Some of you quickly flicking through this list will probably instantly ask where the Invincibles’ season is in my most memorable moments. It’s absence is purely because although the 2003/04 season was an historic achievement, it was over the course of the entire campaign. I’m not ignoring it’s importance but up against the others on the list, it is inevitably missing from the top five.
The games I’ve picked appear because of their intensity and high drama. The Wins were against the odds and somehow Arsenal managed to get the victory but not without some seriously difficult moments.
5. The 1971 FA Cup Final Against Liverpool
A beautiful day in May produced a full blooded affair between two giants of the domestic game. On show were some of the biggest names in the history of each club including Steve Highway, Tommy Smith, Ray Clemence, Frank McLintock, George Armstrong and the Highbury icon Charlie George.
It was George that seemed to dominate the game with his desire and precocious talent. All three goals came in added time with Highway opening the scoring from an acute angle at the near post. The reply was a natty piece of poaching from George Graham which was almost too embarrassed to go in the net, leveling the score at 1-1. But the best was saved for last, with Radford and George involved in a delightful one two, George returned the ball wide left, Radford prodded the ball into space for George to unleash a 20 yard bullet in the 111th minute.
4. Wenger Wins the Battle of Old Trafford 2001/02
Manchester United V Arsenal was always a prickly fixture throughout the Ferguson/Wenger years and produced many memorable moments for the fans to relish. Many saw it as a battle between determination and artistry and it was contested in blood and sweat from the 90’s onwards.
Ferguson despised Arsenal and Wenger for the way the press fawned over their style of football. In a great many contests, United resorted to a hacking mentality that could have resorted to serious physical injuries but it was a tactic that was later followed by a host of clubs who tried to stifle the Gunners and use intimidation as a weapon.
Sadly for United, it didn’t work in 2001/02 when Arsenal battled for every ball and every inch of grass. In their first meeting in that season, United goalkeeper Fabian Barthez made a howler of a mistake and Thierry Henry scored twice as the Gunners won 3-1.
United then had to win at home against Arsenal to have any hope of retaining the title, with the majority of the press concluding it was highly likely but Sylvain Wiltord’s goal sealed a second Premier League title for Arsene Wenger’s side. Arsenal ended the campaign seven points ahead of second-placed Liverpool, who managed to get ahead of United on the final day of the season. It was probably Wenger’s finest performance against his Old rivals.
3. 1979 FA Cup Final – Arsenal V Manchester United
Known as the five minute final to many because all the jaw dropping finish and last gasp goal from Alan Sunderland. Arsenal had a 2-0 lead up until the 86th minute with goals from Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton but United came back with goals from Sammy McIlroy (86) and Gordon McQueen (88)
In a game where Liam Brady was Arsenal’s tour de force, the Irishman surged forward, laying off to Rix who was wide on the left, the perfectly flighted cross was steered into the net by Alan Sunderland. It was stunning and is still held in high regard by football historians as one of the best finals ever and among the most memorable moments in football history.
2. Winning the league at White Hart Lane 2003/04
Winning the league is one thing, but winning it at the home of your bitter rivals is just the cherry on the cake and it’s something that Arsenal have achieved twice. The Gunners went the entire 2003/04 season undefeated and then, as if that wasn’t enough they won the title with a 2-2 draw.
The draw may have been all they needed but with 35 minutes on the clock they had a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Vieira and Pires. Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Keane levelled with Arsenal once again choosing the most difficult and nerve jangling route to success. It’s certainly one of those memorable moments that never gets old for Arsenal fans and gives the gooners 100% bragging rights.
1. The Best Ever Finish to a League Season :- The 1989 Victory at Anfield
Who can forget George Graham’s approach to the final game of the season back in 89, when Arsenal traveled to Anfield and had to win by two clear goals without conceding. No one gave them a cat in hell’s chance of securing the title and the media had all but buried them.
Liverpool at the time were a machine and although they suffered a slow start to the season, they put together a phenomenal run and were scoring for fun. Arsenal by contrast had fallen apart and had dropped 19 points between January and the final game of the campaign.
Unbelievably, at one stage, they had been 11 points clear of their rivals but they suffered a number of unexpected blips against the smaller clubs and eventually it came down to one game at Anfield, on a night where football became a Hollywood script.
It had tension, suspense, heroes and villains and one moment of unprecedented magic that ended Arsenal’s 18 year wait for a league title.
After playing the whole season with a back four, Graham went into the match employing a back three, which confused the majority of his side. He pushed Dixon and Winterburn forward to negate the threat of Houghton and Barnes and employed the unusual tactics of taking the team up north on the day of the match. Something that was quite unprecedented.
He was introduced to Desmond Morris’s book ‘The Naked Ape’ which dealt with territory and based a good chunk of his plan in reversing any psychological home advantage. That’s all well and good but Graham’s men still had to win the game by two goals, yet Alan Smith gave them hope (52) with a delightful header from a free kick.
The game wore on and Liverpool appeared to have lost the game but won the league and with the referee looking at his watch, Lee Dixon asked “how long?”
“It’s over” came the reply.
John Lukic passed the ball to Lee Dixon, who launched the ball upfield. Alan Smith anticipated the run of Michael Thomas and fed it forward, it wasn’t over, there was still so much to do. A kindly ricochet from a Liverpool player back into the path of Thomas opened up the space but with two defenders almost upon him and Grobbelaar advancing, the Arsenal man had only one chance in the dying seconds of the 89th minute. He struck it superbly as the Liverpool keeper committed himself and Arsenal had pulled off the most dramatic of win to secure the league title.
What are your memorable moments ?