A fine unbeaten run secured Champions League football last season and Jon Spurling looks back at 20 more feelgood moments.
May 1, 1953
As Arsenal clung on to their 3-2 lead against Burnley at Highbury in the final match of the 1952/53 campaign, the Gunners knew that a win would see them pip nearest rivals Preston to the title by the narrowest of margins. Then, in the dying minutes, winger Don Roper caught Burnley’s Billy Elliott in the box. “These days, he’d probably have gone down,” Roper said years later. “But he stayed on his feet and told me: ‘There are better ways of denying you the title than that, Don.’ I still smile at the sportsmanship of that moment today.” Arsenal secured the title by just 0.09 of a goal, back in the days of goal averages.
WRIGHT TIME FOR IAN
May 3, 1998
Highbury certainly shook to the “Ian Wright, Wright, Wright” theme after the Londoner broke the Club goalscoring record against Bolton in September 1997, but the decibel level reached fever pitch as he prepared to make a substitute appearance against Everton on the day Arsenal clinched the title at home nine months later. On what turned out to be a perfect day in glorious sunshine, the beaming Wright, with gold tooth glinting in the sun, entered the fray to an ear-splitting din. With the tabloids correctly predicting that his departure from the Club was imminent, it turned out to be his final competitive appearance at Arsenal’s former ground.
NORTH LONDON ROCKED
When Arsenal announced they were holding a press conference in June 2001, there seemed confusion over what the topic would be. There were audible gasps when Tottenham skipper Sol Campbell - so often the last line of defence for his club in derby games - was unveiled as the Gunners’ new signing. Campbell inflamed passions in north London when he announced: “I’ve moved because I want to win trophies.” He’d go on to win a 'Double' in his first season at the club, vindicating his decision, and most Arsenal supporters basked in the sheer audacity of raiding their bitterest rivals for their best player.
SO LONG, JOE
April 10, 1954
A bittersweet moment, but it was evocative nonetheless… midway through the second half of the April 1954 clash between Arsenal and Liverpool, crowd favourite Joe Mercer collided with Joe Wade, and was stretchered off with a broken leg. As they took him away, he raised himself to wave goodbye to the crowd, and virtually to a man, the 33,000 supporters saluted him, knowing that this was likely to be the end of the veteran’s career. Mercer later recalled: “In an extremely odd way, it was one of my favourite moments in the game. The reaction I received still sends shivers down my spine.”
December 26, 1983
Arsenal fans needed something as a tonic in the bleak midwinter of 1983. With league form best described as “inconsistent”, and a horrendous Milk Cup defeat to Walsall fresh in the memory, a trip to in-form Tottenham on Boxing Day looked tricky. But the Gunners rose to the occasion, with young striker Raphael Meade and Charlie Nicholas both netting a brace in a 4-2 win. It was the perfect Christmas present, and proved that Nicholas, who’d already netted a goal in a Milk Cup win at White Hart Lane earlier that season, always rose to the occasion in north London derbies.
May 2, 1983
The 1982/83 campaign had been a disappointment for the Gunners, who lost to Manchester United in both domestic cup competitions. Optimism among the Highbury support wasn’t high when United travelled to north London for a league match on May Bank Holiday weekend, and matters worsened for the disappointing 23,000 crowd when the mother of all downpours began just as the match began. But miraculously, as the sun crept through in the second half, Arsenal got their game together and goals from Brian Talbot (2) and David O’Leary enabled them to run out 3-0 winners. It didn’t make up for the disappointment of the cup losses, but it was a welcome afternoon nonetheless.
LIKE OLD TIMES
July 30, 1991
Paul Davis’s testimonial match in August 1991 saw Arsenal and Celtic fight out an entertaining 2-2 draw. The crowd was excited to see former favourite Charlie Nicholas return to Highbury, and late in the first half, Nicholas nipped past the Arsenal defence to drill his shot past David Seaman, at which point the entire ground - including Celtic and Arsenal fans - broke out in spontaneous applause. “I was actually quite nervous coming back here,” recalled the Scot, “and I’m so pleased that the Arsenal crowd still like me as much as I like them.”
