible to think, then, that Arsenal were talking about the title. But that’s the power of winning a trophy, it just adds a feeling that you’re on to something bigger and better. This season, Arsenal have one hand on the FA Cup this season with Wigan and either Hull or Sheffield United standing in our way. And for the same reasons as above, Arsenal simply must win this trophy.

Many folks point to Arsene Wenger’s cup record since 2005, in which he has reached three finals and has faltered three times, and say that it is a feature of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal that they tend to crumble when faced with stiff opposition. But if you look at Arsenal’s record in cup finals during this period, and even during the fêted George Graham era, there have been many spectacular failures.

The third program in this series is a foreshadowing of one of those great cup defeats: a home match against Swindon Town in the League Cup. Recapping the 0-0 draw against Liverpool, the programme took on the lickspittles of fleet street who, even back in the 1970′s had a soft spot for Liverpool and, proclaimed that “Liverpool put Arsenal in their place.”

Since it was a match which we might have won, just as much as Liverpool might have won it, it is difficult to see how we were put in our place.

And Arsenal, class club that we are, dedicated an entire column to Swindon and let them have their say. They bragged about giving Arsenal a real game and playing their way. In the end, Arsenal would end up knocked out of the League Cup by Swindon, though only after drawing 0-0 at Highbury and getting beaten 4-3 on the replay.

In fact, a hallmark of Terry Neill’s tenure at Arsenal is that his teams would get knocked out by clubs he “shouldn’t” lose to or get to the finals only to lose. He lost the 1978 FA Cup Final, the League cup here to Swindon, the 1980 ECWC final to Valencia, the 1980 FA Cup final to 2nd division West Ham, and reached his nadir in 1983 when Arsenal were knocked out of the League Cup by 3rd division Walsall. That loss, along with Arsenal’s 16th place on the table, prompted Peter Hill-Wood to fire Terry Neill.

Arsene Wenger has reached three finals since winning the FA Cup in 2005 and lost all three — the Champions League Final against Barcelona in 2006, the League Cup final against Chelsea in 2007, and the League Cup final against Birmingham in 2011. With Arsenal in the semi-final of the FA Cup and facing Championship side Wigan, some people are already invoking memories of Walsall and Neill. Those comparisons seem a bit of a stretch. Wigan is not Walsall, Arsenal in 4th place is not the same as Arsenal in 16th, and Terry Neill won just one trophy in his tenure at Arsenal whilst Arsene Wenger has won eleven and we simply cannot discount Wenger’s record securing Champions League football.

Whether you agree with me on the significance and similarities/dissimilarities to the current Arsenal team I wanted to thank Patrick for sending me these gems of Arsenal history and this post is that thanks. Everything about those programmes brought a huge smile to my face, from the simplicity of the program itself (16 pages) to the fact that you could buy a replica kit (in time for Christmas) for £11.80 but they only came in sizes up to 40″ chest (modern medium).

The one thing we can all agree on is that this was a simpler time. Tickets for the East Lower tier were £2.50 and you applied for them by sending a letter to the club up to a month in advance with cash and a self-addressed stamped envelope. Frank Stapleton and the FA Cup were used to promote the new “Arsenal Annual” and a photo was snapped of the two of them, with the FA Cup raised on a cardboard box — probably the box that the Annual came in from the printers.

stapleton

There was no slick media production and product placement just “hey Frank, stand over there.”

And if you were the adventurous sort you could join the Arsenal Travel Club and take a trip to Nottingham Forest for the match day experience, taking either the train or the coach, for the princely sum of £5-6. Match ticket included.

travel

That is roughly £25 in today’s money.

And it will never be that way again.

Qq

drmic

In which I post an article about Josip Drmic coming to Arsenal even though he has said he is not coming to Arsenal

Marital status: single
Marital status according to Matthaeus: wife is picking out condos in London
Age: 21
How old Matthaeus believes him to be: Q
Height: 1.81m
How tall Matthaeus believes him to be: 10′ tall
Release clause: Unknown
Release clause according to Matthaeus: £5m, at the end of the season, if they stay up, if not then he can leave on a free, and he gets a backrub from 13 German women, in a beer hall, in Munich
Nickname I am giving him: Dr. Mike.
Goals: 16 on 52 shots
Goals according to people who don’t count things like penalties and who discount blocked shots: 14 on 45 (31% conversion rate, that’s really, really, really good. Almost too good but there’s a reason why… keep reading)
Penalties: 2
Left footed goals: 6
Right footed goals: 7
Total shots: 52
Shots he has had blocked by a defender: 5
Shots outside the box: 7
Shots inside the box: 45 (DING DING DING DING DING! He doesn’t take a lot of wasteful shots from outside the box and instead concentrates his fire in the prime positions. Still, 31% conversion rate is Matthaeus crazy high. To put this another way, Suarez is converting at 19%, an all time career high conversion rate. In his best season at Arsenal, van Persie converted 17% of his shots. This kid is simply stroking the ball right now and there’s no telling if this is a one-off season because… it’s the only season we have reliable data for. In other words, here’s a 21 year old, slight young man, who has had a breakout season in the Bundesliga and who supposedly has a super cheap release clause… am I the only one who can hear Arsene Wenger warming up the dice? Clicka clacka?)
Why you’re going to get even more excited: Dr. Mike runs behind defenders, lets the creative mids play him in, and finishes with aplomb
Ellipses used so far… 4
Dribbles: 56/97 a 58% dribbler. Cazorla is Arsenal’s best dribbler at 53% (42/80)
Chances created: 24 with just 3 assists – he’s a scorer at Nurnberg, not really a creator
What position? Played 13 times as a center forward, Nurnberg like to play him as the lone striker up front. Might do really well… if Arsene can play two up top. To do that, Arsene would have to do something he has steadfastly refused to do for almost 10 years: buy a midfielder who can dominate the center of the park. Then where do you play Özil? Wide? Ugh. Walcott wide and Özil wide? So we just outscore everyone? Or do we play like Nurnberg and give this untested 21 year old a free role up front and put 5 midfielders (in various combinations) behind him? I leave that for you all to debate! Get on with it.

