In May of their centenary year, Arsenal named former player George Graham as the man to succeed Don Howe, who had asked to be released from his Highbury contract.
The Scotsman’s arrival drew a line under a fallow period under Terry Neil and later Howe. After losing both the FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup Finals in 1980, Arsenal lost some of their most established stars at the beginning of the decade. Liam Brady, who had been named Player of the Year three times running, signed for Juventus and then Frank Stapleton moved on to Manchester United. The two departures embodied the passing of an era.
Graham was installed as Arsenal manager after a successful spell at Third Division Millwall. Within a year he had delivered the Club’s first silverware since the FA Cup in 1979. Despite going a goal down to the mighty Liverpool, Graham’s young side won 2-1 to claim Arsenal’s first League Cup. They reached the Final the following year too, but were denied by Luton Town.
Graham’s reign was notable for the strict discipline put in place both on and off the pitch. Defensively, Arsenal were second to none and Graham set about building a back four that would serve the Gunners for over a decade, with young captain Tony Adams its centrepiece. Further up the field, the likes of David Rocastle, Paul Merson and Alan Smith provided the Gunners’ attacking threat.
"Defensively, Arsenal were second to none and Graham set about building a back four that would serve the Gunners for over a decade, with young captain Tony Adams its centrepiece."
In his third season in charge, Graham would oversee perhaps the most dramatic title triumph in League history on the final day of the 1988/89 season, with extra-special thanks to Smith and Michael Thomas.
The Club’s first Division One triumph for 18 years was expected to usher in a new period of Arsenal dominance in English football, but that wasn’t quite the case. The following season was blemished by inconsistency and a disappointing fourth-place finish was all Graham’s men could muster.
Reinforcements were needed and Swedish midfielder Anders Limpar and a Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper by the name of David Seaman were brought in with immediate effect. Despite a two-point deduction for a mass brawl in a 1-0 win against Manchester United, and an eight-week prison sentence for Adams, Arsenal romped to the Division One crown, losing only once along the way.
However, once again Arsenal were unable to build on their league success and a fourth-place finish followed once again in 1992. The league title continued to evade the Club in the following seasons but Arsenal would emerge as a highly-efficient knock-out team.
Their unique FA Cup and League Cup double in 1993 was a testament to that. European honours soon followed when Arsenal overcame Parma in the European Cup Winners Cup Final in Copenhagen a year later; only their second silverware on the continent.
However, within 10 months of the victory, Graham was sacked as Arsenal manager. His dismissal brought an end to a quite glittering nine-year spell at Highbury.
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