A fine unbeaten record secured Champions League football for Arsenal at the end of last term. Jon Spurling looks back at 20 of our best late-season charges.
1934/35 - DRAKE MASTERCLASS
Arsenal notched a hat-trick of championships in 1935, thanks mainly to an excellent run of form from February onwards. Ted Drake was in his customary predatory form, the highlight being a four-goal haul against Middlesbrough in an 8-0 thrashing. The only blip was a final-day loss to Derby, as Allison’s men finished four points clear of nearest rivals Sunderland.
2001/02 - AN UNFORGETTABLE RUN
It began with the freakiest goal of the Gunners’ season; Sylvain Wiltord’s looping effort winning the game for Arsenal against Everton at Goodison Park, and it ended with a stunning 4-3 win over the Toffees at Highbury as Arsenal won the league in 2002, as they romped towards the League and Cup Double. Arsenal won all 10 of their final league matches, with Dennis Bergkamp and Freddie Ljungberg linking up to perfection in victories against Tottenham, Bolton, and West Ham. Wiltord’s winner at Old Trafford confirmed Arsenal as champions, and the quality of play throughout that marvellous 10-match spell (Robert Pires’ lobbed winner over Aston Villa’s Peter Schmeichel arguably the best of all) will never be forgotten.
1970/71 - DOUBLE DELIGHT
“We’re the masters of putting end of season runs together,” insisted Leeds boss Don Revie, “and time will tell if Arsenal can better us.” As the 1970/71 campaign entered the finishing strait, Gunners boss Bertie Mee warned his team that only a Herculean effort would see Arsenal prevail against the Elland Road outfit. His team responded in exemplary style, embarking on a run of nine straight wins, punctuated by sinew tightening 1-0 victories over Newcastle and Burnley. They did slip up away at Leeds, before two more 1-0 wins saw them secure the league title on the way to completing the Double.
1983/84 - HOWE'S MARCH MASTERY
The 1983/84 campaign had failed to live up to expectations. New signing Charlie Nicholas’s form had been patchy, and manager Terry Neill was fired just before Christmas. But in late March, with the team now managed by Don Howe, the team clicked and blasted 24 league goals in the last 10 matches. The highlight was a memorable 3-2 Easter Monday win over Tottenham, with Nicholas and Tony Woodcock dovetailing perfectly as they marauded through the Spurs defence. “Welcome to Highbury, the home of fine arts,” headlined the Telegraph the next day.
2003/04 - THE GREATEST RUN OF ALL
More of a sublime whole-season canter. The ‘Invincibles’ of 2003/04 knew precisely when to grind out draws, or stroll to victory. As the campaign reached its end, and Manchester United remained in touch, the team ruthlessly destroyed relegation bound Leeds United, beat Liverpool 4-2 and ground out a 1-0 win at Fulham. Leicester City appeared not to have read the script by taking the lead at Highbury in the final league match, before Henry and Vieira scored the goals that gave Arsenal a 2-1 win, and confirmed they’d gone through the entire season as unbeaten champions.
1930/31 - ARSENAL HOLD THEIR NERVE
As Arsenal closed in on their first title in 1931, manager Herbert Chapman warned his team that “it’s all about holding your nerve.” His troops did just that, remaining unbeaten in the last nine games, and cruising past Liverpool, Newcastle and Bolton in April and May to bring the championship to Highbury for the first time, with David Jack and Jack Lambert in sparkling form.
1980/81 - FOUR LATE WINS SECURE THIRD
In many ways, the 1980/81 campaign had been slightly disappointing, with the Gunners crashing out of both domestic cup competitions early on. With just four league games remaining, Arsenal knew they had to win all of them to stand any chance of qualifying for the UEFA Cup and salvaging some pride. It looked a tough run in, but a fine 2-0 away win at title chasing Ipswich started the process, then Terry Neill’s men edged out Wolves and Crystal Palace by the odd goal. In the final match of the campaign, over 54,000 packed Highbury and saw Brian McDermott and Willie Young’s goals help defeat Aston Villa 2-0, as the Birmingham side were crowned Division One champions despite their loss. Arsenal edged third, finishing a crucial point ahead of West Brom.