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Lukas Podolski

Lukas Podolski the cause of and solution to all of Arsenal’s problems?

It’s a well known fact that when Arsenal are first to take the lead they have a great record and when they concede first they have a tendency to crumble but what might be well less known is that five times this season they have been rescued by the unlikeliest of heroes Lukas Podolski.

When Arsenal score first in League play their record is 18-1-1 and when the opposition score first Arsenal’s record is nearly exactly opposite at 1-4-5. There is some indication in this record that Arsenal lack, to paraphrase Arsene Wenger, “a little bit the mental strength”.

Anyone who has watched this season has seen Arsenal’s confidence drain in certain games. As soon as one Arsenal player makes a mistake, the entire team drops in confidence.

This happened in the FA Cup win over Everton two weeks ago. Arsenal were up 1-0 through a beautiful Özil goal and were cruising, controlling the game and toying with the Blues. The crowd was even ebullient, singing about how their club were going to Wembley. Then on an Arsenal corner kick, Everton hit back at the Gunners with a quick break through the ever lively Ross Barkley. His cross found Lukaku, who bundled the ball over the line, and before the net could even stop rippling, the crowd fell silent.

As I wrote the next day, Arsenal looked shell shocked and desperate to get out of the half with the scoreline even. After the second half kicked off, Arsenal looked like confidence restored though it would still take the introduction of Olivier Giroud and his subsequent double to see the Gunners through.

There is a sense, though, that Arsenal look like a mentally fragile team. Any small gaffe, whether it leads to a goal or not, and Arsenal heads drop on the pitch and in the stands. And when Arsenal are hit with an early goal, especially on away days, the wheels on the bus come off.

Mistakes of the past seem to haunt supporters and players alike. Arsenal have a history of big mistakes in big games leading to big losses. The worst in recent memory is still that League Cup final loss to Birmingham; a late goal after a mixup between defender and keeper meant that Arsenal lost their best chance at a trophy in 5 years . And Arsenal supporters have seen this sort of late capitulation time and again with Arsenal so it makes sense that we are tense all the time.

Ironically, though, there are few players left from that team which lost the League Cup. Only Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Rosicky, Gibbs, and Wilshere are remaining from that team. Yet despite the turnover in personnel, it seems like this Arsenal team are still affected by nerves.

That fact prompted Rafael Honigstein to ask the question of Arsene in his post match presser yesterday. “Should a top level team be affected by nerves so often?” Wenger reacting rather strongly to Honigstein’s question almost lashing out at the reporter “maybe you’ve never played at a top level team and maybe you’ve not seen the nerves that affect every single team?”

I don’t doubt Wenger knows a thing (or a thousand and two things) about dressing room psychology. In fact, I suspect he’s painfully aware of Arsenal’s lack of mental strength this season. How could he not see Arsenal’s record after going behind in games, especially knowing that Arsenal were third best in getting points from a losing position last season?

Probably the player who most epitomizes this sort of bipolar Arsenal team is the mercurial Lukas Podolski. Podolski started in yesterday’s draw against Manchester City, and right off the Citizens attacked his side of the pitch. It eventually paid dues as a hospital ball to Podolski was easily tackled away and the resulting counter attack was eventually bundled over the line by David Silva. 

Many Arsenal supporters wonder why Podolski doesn’t start more often with some even calling for him to start over Olivier Giroud as the spearhead of the Arsenal attack. But the reason Wenger doesn’t like to start him out left is because he really does seem to struggle when pressed and leaves defensive gaps on his side of the pitch. This exposes Gibbs to undue pressure and pegs Arsenal’s left back into the defense end, thus cutting off any width on the left side of the pitch.

The idea of playing Podolski up front by himself is intriguing because it would absolve him of most defensive duties. Arsenal fans seem to have some mythical version of Podolski as a player with great movement who just runs at the opposition but I’ve never seen any of that and neither has Wenger. His movement is almost always static, he seems a step slow, and he cannot hold the ball up at all. Wenger’s own assessment of Podolski as a center forward is damning:

I see him as a centre forward but he has some work to do, to change his game a little bit, make runs in behind, to protect the ball, and move around the box.

But despite his deficiencies Podolski offers two things to Arsenal that no other player in this team has: ruthless efficiency and ice-water in his veins. After Arsenal gave up the first goal to Man City, the players crawled into their shell and the support in the stands vanished. But Poldi kept toiling away and it was Goldi Poldi who eventually provided the cross which put the Gunners level. That was Podolski’s only cross in the game and the man barely had anything to do throughout but there’s that ruthless efficiency.

He did the exact same thing against Bayern, except that time he simply scored with his first shot of the game. In fact, Podolski this season has rescued Arsenal five times from losing positions: City (a), Swansea (g, a), Bayern (g), Liverpool FAC (g), West Ham (Podlski comes on and 4 minutes later Theo scores two and Poldi adds third).

Arsenal clearly have a problem with nerves but they also have a player who simply and efficiently can drag the team back from the depths and has done so five times this season and twice in two games. A guy so loved in his home town for these qualities that they call him a football god.

Lukas Podolski.

Qq