History of Arsenal F.C. (1966-present)
Learn more about History of Arsenal F.C. (1966-present)
This article details the History of Arsenal Football Club from 1966 to the present day.
 The first Double (1966–76)
Following the dismissal of Billy Wright in the summer of 1966, Arsenal appointed physiotherapist Bertie Mee as his successor, a move that brought surprise to some, not least Mee himself. Nevertheless, Mee's appointment brought a brief period of glory. Arsenal's youth team had won the FA Youth Cup in 1966, and talented attacking players such as Charlie George, John Radford and Ray Kennedy graduated to the first team. Mee complemented this attacking ability with some more experienced heads; captain Frank McLintock at centre half marshalled a strong defence, while the hard-tackling Peter Storey filled the vital defensive midfield position. The team showed early signs of promise, reaching two successive League Cup finals in 1968 and 1969. Both times the Gunners went home empty-handed; the first to Don Revie's Leeds United 1-0; the second was an infamous upset – Arsenal losing 3-1 to Third Division side Swindon Town.
That season was not a total disaster for Arsenal; they had also finished fourth, which won them a place in Europe, and led to the club collecting their first silverware in seventeen years and their first European trophy, the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Arsenal beat Ajax in the semi-finals, and then staged a famous comeback against Anderlecht in the final. Arsenal were 3-0 down after 74 minutes of the first leg, but Ray Kennedy got a late away goal to give the Gunners a glimmer of hope; in the second leg in front of a packed Highbury, Arsenal won 3-0 with goals from John Radford, Eddie Kelly and Jon Sammels, to win the tie 4-3 on aggregate.
The highlight of this period was the club's first FA Cup and League Double win in 1970-71. Arsenal had started poorly, losing 5-0 to Stoke City in September. They recovered to put a strong run-in to the title in a tight race with Leeds United. Arsenal were pushed all the way to the title, and needed to beat deadly rivals Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on the last day of the season to overtake Leeds; they did just that, winning 1-0 thanks to a goal by Ray Kennedy. Five days later, Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley; Arsenal went 1-0 down early in extra time, before substitute Eddie Kelly's equaliser, and then Charlie George scored the winner.
The Double proved to a premature high point of a decade characterised by a string of near-misses. Despite signing World Cup winner Alan Ball in the close season, Arsenal began 1971-72 badly, losing three matches in August, and were forced to play catch-up for the rest of the season, ultimately finishing fifth. Their debut in the European Cup started encouragingly, but they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by a Johann Cruyff-inspired Ajax playing at the very top of their game. Arsenal also reached the FA Cup final for the second year in a row; this time they lost 1-0 to Leeds United in an ill-disciplined and at times ugly match.
Arsenal finished as First Division runners-up in 1972-73, but within a year the Double-winning side had been broken up, and Mee was unable to build a new team in its place. The club's form declined sharply, finishing 16th in 1974-75 and 17th in 1975-76, their lowest in more than forty years, which prompted Mee's resignation. Tottenham manager Terry Neill, a former Arsenal player, was appointed in his place, even though he had never got Spurs anywhere beyond mid-table.
 Neill and Howe's mixed fortunes (1976–86)
Under Neill, Arsenal moved back into the top half of the table, inspired in part by the emergence of Irish superstar Liam Brady. Brady formed part of a large Irish contingent at Highbury, which included Pat Rice, Frank Stapleton, Pat Jennings and the young David O'Leary. Although they could not challenge the League dominance of Liverpool at the time, towards the end of the decade they proved their mettle in the FA Cup. Arsenal reached three finals in a row (1978, 1979, and 1980), but won only one, the 1979 final against Manchester United. Largely inspired by Brady, Arsenal went 2-0 up through Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton and looked to be coasting to victory; with five minutes to go, United scored twice in quick succession to level the match. Extra time loomed, but Alan Sunderland converted Graham Rix's cross in injury time to secure a famous 3-2 win.
The next season, 1979-80, proved to be cruel as Arsenal played a record-breaking 70 matches and reached two cup finals, only to end the season empty-handed. Arsenal were favourites to beat Second Division West Ham United in the FA Cup final, but lost 1-0 to a Trevor Brooking header. Meanwhile, they had also reached the Cup Winners' Cup final against Valencia, after Paul Vaessen's goal had given them a famous victory over Juventus in the semi-finals; the final finished goalless and Arsenal lost on penalties, with Brady and Rix missing from the spot.
Liam Brady left Arsenal for Juventus in the summer of 1980, and the team entered another barren period. They continued to finish in the top four at the start of the eighties, though Arsenal were never title challengers, and could not rediscover their FA Cup form either; their best season was when they reached both cup semi-finals in 1982-83, only to be knocked out in both by Manchester United.