SMILES FOR ‘SPIDER’
May 17, 1993
With Manchester United already having sewn up the league title, and Arsenal looking forward to the forthcoming FA Cup final, David O’Leary’s farewell testimonial at Highbury in May 1993 was never going to be too edgy or explosive. It was a rare moment of conciliation between the two rivals. Late on in the game, O’Leary made an uncharacteristic excursion into the United box, and with Gary Pallister affording him a great deal of time and space, the Irishman was able to knock his shot past a grinning Les Sealey in the United goal, to give him one great final Highbury memory.
LEAVE IT TO LOGIE
May 1, 1948
A fight between two legendary Gunners? Well, sort of. With Arsenal already leading hapless Grimsby 7-0 in the last game of the 1947/48 season, and the league championship secure, the Gunners were awarded a spot kick, which ebullient skipper Joe Mercer attempted to take. Despite the Highbury crowd chanting “We want Mercer”, forward Jimmy Logie playfully wrestled the ball away from him, and drilled home the spot kick to make it 8-0 to the hosts. Moments later, the league trophy was paraded around Highbury, leading legendary Arsenal defender George Male to describe it as “the perfect day”.
May 3, 1998
If hammering Everton in May 1998 to win the league wasn’t enough, the “icing on the cake” goal scored by Tony Adams minutes before the end proved just how much Arsène Wenger had changed the playing philosophy in the 18 months he’d been in charge. Now with a licence to roam into the opposition’s half, craggy central defender Steve Bould’s lobbed pass to the Gunners skipper - thundered in on the half volley - gave notice that Arsenal’s brand of football had changed, as BBC presenter Des Lynam commented, from “Boring, Boring Arsenal” to “Soaring, Soaring Arsenal.”
GOAL AND A RECORD
November 4, 1989
Arsenal’s home match with high-flying Norwich in November 1988 was memorable in many ways. The Gunners ran out eventual 4-3 winners, with Lee Dixon scrambling home a last-minute winner after Bryan Gunn pushed out his spot kick. Following Dixon’s goal, an almighty rumpus exploded in the Norwich goal mouth, with tempers boiling over after a tumultuous match. Yet sandwiched in the middle was a rare goal from central defender David O’Leary, who headed the Gunners’ second on the day he broke the Arsenal appearance record, having run on to the pitch with a guard of honour. It was a moment of unbridled joy on a distinctly combative afternoon.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
October 19, 2010
After battling back from the horrendous leg injury sustained at Birmingham in 2008, Eduardo marked his return to first-team action with a brace against Cardiff in the FA Cup a year later. But arguably the most heartwarming moment came in October 2010, three months after he left the Club. Returning for a Champions League match with Shakhtar Donetsk, he entered the fray in the 63rd minute from the bench with Arsenal already racing away with the game. Latching on to a pass, he finished the move in great style. All four sides of the ground rose as one to acknowledge the brave Croatian.
September 8, 1984
The mid-1980s were mainly grim years for Arsenal fans, but in the late summer of 1984, the clouds temporarily lifted as Don Howe’s team stormed to the top of the league, playing some excellent football in the process. The highlight was a 3-1 thrashing of champions Liverpool, played out in front of a huge 50,000 crowd on a boiling hot day. Brian Talbot curled in a free kick (“Call it a la Platini if you like,” claimed commentator John Motson), Tony Woodcock added a second and Talbot’s diving header completed the comfortable win. The form soon dipped, and Arsenal fell back to seventh place at season’s end, but it remains a favourite memory of many older fans.
