I don’t know about you but as an Arsenal fan of many years (not as many as some who frequent AA) I like it when we are underdogs. In fact some of my best memories supporting Arsenal and winning trophies have come when we were not expected to win, or facing the impossible task.
The first trophy I watched us win was the ’87 Littlewoods Cup, up against the all conquering Liverpool of the 80’s we had not seen a glimpse of silverware since our last FA Cup win in 1979. We went to Wembley with some optimism as George Graham had arrived to revolutionise the Arsenal team, clearing out the old guard and bringing through young talent and supplementing with purchases he had made from the lower leagues, players that were to go on to become club legends. The job was made more difficult when Liverpool took the lead, the fact that Ian Rush had now scored meant that we were now deep into underdog territory, as we all know from the commentary, up until that point Liverpool had never lost a game when Rush had scored. But Charlie changed all that, firstly knocking in when the ball bobbled around the box, and then Perry Groves came on with his pace, skinned the Liverpool fullback who was tiring and teed up Charlie to score the winner.
Then there was that Friday night at Anfield, going to Liverpool with the task of winning by two clear goals, again the stats were against us, Liverpool had just won the FA Cup, they hadn’t lost by two goals at Anfield for over three years. Smudger nodded in a Winterburn free kick, and then we had to wait wait and wait until…well you all know what happened next….Thomas charging through the midfield….it’s up for grabs now. I smashed a light in my living room having jumped high from my armchair. Arsenal heaven.
Was that it for being underdogs? Not really, the English FA hated that we were getting successful again so deducted 2 points and Manchester United only 1 for a 21 man brawl at Old Trafford (Big Dave didn’t like getting dirty or a hair out of place unless it was absolutely necessary and stayed out of it), somehow on the day Nige and the Super Swede got booked for having the temerity to be kicked whilst on the ground by Mclair and Irwin who suffered no punishment from Hackett, and the latter punishment of points deduction probably started our dislike of the FA and theory that we don’t always receive the rub of the green from the officials. Anyway come May we were telling the trophy presentation committee to stick the f’ing two points up their arse, as Manchester United players had to applaud us on to the pitch with a guard of honour in the return fixture at Highbury after Nottingham Forest had ended Liverpool’s title chances earlier in the day.
And then maybe our most famous underdog win, George Graham’s side by 1993-94 had become a dour side to watch, route one football was the order of the day, we were now a long ball side, up to Smudger, get the knockdowns and let Wrighty do the rest. We were a cup team now, this style wouldn’t win any Leagues, the previous season we had won two cups, we were neither favourites nor underdogs, Sheffield Wednesday played a very similar style to us, so fans that attended made their own entertainment whilst the ball was in the air, and in the brief moments the ball actually touched the ground got interested. But Parma, well that was a mother proposition, made worse by the injury to John Jensen and Wrighty’s suspension, the media gave us no chance, Brolin, Zola and Asprilla all featured for Parma, whilst we had Selley, Morrow and Campbell in ours. But somehow Smudger scored probably his only goal from outside the area on his wrong peg in his career, and we held out for a triumphant 1-0 victory.
So what about when we were favourites?
Well I’ll do my lifetime:
1988 – Arsenal 2 – Luton 3
2011 – Arsenal 1 – Birmingham 2
1980 – West Ham 1 – Arsenal 0
2001 – Arsenal 1 – Liverpool 2
So am I disappointed Wigan knocked Manchester City out yesterday……well as the draw had been made we were only going to be underdogs for the Semi Final so in the grand scheme of things I guess it doesn’t matter. But I hate being favourites…..can we talk up Wigan please, after all surely the holders are favourites?
Gooner in Exile