Neill struggled to control his team at times; throughout his tenure, he had fallings out with many of his players (including Alan Hudson and Malcolm Macdonald) and he was unable to contain the drinking culture within the squad.<ref>Spurling (2004), 133–51, recounts Arsenal's disastrous 1977 tour of Australia that ended with Neill sending Hudson and Macdonald home halfway through.</ref> In addition many of his signings, such as Charlie Nicholas, tended to be disappointing flops. Neill was sacked in December 1983 after a poor start to the 1983-84 season, which included a shock defeat in the League Cup at the hands of Walsall.
Don Howe, a long-time servant of the club, succeeded Neill but he could not get the side anywhere near a trophy either. Although Arsenal were never terrible under Howe in the league (finishing sixth and seventh), they were dumped out of the 1984-85 FA Cup by Third Division York City. The fans were getting increasingly disillusioned with the club's muddling performances and attendances started to dip beneath 20,000. In March 1986, after hearing the board had approached Terry Venables as his replacement,<ref>Spurling (2004), 179.</ref> Howe resigned.
 The George Graham years (1986–95)
In the summer of 1986, Millwall manager George Graham, a former Arsenal player, was appointed as Howe's long-term replacement, and it was the beginning of a new golden era at Highbury. Graham cleared out much of the old guard and replaced them with new signings and promoted youth players, while imposing much stricter discipline than his predecessors, both in the dressing room and on the pitch. Arsenal's form immediately improved, so much so that the club were top of the League at Christmas 1986, for the first time in a decade – an appropriate way of celebrating the club's centenary.
Though Arsenal finished fourth in Graham's first season in charge, Arsenal did win the League Cup, in a campaign marked by comebacks. After going 2-0 down on aggregate in the second leg of their semi-final against Tottenham, Arsenal scored twice to force a replay; in the replay Spurs went 1-0 up, only for Arsenal to come back again with late goals from Ian Allinson and David Rocastle to win. The final against Liverpool was a repeat performance; after Arsenal had gone 1-0 down, two Charlie Nicholas goals brought Arsenal their first League Cup triumph.
While Arsenal lost the League Cup final the following year (a shock defeat to Luton Town), their League form steadily improved. Graham's side featured tight defensive discipline, embodied by his young captain Tony Adams, along with Lee Dixon, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn, who together formed the basis of the club's defence for over a decade. However, contrary to popular belief, during this time Graham's Arsenal were not a purely defensive side; Graham also employed capable midfielders such as David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and Paul Merson, and striker Alan Smith, whose prolific goalscoring regularly brought him more than 20 goals per season.
At the end of Graham's third season (1988-89), the club won their first League title since 1971, in highly dramatic fashion. Having led the League since Christmas, Arsenal were overtaken by Liverpool after losing to Derby County and drawing at home to Wimbledon in May. Arsenal had seemingly thrown away the title, but the final game of the season, on May 26, was against Liverpool at Anfield; Arsenal needed to win by two goals to take the title; Liverpool had already won the FA Cup and were favourites to complete the Double. Alan Smith scored for Arsenal early in the second half to make it 1-0, but as time ticked by Arsenal struggled to get a second. With 90 minutes gone on the clock, Arsenal still needed another goal, and the title looked to be Liverpool's. With only seconds to go, a Smith flick-on found Michael Thomas surging through the Liverpool defence; the young midfielder calmly lifted the ball over Bruce Grobbelaar and into the net, and Arsenal were League Champions.
Arsenal could not retain the title the following season; they finished fourth in 1989-90 and fell behind champions Liverpool, runners-up Aston Villa and third-placed Tottenham Hotspur in the title challenge. They also failed to make their mark in the cups, and the post-Heysel ban on English clubs in European competition was still in force at that time, so Arsenal were unable to represent England in the European Cup.
Graham sought to improve his side and signed goalkeeper David Seaman and Swedish winger Anders Limpar in the close season; both players proved vital as Arsenal retook the title in 1990-91, despite two major setbacks. Arsenal had two points deducted in October 1990 after ten of their players were involved in a brawl with Manchester United players in a match at Old Trafford, and captain Tony Adams was sentenced to four months' imprisonment for drink driving in December. These did not hinder Arsenal's progress; they lost only one league match all season and finished seven points clear. Arsenal also reached the FA Cup semi-finals, where they faced Tottenham Hotspur; Paul Gascoigne scored with a free kick from 30 yards after just five minutes and Tottenham ran home 3-1 winners, dashing hopes of a second Double.