May 7, 2006
Arsenal fans will always be grateful to Thierry Henry, clad in his redcurrant strip, for netting a clinical hat-trick in the last-ever game at Highbury - a 4-2 win against Wigan in the final game of the 2005/06 season. The last goal at the old stadium was a Henry penalty and is memorable for his celebration. He sunk to his knees in front of the red and white card holding fans on the North Bank and kissed the turf, leading some to mistakenly suggest he was about to depart the club. “I was bidding farewell to the best pitch in the country, as well as Highbury itself,” he explained later.
ARSENAL WIN THE WORLD CUP
July 12, 1998
Dynamic midfield duo Patrick Vieira and Manu Petit performed admirably throughout the 1998 World Cup as hosts France lifted the trophy. Having won the League and FA Cup “double” only two months earlier, the Gunners’ exalted status was raised even further when, with Brazil already beaten in the final, Vieira threaded through a glorious ball to Petit, who pushed his shot past Tafarel. Next day, the tabloids showed the Frenchmen embracing on the turf, amid cascades of gold confetti. “Arsenal Win The World Cup,” boomed The Daily Mirror. After the triumphs of the past few months, it certainly felt like it.
June 20, 1995
When Dennis Bergkamp was unveiled for the first time in an Arsenal shirt on June 20th, 1995, the tabloids were caught largely unawares. “HELLO KAMPERS – Den for Hi-de- Highbury,” was The Sun’s offering! Tall and blonde, the aura surrounding the £7.5 million Dutchman was quite unlike anything seen before at Highbury. Despite enduring a difficult start at the club, a stellar talent had arrived in north London, and the Gunners had sent out a clear statement of intent to their rivals that they were to become a force to be reckoned with by the late 1990s.
TURNING BACK TIME
January 9, 2012
A delicate through ball by Alex Song… Thierry Henry latches onto the ball, and threads the ball past the Leeds goalkeeper from ten yards out. The Arsenal crowd had seen the magical Frenchman score majestically countless times before, but his winning goal in the third round FA Cup tie in January 2012 marked the second coming of the club’s record goalscorer. When the bearded Henry netted the winner, he “celebrated like a true supporter. I felt at one with them. It was a different feeling from my previous goals, but in a unique way, even more special”.
WRIGHTY’S NORTH BANK SEND OFF
May 2, 1992
Of all Ian Wright’s achievements in an Arsenal shirt, Gunners fans will probably be most grateful for his stunning hattrick against Southampton on the final day of the North Bank terrace in May 1992. Neck and neck with Gary Lineker for the race to the Golden Boot, Wright dropped back into his own half, collected David Seaman’s long throw, galloped at full pelt into Saints’ territory, and slammed his shot past Tim Flowers. When he shinned in his hat-trick a few minutes later, Kevin Campbell hoisted him high onto his shoulders in front of the maelstrom that was the North Bank. The old terrace couldn’t have had a better send off.
RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL PIRES
April 15, 2009
“It made up for my disappointment at being substituted in the Champions League Final three years earlier, and losing on my return. The Arsenal crowd were unbelievable,” recalled former Gunner Robert Pires after his side Villarreal had been defeated 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium in the 2010 semi-final second leg. Now playing in a more central role, Pires was powerless to stop his old side from romping home, but he warmed to the crowd’s chants of “Super Robert Pires” for virtually the entire second half. “It makes me think that this is my true home”, explained the Frenchman, who now works in an ambassadorial role at the Club.
December 14, 1935
Arsenal finished only seventh in the 1935/36 campaign, but in mid December, they turned on a coruscating display at Villa Park, with Ted Drake scoring all the goals in Arsenal’s 7-1 win. The match wasn’t especially significant in the overall course of the season, but it illustrated perfectly the prowess of the Southampton born striker. Doubters suggested that the England forward was little better than a one man bull in a china shop, but Drake proved that there was no one better at tucking away half chances. Years later, Drake admitted: “I didn’t even play especially well, but sometimes as a striker, everything goes your way. This was my day!”
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.