Delighted to welcome back our good friend @garythegooner56 with a superb guest post
We are now deep into the close season and social media is in full swing relentlessly churning out bullshit rumours linking The Arsenal with player after player. I don’t know about you but I’m fed up with reading about it. So I thought this would be a good time to write a piece about my biggest Arsenal disappointments since I started watching The Arsenal in 1966. I’m sure many of you will remember them well. So here are my top 10 memories that have caused me so much misery. Hope you can somehow enjoy this death by a thousand cuts!
- Don Howe leaving and the breakup of the 1971 Double squad.
We were never the same after Bertie Mee lost his right hand man, top coach and tactician Don Howe to WBA. Bertie was rudderless and lost the plot after that, getting rid of Ray Kennedy, George Graham and Frank McLintock, our inspirational skipper, breaking Frank’s heart in the process and bringing in (I can hardly bring myself to say his name) Jeff Blockley. Worst of all letting Charlie George my favourite player at the time go. Instead of having his prime years playing with Liam Brady he was strutting his stuff winning the Title with Derby County.
- Losing to Luton Town in the 1988 League Cup Final
There have been many defeats for The Arsenal in the League Cup Final. Leeds in 1968 Swindon a year later in 1969. More recently heartbreaks versus Chelsea in 2007 and Birmingham in 2011. But the one that upset me the most was Luton Town in 1988. If ever there was a game where defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory it was this game. One nil down Martin Hayes came on & turned the game for us scoring the equaliser. Smudger made it 2-1 then we got a penalty. We score and its game over we all thought. Up stepped, of all people Nigel Winterburn and he had his penalty saved. But there wasn’t long to go. Surely we’ll hold on. Wrong! Gus Caesar had a mare it was 2-2 then in the last minute of the game Brian Stein won it for them.
- Losing to Real Zaragoza in the 1995 Cup Winners Cup Final
Arsenal got to the Cup Winners Cup Final just 3 months after the sacking of George Graham. We flew to Paris hopeful of becoming the first side to retain the Trophy. After going one down John Hartson scored a deserved equaliser to send the game into extra time. It looked like it was heading for penalties. I felt confident with Seaman in goal after his heroics in the penalty shoot out of the semi-final against Sampdoria to get us to the Final, only to then have our hopes dashed by a freak last minute goal from the halfway line by none other than ex-Spurs man Nayim as the ball agonisingly went over David Seaman and into the net.
- Losing the 1991 FA Cup Semi- Final against Spurs
Losing an FA Cup semi-Final is bad enough. But losing it at Wembley against that shower of shite was unbearable. To make matters worse it almost certainly cost us a Double as I’m sure we’d have beaten Nottingham Forest in the Final. I’ll never forget trudging down Wembley Way after the game to the sound of Spurs fans singing where’s your Double gone where’s your Double gone. We had a terrible day at the office and came up against an inspired performance from Gazza. Thank God it only took us two years to get revenge!
- Losing the FA Cup Final in 2001 to Liverpool
This was the first ever FA Cup Final played at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, where we ended up playing in 4 Finals in 5 years, winning 3 of them. Ironically the one we lost was the one we played the best in. We battered Liverpool went one up through Freddie Ljungberg and the Scousers were hanging on by their fingernails only surviving through luck and some atrocious refereeing decisions. Then Michael Owen mugged us with two late goals against the run of play to win it for them.
- Getting knocked out the Champions League Quarter-Final by Chelsea in 2004
2003-04 was a bittersweet season, of course primarily remembered for the famous Invincibles League campaign. But it was also the season we lost a CL quarter final against Chelsea, with an FA Cup semi-Final against Man Utd plus a league game v Man Utd sandwiched between the two legs of the CL quarter-final. I felt we fell between two stools. If we’d drawn Sunderland or Millwall in the FA Cup. We’d have probably have won that and had enough in the tank to best Chelsea.
Those four high intensity games in quick succession did for us. After drawing the 1st leg at Stamford Bridge, we went one up through Reyes at Highbury in the 2nd leg before Frank Lampard equalised and we then seemed to be running through treacle, with nothing left in the tank. Chelsea smelt blood and put us out 2-1 with a late goal by Wayne Bridge in the 87th minute. Had we won that tie it would have been Monaco in the semi and Porto in the Final. You can’t help but think we had a glorious chance to win the CL and we should have won it with the quality we had in that side. As I mentioned earlier had we drawn Millwall or Sunderland in the FA Cup semi-final it could well have been an invincible treble winning season!