1991-92 saw the Gunners sign striker and second all-time top scorer Ian Wright from Crystal Palace in October, and the club's first entry in the European Cup since 1971-72. The European venture went badly; Arsenal were knocked out by SL Benfica in the second round and failed to make the lucrative group stage. The season went from bad to worse when the Gunners were knocked out of the FA Cup by lowly Wrexham, though Arsenal recovered to finish fourth in the League.
After this season, Graham changed his tactics; he became more defensive and turned out far less attack-minded sides, which depended mainly on goals from Wright rather than the whole team. Between 1986-87 and 1991-92 Arsenal averaged 66 League goals a season (scoring 81 in 1991-92), but between 1992-93 and 1994-95 only averaged 48;<ref>Statistics sourced from Template:Cite web</ref> this included just 40 in 1992-93, when the club finished 10th in the inaugural season of the FA Premier League, scoring fewer than any other team in the division.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
Arsenal's League form was disappointing, but the team saved their best for the cups, and in 1992-93 became the first side to win the FA Cup and League Cup double. In the League Cup final, Arsenal faced Sheffield Wednesday; a Merson-inspired Arsenal side came from 1-0 down to win 2-1 thanks to a Steve Morrow goal. In the FA Cup, Arsenal beat Spurs 1-0 in the semis (avenging their defeat of 1991), and played Sheffield Wednesday in the final, again. It ended 1-1 and went to a replay; Wright opened the scoring for Arsenal but Chris Waddle equalised. Extra time came, and still no goal broke the deadlock until the 120th minute, when Andy Linighan powered home a header from a corner to win the match and the cup double for Arsenal.
In 1993-94, Arsenal won their second European trophy; a side missing key players (John Jensen and Martin Keown were injured, Ian Wright suspended) beat favourites and holders Parma 1-0 in the Cup Winners' Cup final in Copenhagen, with a tight defensive performance and Alan Smith's 21st minute goal from a left foot volley. The 1994 Cup Winners Cup proved to be George Graham's last trophy at the club; the following February the Scot was sacked after nearly nine years in charge, after it was discovered he had accepted an illegal £425,000 payment from Norwegian agent Rune Hauge following Arsenal's 1992 acquisition of John Jensen, one of Hauge's clients.<ref>Graham was eventually banned for a year by the Football Association for his involvement in the scandal, after he admitted he had received an "unsolicited gift" from Hauge. References: Template:Cite web</ref>
 Bruce Rioch: The interregnum (1995–96)
Assistant manager Stewart Houston took charge until the end of the 1994-95 season. Arsenal finished a disappointing 12th in the Premiership, but did reach the Cup Winners Cup final again, after a titanic semi-final against UC Sampdoria, which they won on penalties after drawing 5-5 on aggregate. Arsenal faced Real Zaragoza in the final; Esnáider scored for the Spaniards and John Hartson equalised for Arsenal. The game was heading to a 1-1 draw and penalties, before midfielder Nayim struck from near the halfway line in the 120th minute, in virtually the last kick of the game. David Seaman, who had been Arsenal's hero in the semi-final shootout, couldn't backpedal fast enough and only got a hand to the ball as it went in. It was a cruel end to a disappointing season.
In June 1995 Arsenal appointed Bruce Rioch, who had just guided Bolton Wanderers to the League Cup final and promotion to the top flight, as manager. He (briefly) broke the English transfer record by paying Internazionale £7.5million for Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp, and the new signing formed an impressive partnership with Ian Wright. Arsenal reached the League Cup semi-finals and finished fifth in the Premiership at the end of 1995-96, securing a place in the following season's UEFA Cup and giving hope for an eventual title challenge. The Rioch era ended abruptly, however; in August 1996, just before the start of the new season, Rioch was sacked after a dispute over transfer funds with the board of directors, triggering a couple of months' turmoil at the club. Stewart Houston was once again put in temporary charge; he remained at the helm for a month, before resigning to take over at QPR. Youth team coach Pat Rice held the fort for several games, before making way for the Frenchman Arsène Wenger at the end of September.
 Two more Doubles (1996–2003)
The team immediately improved under Wenger's management, coming third and winning a UEFA Cup place in 1996-97, missing out on second (and a Champions League spot) on goal difference. Wenger rebuilt the Arsenal squad with a crop of French players who were seemingly unknown in the UK. Patrick Vieira had been signed on Wenger's recommendation before he had officially taken up the reins, and Wenger added Nicolas Anelka and Emmanuel Petit, as well as Dutch winger Marc Overmars in the summer of 1997. Wenger melded the new arrivals with some of the "old guard", retaining Adams, Dixon, Winterburn, Keown and Bould, and he kept Pat Rice on as assistant manager.
