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GCR Books

Arsenal’s last fling before the fall from grace

This is the story of the moment when the gloriousness of the Double and the attempts to repeat the feat came to an end.

If you want some background to football in 1973 you might like to try

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Not to mention the fact that Liam Brady turned pro with Arsenal
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But on to the Arsenal story.  We went into the 1972/3 season full of hope and expectation, and for quite a while these feelings continued, both in the FA Cup and in the league.
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Bertie Mee’s record in the FA Cup thus far was…
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1967: Round 5 lost to Birmingham (of Division 2)
1968: Round 5 lost to Birmingham (still of Division 2) (again)
1969: Round 5 lost to WBA (it’s that West Midlands round five thing)
1970: Round 3 lost to Blackpool (of division 2)
1971: Won the Double
1972: Losing finalist (to Leeds)
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So to 1973, starting off with a look at the FA Cup
  • January 13 1972: Arsenal 2 Leicester City 2
  • 3rd Round; Attendance: 36,433
  •  January 17 1973: Leicester City 1 Arsenal 2
  • 3rd Round Replay  Attendance: 32,973

After this Arsenal continued to motor well in the league with an away win over Chelsea (0-1) on  January 20 1972,    and a 2-2 draw with Newcastle at home on  February 3 1972.

Then came Arsenal 2 Bradford City 0, a hardly inspiring but comfortable fourth round win in front of 40,407 on February 3.

The following weekend, February 10 1973, it was Liverpool 0 Arsenal 2 with 49,898 at Anfield in the league.  It seemed like a ground breaking win, with Liverpool top of the league.

But then it was back to the ordinary, as we had yet more Leicester, with February 17 1972 giving us the league match of Arsenal 1 Leicester City 0, and another fine Arsenal crowd of 42,047

And so on to the cup again with

  • February 24 1973: Carlisle United 1 Arsenal 2
  • FA Cup 5th  Round – Attendance: 23,922

Arsenal rode their luck, stayed calm, and under the guidance of Frank McLintock, took command of the game.   Carlisle, lurking near the foot of Division 2, claimed they were the better team and could play even better, (despite their league position) and the media, always looking for ways to knock Arsenal, let them get away with the claims.

The claim was that Ball was given offside by the linesman before the corner that led to the winning goal.  And as for Arsenal’s opener Carlisle said that because Winstanley had elbowed Radford, and Radford had (as was his wont) pushed back, there should have been a free kick, rather than giving Arsenal the advantage – from  which they scored via a simple McLintock header.

Balderstone, the Carlisle captain, added one lovely comment at the end.  “Now they are over the hurdle of Carlisle, I can see them going to the final.”

And as a PS: “You can’t fight that sort of luck.”

Naturally he failed to mention that in the 25th minute Storey was taken out of the game by a horrific tackle from Ray Train, and had to be replaced by Sammy Nelson.  The balance of the Arsenal team shifted and Arsenal had to do a lot of readjusting.  By then Arsenal were one up, but with Arsenal still not right following the substitution, Carlisle equalised on half time.

After the game Bob Delgado of Carlisle put in a written request for a transfer.  Maybe he had just had enough of living in make believe land.

But the events up north clearly knocked Arsenal about quite a bit and on February 28 1972 Arsenal unexpectedly lost in the league 1-0 to WBA.

March saw a return to form with  Arsenal 3 Sheffield United 2 on March 3, and an away win on March 10, 1-2 at Ipswich.

Then the sixth round of the cup.

  • March 17 1973 – Chelsea 2 Arsenal 2
  • FA Cup 6th Round – Attendance: 37,685
  • March 20 1972- Arsenal 2 Chelsea 1
  • FA Cup 6th Round Replay – Attendance: 62,746

This was starting to look like a serious season, and matters were helped along on March 24 1973 with Manchester City 1 Arsenal 2, and on March 26 1973 with Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 0

With Arsenal in the semi-final of the cup, the league table revealed Liverpool in front, despite Arsenal’s final win at Anfield, and with a better goal average and a game in hand, but Arsenal were plugging away on both fronts once again.

Pld W D L F A Pts
1 Liverpool 33 20 8 5 60 35 48
2 Arsenal 34 20 8 6 48 31 48
3 Leeds United 31 18 8 5 56 33 44
4 Ipswich Town 32 15 10 7 46 33 40
5 Newcastle United 33 15 9 9 52 39 39
6 Wolverhampton Wndrs 32 14 8 10 50 42 36
7 Derby County 34 14 7 13 42 48 35
8 Tottenham Hotspur 31 13 7 11 43 34 33
9 West Ham United 33 12 9 12 51 43 33
10 Coventry City 32 12 9 11 35 34 33

And then, in the space of two games, it all fell apart

  • March 31 1973 – Arsenal 0 Derby County 1
  • Football League Division 1 – Attendance: 45,217

and…

  • April 7 1973 – Arsenal 1 Sunderland 2 (at Hillsborough, Sheffield)
  • FA Cup Semi Final – Attendance 53,301
And that was that.   Sunderland went on to win the cup, and we came second in the League.
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And it was a moment that defined Arsenal’s future, for from that moment of the defeats at home to Derby and in the Cup semi-final, it was all downhill.
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In 1974 Arsenal came 10th in the league, went out of the cup in the fourth round to Aston Villa, and lost in the League Cup to Tranmere.   The moment of glory had faded, and within a year of that, Arsenal were experiencing the first of two seasons with their lowest league positions since Leslie Knighton, prior to the Chapman revolution.
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It was a long fall, and it came very fast.  Maybe, after all, Carlisle and the media had been right.  Maybe is was all luck – and when the luck moved on…

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