"Thomas, charging through the midfield... it's up for grabs now... Thomas, right at the end!"
It's been over 20 years since commentator Brian Moore described the thrilling climax to the 1988/89 season but Arsenal fans still know the words off by heart. And no wonder. Football just does not get more dramatic than it did on that famous night at Anfield.
|Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal
Friday, May 26, 1989. Kick-off: 8.05pm
Division One. Anfield.
Scorers: Smith 52, Thomas 90+1
Booked: Rocastle, Richardson.
Referee: David Hutchinson (Oxfordshire)
Assistant referees: Geoff Banwell, P. Cullen.
Arsenal: John Lukic, David O'Leary, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams (c), Steve Bould (Perry Groves 76), Nigel Winterburn, Michael Thomas, David Rocastle, Kevin Richardson, Paul Merson (Martin Hayes 73), Alan Smith.
Manager: George Graham
Liverpool: Bruce Grobbelaar, Gary Ablett, Steve Nicol, Alan Hansen, Steve Staunton, Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan (c), Steve McMahon, John Barnes, John Aldridge, Ian Rush (Peter Beardsley 32). Sub not used: Barry Venison.
Manager: Kenny Dalglish
A few weeks before game Arsenal were in the driving seat in the title race and seemingly on course for their first championship since 1971. George Graham, who played in that side, was now in charge, and the canny Scot had assembled a team packed with bargain buys and youthful exuberance.
The wheels came off in Arsenal's final two home matches of the season against Derby and Wimbledon. A defeat and a draw, coupled with Liverpool's 5-1 thrashing of West Ham, left the Gunners needing to win by two goals at Anfield in a game delayed to Friday, May 26 after the Hillsborough disaster.
Few outside Highbury expected Arsenal to beat the odds. 'You Haven't Got A Prayer, Arsenal' screamed one headline on the morning of the match, but Graham had other ideas: keep it tight in the first half, nick a goal early in the second and then finish Liverpool off. The Arsenal manager got it spot on.
Graham's decision to play a back three gave Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn the chance to push forward and, in turn, push Liverpool's wingers back. It worked, and Arsenal so nearly broke the deadlock early in the game when Steve Bould's header was diverted just over the bar.
Seven minutes after the break the visitors did take the lead. Winterburn curled in a free kick from the right and Alan Smith glanced the ball past Bruce Grobbelaar. Liverpool's players surrounded the referee but their claims that Smith had not touched the ball - or indeed was offside - were rejected. The goal stood.
Arsenal's chance seem to have gone when Thomas prodded a golden chance straight at Grobbelaar after Paul Merson had found him in the box. But, of course, Thomas had the last word.
In probably the most spine-tingling move in Arsenal's rich history, John Lukic threw the ball out to Dixon, his raking pass found Smith and he in turn found Thomas. A fortunate bounce left Thomas clear on goal and, as the Liverpool defenders converged on him, the midfielder flicked the ball past Grobbelaar.
"An unbelievable climax to the league season...!" screamed Moore. After an 18-year-wait, Arsenal were back at the top of English football.
ANFIELD '89 - MINUTE BY MINUTE
Exactly 25 years on from that night at Anfield Arsenal.com recreated 'as live' updates from our 1989 title decider against Liverpool. Our updates included quotes from the match commentator - the late, great Brian Moore.
Begin at the bottom of the page to follow the game as the drama unfolded.
THAT'S THE FINAL WHISTLE! ARSENAL, THE CHAMPIONS!
Whelan crosses but Thomas, cool as you like, finds Lukic 2-0 (90)
Oh my word, Lee Dixon is in tears - let's hope Liverpool don't attack down his flank! 2-0 (90)
AN UNBELIEVABLE CLIMAX TO THE LEAGUE SEASON!
THOMAS… IT'S UP FOR GRABS NOW! THOMAS! RIGHT AT THE END!
A good ball by Dixon, finding Smith, for Thomas, charging through the midfield… 1-0 (90)
Richardson stops Barnes… and Arsenal come streaming forward now in surely what will be their last attack… 1-0 (90)
Steve McMahon has got the word from The Kop. "One minute... one minute..." 1-0 (90)
Incredible industry from Richardson and he needs treatment. It looks like cramp as we head into the final minute 1-0 (89)
Liverpool break... they are two on one and Beardsley finds Aldridge... but Richardson does enough to put him off 1-0 (88)
Free-kick to Arsenal... Winterburn curls it in and Nicol gets it away. Long throw from Groves and Hayes can't get to it 1-0 (87)
Barnes finds Aldridge inside the box... but he's offside and that won't count as he tucks the ball past Lukic 1-0 (86)
Groves does well on the left, he gets a decent cross in but Barnes is back to head clear. JUST FIVE MINUTES LEFT 1-0 (85)
Aldridge... and suddenly Houghton's through... and he shoots just over! Real let-off for Arsenal 1-0 (82)
Another Barnes free-kick, he plays it short, will it come for Houghton? No, Rocastle clears 1-0 (80)
Barnes with the free-kick for Liverpool... and that floats just wide of Lukic's left-hand post 1-0 (79)
Clever from McMahon. He gets clipped by O'Leary and stays down for treatment. A few more seconds ebb away 1-0 (79)
And another attacking substitution for Arsenal - off comes Bould and on comes Perry Groves 1-0 (78)
First change by George Graham. Merson comes off, Martin Hayes comes on 1-0 (75)
Big, big chance goes begging for Arsenal. Fine build-up play and Richardson picked out Thomas inside the box 1-0 (74)