Wenger got his first silverware, and became the first foreign manager to win the English league, the following season, when he steered the side to their second double. It had looked like Arsenal were out of the title race by December after losing 3-1 at home to Blackburn, but they overcame a twelve point deficit to overtake Manchester United; a 4-0 home win over Everton on May 3 won the title with two matches to spare. On May 16, Arsenal beat Newcastle United 2-0 in the FA Cup final to complete the double. To top it off, the same season Ian Wright broke Cliff Bastin's goalscoring record, bringing his tally to 185 goals before leaving the club in the summer of 1998.
Despite the signing of Fredrik Ljungberg in 1998 and Thierry Henry a year later, a more barren period followed for Arsenal over the next few years, though they came close several times. Arsenal led the League for much of 1998-99, until a 1-0 loss to Leeds United allowed Manchester United to overtake them; Arsenal beat Aston Villa on the last day of the season but United's victory over Spurs meant they took the title. To rub it in further, Arsenal also lost the last ever FA Cup semi-final replay to Manchester United; Dennis Bergkamp had missed a penalty in normal time, and Ryan Giggs scored the winner in extra time after a mazy solo run through the Arsenal defence. Arsenal's return to the Champions League for the first time in seven years was also a disappointment, as they failed to get past the group stage.
Arsenal came second again in 1999-2000; this time, there was never any real title race and Arsenal finished the season 18 points behind winners Manchester United. Arsenal had another poor season in the Champions League, finishing third in their group; this won them a consolation place in the UEFA Cup, and Arsenal got all the way to the final, where they faced Galatasaray in Copenhagen, the scene of their 1994 Cup Winners' Cup triumph. The match was a tepid affair, a 0-0 draw with few chances; it went to penalties and Arsenal lost after Davor Šuker and Patrick Vieira missed their spot-kicks.
2000-01 was also disappointing. Arsenal again finished second, this time ten points behind Manchester United; the title race had been as good as over since February, when Arsenal lost 6-1 at Old Trafford. Arsenal's season gave priority to the Cups and Europe. They beat Spurs in the semi-finals and met Liverpool in the final in Cardiff; Arsenal dominated most of the match, and were denied a goal by the arm of defender Stephane Henchoz, which went unpunished.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Arsenal finally did go 1-0 up through Ljungberg but succumbed to two late Michael Owen goals and lost 2-1. In Europe, Arsenal made it to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 1972, only to be eliminated on the away goals rule by eventual finalists Valencia.
By now Wenger had been forced to rebuild much of the Double-winning side of 1998; Anelka, Overmars and Petit had all left for Spanish clubs in return for hefty fees, while age was finally catching up with the famous back line; Bould and Winterburn had already left, and Adams and Dixon would only last another season before retiring. In their place, Wenger signed the likes of Sol Campbell and Lauren in defence, as well as promoting Ashley Cole from the youth ranks. In midfield, Wenger added the talismanic Robert Pirès and signed his compatriot Sylvain Wiltord in attack, while in the meantime Thierry Henry had adapted to the English game to become one of the Premiership's best strikers.
Attack was definitely Arsenal's forté as they won a record-equalling third Double in 2001-02 season; the Gunners were the only team to score in every game of the Premiership season, and went unbeaten in domestic away games. After an initially tight title race (just three points separated the top four in February), Arsenal pulled away from the pack with a 13-game winning streak, finishing seven points ahead of runners-up Liverpool. Arsenal secured the title in the penultimate game of the season with a 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford, the goal coming from Wiltord. The previous weekend, Arsenal had wrapped up their eighth FA Cup, beating Chelsea 2-0 with goals from Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg.
In 2002-03, Arsenal became the first club in more than 20 years to retain the FA Cup, with a 1-0 victory against Southampton thanks to a Pirès goal. Their joy was soured by the fact that they narrowly missed out on retaining the Premiership title. Arsenal had led eventual winners Manchester United by eight points at one stage, but their form collapsed late on in the season; they drew 2-2 away to Bolton Wanderers after leading 2-0, and then lost 3-2 at home to Leeds United a week later, which gave United the title.