2011/12 - MINDING THE GAP
“Mind the gap” sang Tottenham fans as they filed into the Emirates Stadium with their team a massive 10 points ahead of the Gunners late in February 2012. Spurs quickly went into a 2-0 lead, before Arsenal roared back in sensational style to secure a famous 5-2 win. A possible 13-point lead was now just seven. From that point on, Arsenal chipped away at Tottenham’s advantage, with Robin Van Persie in fine form against Liverpool at Anfield and Mikel Arteta netting a stunning goal to put eventual champions Manchester City to the sword at the Emirates. A distinctly nervy 3-2 win at the Hawthorns on the final day of the season, and a little help from Baggies ‘keeper Marton Fulop, saw the Gunners edge out Spurs and grab the automatic Champions League spot.
1979/80 - ALL TO NO AVAIL
A barnstorming end to a season, for precisely no reward. Terry Neill’s Gunners went seven league matches unbeaten at the tail end of the 79/80 campaign, reached the FA Cup final after a marathon semi-final with Liverpool, and the Cup Winners Cup Final after seeing off Juventus. “I can’t believe how dogged and resilient my team is,” gushed Neill. Yet at the end there was only disappointment, as they lost both finals, and were thrashed 5-0 by Middlesbrough in the last league game to deny Arsenal a Uefa Cup place.
2005/06 - SEEING OFF HIGHBURY IN STYLE
For most of the 2005/06 campaign, it appeared that Arsenal’s last season at Highbury would be the one where they finally finished behind Spurs in the league (after 13 consecutive campaigns of enjoying the upper hand) and conceded Champions League football. Failing to replace Patrick Vieira, and the team’s run to the final of the Champions League were contributory factors behind the Club’s jittery league form, but in March the team rallied with new signing Emmanuel Adebayor linking well with Thierry Henry, and the Gunners began to put a run of wins together. It all came down to the final game at home to Wigan, and at a Highbury bedecked in red and white, Arsenal won 4-2, as news filtered through that Tottenham had lost 2-1 at West Ham. Champions League football was secured once more, and ‘St Totteringham’s Day’, belatedly, was celebrated.
1990/91 - GUNNERS SHOCK SOUEY
“I think Arsenal will fall away now,” insisted new Liverpool boss Graeme Souness after Arsenal lost 2-1 at Chelsea in February 1991. It was George Graham’s side’s first defeat of the campaign, and it would turn out to be their only loss. Arsenal then embarked on a 14 league match unbeaten run, the pivotal game being a 1-0 defeat of Souness’s Liverpool at Anfield, as they romped to the title, eventually finishing seven points ahead of closest rivals... Liverpool.
1937/38 - THREE WINS SECURE TITLE
To say that the destiny of the First Division title was up in the air as 1937/38 reached its conclusion is an understatement. The Gunners appeared to have handed the initiative to Wolves after drawing and losing twice, but rallied in the final three matches, winning away at third-placed Preston to end the Deepdale side’s title chances, grinding out a 1-0 win against Liverpool and then thrashing Bolton 5-0 in the season’s final match. The Gunners secured the title by a single point.
1997/98 - PERFECT TEN
Arsenal emerged from a rocky winter spell in 1997, and as the evenings grew lighter, they seemed re-energised. The Gunners eked out tight wins against Leicester and Crystal Palace and then began to turn on the afterburners when spring arrived, leaving their rivals trailing in their wake. Marc Overmars slipped home the winner at Old Trafford which swung the title Arsenal’s way. Bergkamp, Anelka and Parlour shone as the team found its shooting boots against Blackburn, Wimbledon, and most memorably Everton, and the team lifted the title as they romped towards the league and cup double. A 10-match winning streak also saw Wenger’s men hold their nerve in tense 1-0 defeats of Derby and Bolton.
