By Rob Kelly
Delight and delirium, joy and pain, regret and recriminations: Arsenal’s FA Cup third-round matches down the years really have had it all.
The ‘magic’ of the world’s oldest cup competition may be something of a cliché these days, but it has certainly provided its fair share of memorable moments since its inception in 1871.
In this feature, we will examine the good, the bad and the ugly ahead of Sunday's clash with Swansea City. Let’s hope this weekend's game fits into the first category…
Arsenal 1-0 Leeds United
January 9, 2012
“It was the perfect script from a perfectly special player. It showed that some things never die like class, motivation and desire to win,” purred Arsène Wenger in the aftermath of one of the great FA Cup moments. Just days after his much-celebrated return to the Club - and just weeks after a bronze statue of him had been unveiled outside Emirates Stadium - Thierry Henry was named on the bench for this third-round clash. Just the mere sight of Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer warming up on the touchline produced roars of approval from those fans packed into this pocket of north London. Finally, after 67 goalless minutes against a stubborn Leeds side, the crowd had their wish as Henry was introduced in place of Marouane Chamakh. In truth, he barely touched the ball before his chance for immortality came. But when it came, he took it. It was classic Henry: one touch to collect Alex Song’s pass, a quick look up and then a stroked shot into the far corner. “I hope someone isn’t going to wake me up and tell me it was a dream," Henry beamed afterwards. The legend was back.
Port Vale 1-1 Arsenal (Arsenal won 4-2 on penalties)
January 14, 1998
A season that ended in glory for the Gunners could so easily have taken a very different turn. Arsène Wenger’s side were held to a surprise goalless draw against Port Vale at Highbury in their third-round clash, and went to a replay at Vale Park 11 days later. “The pitch was quite heavy, very boggy and very difficult to play football on. It was a typical third-round game and became a bit of battle,” Nigel Winterburn recalls. “They were on a high after getting a draw in the first game, and we knew we had to deal with the crowd and the state of the pitch.”
But once again, Arsenal struggled to find a way past the hard-working hosts and the game went to extra time. Dennis Bergkamp opened the scoring in the 100th minute but Wayne Corden almost immediately struck back meaning the game went to a shoot-out. “At that stage I was just hoping my team-mates could pull it off, but you also know anything can happen,” Winterburn said. “But I also knew we had one of the top keepers in the world at that stage and the chances were that he would make a save.” David Seaman kept his part of the bargain by pushing out Ian Bogie's spot-kick and Vale's Allen Tankard blazed the final shot over the bar. They may have scraped through but Arsenal would not waste their opportunity and went on to lift the FA Cup as part of Wenger’s first, and the Club’s second-ever, Double. On such small margins…
Walsall 2-0 Arsenal
January 14, 1933
A contender for one of the greatest FA Cup upsets of all time, this defeat for Herbert Chapman’s side reverberated around English football. Arsenal were considered by many to be the best team in the country - they had won the league title in 1931 and would win it again in 1933, 1934 and 1935. Their opponents were struggling near the foot of the Third Division South, but managed to hold a Gunners side containing four reserve players to a goalless draw at half time. Walsall were superb after the restart and opened the scoring through Gilbert Alsop, before Arsenal left back Tommy Black gave away a penalty that was converted to give the hosts a famous victory. Bob Wall, an administrator at the Club who worked alongside Chapman, said the manager told Black “he would never play for Arsenal again, he had let our reputation down and he need never come to the ground again. His boots would be sent round with the transfer forms. Tommy was transferred to Plymouth Argyle the following week.”
Wrexham 2-1 Arsenal
January 4, 1992
Arsenal were reigning champions, and heavy favourites against a Wrexham side struggling in the Fourth Division and also dealing with serious off-field problems. “Everyone expected us to win and we were aware they were in dire financial trouble,” David Hillier remembers. “But we also knew we had to be careful against a wounded animal because they can a bite. And they did that day.” George Graham had made the FA Cup “a major priority” and few gave the Welsh club any chance of springing a surprise - especially after Alan Smith had converted a Paul Merson pass in the first half. But towards the end of the match, everything changed. “It started to get dark and wet, and the pitch was very heavy - all those things you don’t like,” Hillier says. “The crowd felt really close, it was pretty intense - particularly in that second half.” With just eight minutes remaining, 37-year-old midfielder Mickey Thomas crashed home a superb free kick to restore parity. Suddenly the momentum was with the home side, and within two minutes they scored the winner through Steve Watkin to send Arsenal crashing out. “I remember Jimmy Carter’s face on the line as the winner went in, and I just thought, ‘Oh no!’ It was just one of those fairytale endings for Wrexham. Maybe it was just fate and supposed to happen.” Graham admitted afterwards that the defeat was “the lowest point of my career”.
Copyright 2013 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 4 Jan 2013