THOMAS! Oh, and Grobbelaar was able to grab it! It was a weak shot from inside the box from Thomas 1-0 (74)
Arsenal working so hard, flying into tackles. Can they create another decent chance... 1-0 (73)
Merson crosses towards Smith, the ball is cleared. Now Thomas clatters Barnes, free-kick Liverpool. Breathless stuff now 1-0 (70)
Now Merson makes a run at the heart of the Liverpool defence. But he takes on one defender too many and loses out 1-0 (68)
Good stuff from Arsenal as they put together a string of passes on the left flank. But Grobbelaar can claim again 1-0 (67)
Richardson breaks into the Liverpool box... but he's crowded out and Grobbelaar can claim the loose ball 1-0 (64)
There's huge pressure on these players now - one mistake on either side could mean the title is won or lost 1-0 (64)
Liverpool getting tense now - and Grobbelaar and Ablett exchange angry words after a hasty clearance from the defender 1-0 (61)
Anyway, it doesn't matter - this title race is on a knife-edge now! 1-0 (55)
Hard to see what Liverpool were complaining about - Smith wasn't offside and he definitely touched the ball 1-0 (53)
THE GOAL'S BEEN GIVEN! ARSENAL LEAD! 1-0 (52)
Goodness me, this is tense. The referee, David Hutchinson, is speaking to his linesman, Geoff Banwell…
The Liverpool players are surrounding the referee… 1-0 (52)
Adams makes a darting little run… AND SMITH! AND ARSENAL HAVE SCORED! 1-0 (52)
Free-kick to Arsenal, won by David Rocastle. Looks like Winterburn will take it... 0-0 (51)
Merson with the volley... but that flies wide of the Liverpool goal 0-0 (50)
Early corner for Liverpool and here's Barnes, but he's undone by an outrageous bobble deep in the Arsenal half 0-0 (47)
The players are back out on the pitch and we are back underway. Come on you Gunners! 0-0 (46)
But a good omen: Kevin Richardson was in the Everton side that beat Liverpool when they last lost by two goals at home
Worrying stats: Liverpool have not lost by two or more goals at Anfield in three years; Arsenal have not won there in 15 years
A fiercely-contested first half, Bould going closest to an Arsenal goal and Lukic denying Rush. Let's all take a deep breath
HALF-TIME: Liverpool 0-0 Arsenal
Great challenge from O'Leary, Arsenal really snapping into tackles as Liverpool enjoy a spell of pressure 0-0 (45)
Adams challenges Houghton from behind. He won't get away with that in 25 years 0-0 (43)
There's another fine defensive header, this time from Richardson. A clean sheet is imperative for Arsenal of course 0-0 (41)
Barnes finds Whelan 25 yards out and Lukic is at full stretch to tip his shot over the crossbar 0-0 (39)
Lovely play from Rocastle, he finds Merson and now it's Richardson... low shot... but that's a few yards wide 0-0 (36)
In comes the free-kick... and Smith glances it wide of the far post. Good effort. Beardsley is on for Rush 0-0 (33)
Barnes has been quiet so far, thanks largely to Lee Dixon. And now Dixon wins a free-kick after a foul from Barnes 0-0 (29)
Barnes plays it in but O'Leary hacks the ball clear. Arsenal have been very solid defensively so far 0-0 (29)
Richardson crosses but Ablett clears. Meanwhile Rush appears to have picked up a knock while shooting a few moments ago 0-0 (27)
Rush, to Aldridge, and back again to Rush! Ooh, straight at Lukic. That was hit with such venom by Rush 0-0 (25)
Liverpool are improving with Rush getting into the game, but Nicol floats a cross straight into Lukic's arms 0-0 (23)
Those Arsenal fans are making a right old noise. The away end must be full now after those traffic problems 0-0 (21)
Arsenal free-kick. "Come on you yellows!" sing the away fans. Thomas shoots... blocked by McMahon 0-0 (18)
Aldridge with a cheeky shove on Bould, he gets his shot away but that's well wide. Lukic and Bould exchange words 0-0 (16)
Smith miskicks at one end and McMahon leads a swift Liverpool break but Lukic rushes out to gather 0-0 (13)
Almost the perfect start then for Arsenal - they have started brightly with lots of energy 0-0 (11)
SO CLOSE! Thomas gets to the byline, he crosses and Bould's header is diverted just over the bar! 0-0 (9)
Arsenal fans still making their way into the ground. 0-0 (8)
Bould wins the flick-on in the Liverpool box but Grobbelaar claims the loose ball 0-0 (6)
Corner to the Arsenal. Richardson will take it... and Thomas fires over 0-0 (4)
Free-kick for Liverpool. Will it be Barnes? No, Staunton... and Lukic holds on well 0-0 (3)
An early touch for Lukic after Bould's backpass. I wonder if that rule will ever change, it does seem to slow the game down
And we're underway! Come on Arsenal! 0-0 (1)
A touch of class from Arsenal. The players emerge with bouquets of flowers for the Liverpool fans
Incredible atmosphere. One guy on The Kop is singing his heart out with two red monkey puppets on his hands. He might regret that
And these are the subs. Maybe we'll have a few more in future, who knows…
Here's the Liverpool line-up. Hmmm, lots of matchwinners in that team
Three centre backs allows Dixon and Winterburn to push on. Richardson continues in midfield, Davis is unavailable
Arsenal boss George Graham has sprung a surprise. He's playing three centre backs - O'Leary, Bould, Adams
Hang on folks, we've got a delayed kick-off - lots of Arsenal fans are stuck in traffic. However, the team news is in…
One of the least optimistic pre-match headlines comes from the Daily Mirror: "You Don't Have A Prayer, Arsenal."
So here we go. Remember, Arsenal must win by TWO GOALS or more to win the title. Anything less and it stays on MerseysideCopyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source