1952/53 - A TENSE FINALE
The run-up to the (ultimately) decisive match wasn’t pretty, but the end game certainly was. Arsenal needed to beat Burnley at Highbury to win the league in 52/53, but the margin was incredibly tight. On a feverish Friday night, goals from Forbes, Lishman and Logie helped see off the Clarets 3-2, and Tom Whittaker’s side edge the title on goal average. Whittaker was so tense towards the end that he disappeared into the Highbury tunnel to calm himself.
1995/96 - DENNIS DESTROYS TROTTERS
As Bruce Rioch’s Arsenal approached the 38th and final match of the 1995/96 campaign, they were part of a cluster of teams including Everton, Blackburn and Tottenham looking for the final Uefa Cup place. Visitors Bolton took the lead against a weary looking Arsenal, but a late David Platt goal tied up the scores, before Dennis Bergkamp rifled home the winner in the dying seconds. Highbury erupted. Match won, and fifth place secured.
1998/99 - GUNNERS TAKE IT TO THE BRINK
It was definitely barnstorming. It was also heartbreaking. After a 3-2 defeat at Aston Villa in December 1998, Wenger’s Arsenal embarked on a stunning run of form in the New Year, playing arguably their best football under the Frenchman. Bergkamp and Anelka combined to put the likes of West Ham, Leicester and Middlesbrough to the sword and hold a slender lead over Manchester United in the league. The only blip was a 1-0 defeat to Leeds, and it cost the team the title. “It seems staggering that one defeat in 21 games made the difference, having played such unbelievable football, but that’s life,” shrugged Wenger.
1991/92 - A GOAL-LADEN 17 GAMES
George Graham’s team had failed to defend their title during the 1991/92 campaign, and after a 2-0 loss to Liverpool in late January, Arsenal were marooned in mid table. The Gunners promptly embarked on a goal laden 17-match unbeaten run to the end of the season, the highlights being a 7-1 trouncing of Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury, a 4-0 destruction of Liverpool with Anders Limpar’s 40-yard lob the highlight, and Ian Wright’s stunning hat trick in a 5-1 win over Southampton on the last day of the North Bank terrace.
1999/2000 - A SUPER EIGHT
With Uefa announcing prior to the 1999/00 season that the top three would now progress to the Champions League, the pressure was on the Gunners to overhaul David O’Leary’s resurgent Leeds United, and Liverpool, and finish as close as possible to Manchester United, who’d romped away with the title. An eight-match winning run between March and May did the trick. New signing Thierry Henry served notice of his burgeoning talent by netting a double in a 2-1 home win against Chelsea. The Gunners finished runners up, four points ahead of Leeds.
2012/13 - A POSITIVE SPIRAL
After two defensive howlers cost Arsenal dear at White Hart Lane and Tottenham ran out 2-1 winners in early March, Andre Villas Boas suggested that the Gunners were in a “negative spiral”. Yet with a freshened defensive backline, Arsenal rallied at Swansea to secure a fine 2-0 win, and won further tight away games at Loftus Road and the Hawthorns, always listening out nervously for what London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham were up to in their matches. Eventually, it all came down to that nailbiting match at St James’ Park, where Laurent Koscielny bundled in the goal that saw Arsenal finish above Spurs by a single point, after they also won their final game.
1903/04 - A FINAL PUSH PAYS OFF
Woolwich Arsenal’s first-ever promotion to Division One in April 1904 was a close-run thing, with the team finishing just one point ahead of third-placeD Manchester United. The team held themselves together superbly in the tense final games of the campaign, drawing against Burslem Port Vale and Preston, when press reports suggested that Arsenal had been on the back foot for much of both matches. A fine 3-0 victory over Bradford finally nudged Arsenal into the top flight.
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