Supporting Arsenal is a lifetime commitment. We never switch off. There are highs and lows and sometimes summer sports intervene but come July we are scanning the internet for news of possible new arrivals and arrangements for early season fixtures.
Today is the 45th anniversary of Charlie George’s two goals to beat Manchester City at Maine Road in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. It was about this time that manager Bertie Mee called the squad together and told them that the Double was on and that they should be prepared to commit themselves every minute of the day to the realisation of that achievement. The run-in had begun. We were off the pace behind Leeds United albeit with games in hand but Revie’s team were the hot favourites – Bremner, Giles, Hunter, Sprake, Madeley, Jones and Clarke. They were formidable and the focus on their strengths enabled Arsenal to avoid the spotlight and the expectation of success. We were not favourites – outside Highbury or even inside.
But Bertie was tuned in. He knew there was a race to be run. He knew that Leeds had psychological flaws. Their undoubted strengths were undermined by their fear of falling short. It had happened in earlier seasons and was to dog them throughout Revie’s tenure. He was dominated by superstitions and his mental frailty communicated itself to his players. And yet they were seven points ahead of us (two points for a win not three) but Bertie reminded his players that at Highbury there was more collective confidence than at Elland Road.
Back to the FA Cup and Charlie’s two goals brought us an away tie at Filbert Street against Leicester City. It ended 0-0 although with seconds to go Pat Rice managed to ease Len Glover away from a winning goal as the ball bobbed in the penalty area. The replay at Highbury was memorable for just one moment when Charlie rose at the near post and in the rain to a corner from George Armstrong and headed in at the Clock End. We were now in the semi-final and the nail-biting last minute penalty scored by Peter Storey gave us the equaliser and a replay at Villa Park when we won 2-0 – the second being one of the most beautiful headed goals by George Graham from the D of the penalty area. Wembley beckoned and Charlie was our talisman and scored that famous winning goal after an exchange of passes with John Radford.
We all know – Charlie included – that he failed to fully realise his potential and if he had his time again he would have done things differently. As George Bernard Shaw famously said “Youth is a wonderful thing but it is wasted on young people”. But if Bertie was predictable and seemingly unimaginative (he wasn’t but that was how he wanted to be portrayed) then Charlie was inspirational and instinctive. Their combination plus Don Howe and Frank McClintock and the squad of committed and talented players provided the winning formula that carried us to League victory at White Hart Lane on 3 May 1971 and five days later to the FA Cup win over Liverpool at Wembley.
History does not repeat itself but it does produce parallels when the present has echoes of the past and this arises today as two league wins have propelled us back into the title race and we approach a home draw against Hull in the 5th Round of the FA Cup. Of course there are differences. Football is different; the media is different; the money is different and the players are different. And we have the complication of the Champions League. But you can imagine Wenger calling his squad together after Welbeck’s last second goal when the collective determination and celebration – written up by Dave Seager so perceptively – was apparent to us all. You can see Arsene looking each of the players in the eye and reminding them that between now and the end of the season the squad will have possibilities of success that has existed in their dreams. Of course Barcelona is an obstacle but so was the win at Anfield in 1989. When the spirit gets you and the excitement fires you things become possible.
And in Alexis Sanchez we have another talisman, another Charlie George – the man for the occasion. He always comes good – a period of missed opportunities is only ever a prelude to a spate of goals and the good thing is that we have collected six points without Sanchez doing the business. It is there ahead of us and ready to happen. Charlie ran sixty yards with the ball at his feet to score his memorable second goal at Maine Road. On the pitch he was focused and measured and controlled. Sanchez is the same and looking ahead would anyone bet against him scoring some crucial goals. The first challenge is Hull at the weekend and they are scoring goals and playing with confidence but every opponent is going to be up for beating us. At the same our squad will be up for every match they play in. It is an exciting time to be an Arsenal supporter. We may yet fall short. Football hands out surprises but never has a squad been more ready for the challenge of the run-in.