- Losing two finals in 5 days in 1980 in the FA Cup Final v West Ham & the Cup Winners Cup Final v Valencia
This was undoubtedly one of our darkest weeks ever. We were massive favourites to beat West Ham then a second division side. But we arrived at Wembley in 1980 having played an epic 4 matches to overcome Liverpool and a gruelling and bruising two leg Cup Winners Cup semi-final against Juventus as well as having to fit a NLD at White Hart Lane in as well! Typically Spurs refused our request to move the game to ease our fixture pile up. So we put out a make shift team & still beat them! But we were very jaded by the time we got to Wembley on a scorching day & Trevor Brooking scored with a rare header to win West Ham their last trophy. I remember drinking in an Arsenal pub the British Lion in Hackney Road and it was like a wake.
Still we had another Final v Valencia on the Wednesday. Even though we were the better side over 120 minutes with David O’Leary not giving the famous Mario Kempes a kick it was 0-0 and went to penalties. We had one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time in Pat Jennings so I felt we had a great chance and Big Pat duly saved the 1st penalty from Kempes. Then our main man Liam Brady had his penalty saved. The other four penalties from each side were scored with Stapleton Sunderland Talbot and Hollins scoring for us. Sudden death Valencia scored and Rixy who’d had a fine game needed to score to keep us in it. There was something about his body language that made me feel he was going to miss and sure enough the keeper saved it.
We played 70 games that season and had nothing to show for it. Exhausted and getting hammered in our final match of the season at Middlesboro 5-0 to round it off! Worse was to come as this was to be Liam Brady’s last game for The Arsenal. Never before or since have I been as gutted to lose a player. We lost the best player in the country entering his peak years at 24 for a poxy £600k to Juventus. Dark days indeed!
- Losing the FA Cup Semi-Final replay against Man Utd in 1999 and losing the Title by a point
How could anybody forget that replay against Man Utd? Two great sides battling for supremacy, going toe to toe like a couple of heavyweight boxers. The first game at Villa Park ended 0-0 and it was back to Villa Park for the midweek replay. We went one down to a great goal from David Beckham but got back in the game with a terrific equaliser from Dennis Bergkamp. Roy Keane got his marching orders and then came the turning point of the whole season. The pivotal moment when we were awarded a penalty and Dennis stepped forward to take it. Score and United were finished and we’d have the momentum to go on and win the Double. Dennis takes it to his right but Peter Schmeichel goes the right way and saves it. Man Utd now had a lifeline and Ryan Giggs latched onto a tired misplaced pass from Paddy, weaved through our defence to smash it past David Seaman.
It was no consolation to have taken part in probably the greatest semi-final of all time. We then reeled off four wins in the league then came the disaster at Leeds. Nelson Vivas had come on for Nigel Winterburn and failed to pick up Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbank arriving at the far post and he buried it and our Title chances as well. We had to beat Villa at Highbury which we did 1-0 with a Kanu goal plus we also needed Spurs to do us a favour at Old Trafford in the last day of the season, which was never going to happen! So what could easily have been a Double Double for us turned into a lucky Treble for Man Utd.
- Losing in the 2006 Champions League Final
Paris again (How I hate that place) was the venue for the 2006 CL Final. We arrived at our seats with somebody already sitting in them & wearing the shirts that had been placed on the seats for us! Should have known it wasn’t going to be our night with that omen. We were always going to be up against it when our mad German Jens got sent off for bringing down Samuel Eto’o and sadly we had to sacrifice Robert Pires. But even with 10 men we were the better side. Sol Campbell powered home a header & our end erupted. For as long as I live I’ll have flashbacks of that Henry one-on-one. How many times have we seen him cut in & score from that position. We all know that would have killed the game had he scored. Almunia then did his favourite trick of getting done on his near post followed by letting one in through his legs and that was that. To this day it still rankles with me that we weren’t the first London club to lift that trophy.
- Having to leave Highbury behind
My number one disappointment has to be having to leave our beloved Highbury. I know we had to build the new stadium to generate more money to compete but as nice as the Emirates is it’ll never be Highbury. It was our home for 93 years and I grew up there with most of my best memories being there. Highbury had a certain charm and character about it and was steeped in history and tradition that will never be replaced. Well that’s my top 10 regrets. Many of you will have your own list of bad memories.
One thing I will say is remember all the bad times as it makes the good times even sweeter!
Come on you Gunners!
Cheers Gary @garythegooner56