 The "Invincibles" and a Champions League Final (2003–06)
Little did they know it at the time, but the defeat to Leeds would be Arsenal's last in the League for over a year. 2003-04 was a record-breaking season for Arsenal, as they won the Premiership unbeaten (26 wins, 12 draws, 0 defeats), finishing a clear 11 points ahead of second-place Chelsea. They became only the second team to do so, the first having been Preston North End in 1888-89. Their rivals for the title gained revenge in other competitions – Arsenal were defeated in the Champions League quarter-finals and FA Cup semi-finals by Chelsea and Manchester United, respectively, in successive matches. Faced with the potential collapse of their season, Arsenal recovered from being 1-0 and 2-1 behind to Liverpool in their next league match to win 4-2, thanks to a Thierry Henry hat-trick, and went on to win the league with a 2-2 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur, mimicking their success in 1971.
Arsenal were unable to retain the title in 2004-05, finishing second, 12 points behind a record-breaking Chelsea side. However, the Gunners did stretch their unbeaten run to 49 consecutive matches, an English league football record; the record was equalled with a dramatic 5-3 win over Middlesbrough (Arsenal having trailed 3-1 shortly after half-time) and then surpassed with a 3-0 win over Blackburn Rovers, before it was ended with a 2-0 away defeat by Manchester United. This defeat arguably upset the team's form and they fell away from title contention before recovering with a late flourish to finish second, sealed with a 7-0 drubbing of Everton. Champions League glory eluded them again, with the club getting knocked out 3-2 on aggregate by Bayern Munich in the second round. Arsenal did not end the season empty-handed; they came away with their third FA Cup in four years, winning 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 draw against Manchester United.
Weakened by the sale of skipper Patrick Vieira to Juventus in the summer of 2005, Arsenal's 2005-06 season was comparatively disappointing domestically and the club failed to challenge for any trophies at home. In the league, their poor away form dogged them and despite recording some impressive wins at home (5-0 over Aston Villa, and 7-0 over Middlesbrough), Arsenal spent much of the latter stages of the season in fifth place or lower, and looked set to miss out on the Champions League for the first time since 1997. However, they won their last three matches of the season, culminating in a 4-2 victory over Wigan Athletic in the last ever match at Highbury; coupled with Tottenham Hotspur's loss at West Ham United the same day, this meant Arsenal pipped Spurs to fourth place and a Champions League spot.
In contrast to their domestic form, Arsenal's form in Europe in 2005-06 was much stronger; they reached the UEFA Champions League final for the first time in their history, becoming the first London club ever to do so. Arsenal finished top of their group unbeaten, above Ajax Amsterdam, FC Thun and Sparta Prague against whom Thierry Henry scored two goals on away to become the all time record goalscorer for Arsenal; in the knockout stages they beat Real Madrid (becoming the first British team to beat Real at the Bernabéu), Juventus and then Villarreal to reach the final, setting a competition record of ten matches without conceding a goal in the process. In the final, against Barcelona, Arsenal were reduced to ten men early on when goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was sent off for a professional foul; nevertheless they were the ones who scored first, Sol Campbell scoring with a header from a free kick in the 37th minute. Arsenal doggedly defended their lead, but two late goals from Samuel Eto'o and Juliano Belletti meant Barcelona ran out 2-1 winners.
 Move to Emirates Stadium (2006–)
Arsenal have been highly successful in the 1990s and 2000s, but Highbury's capacity was limited to only 38,500 in the post-Taylor report era; virtually every match was sold out and the club have been unable to maximise matchday revenue. With expansion of Highbury ruled impossible, in 1999 Arsenal announced plans to move down the road to Ashburton Grove; construction started in December 2002 and in July 2006 the new Emirates Stadium opened, ready for the start of the 2006-07 season.
Arsenal's only took two points from their first three league matches of 2006-07, before recording six wins in eight games. However, after their 3-1 loss to Bolton Wanderers on November 25, Arsène Wenger conceded that his side were now too far behind to seriously challenge for the Premiership title.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> As of November 27 2006 they lie in sixth place with a game in hand. In the Champions League, Arsenal qualified for the group stage but after winning their first two group games could only lose to and draw with CSKA Moscow, putting them second as of November 1 2006.
- Soar, Phil & Tyler, Martin (2005). The Official Illustrated History of Arsenal. Hamlyn. ISBN 0-600-61344-5.
- Spurling, Jon (2004). Rebels For The Cause: The Alternative History of Arsenal Football Club. Mainstream. ISBN 0-575-40015-3.
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 Further reading
- Adams, Tony with Ridley, Ian (1998). Addicted. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-218795-7.
- Hornby, Nick (1992). Fever Pitch. Indigo. ISBN 1-84018-900-2.
- Lawrence, Amy (1997). Proud to Say That Name: The Marble Hall of Fame. Mainstream. ISBN 1-85158-898-1.
- Maidment, Jem (2005). The Official Arsenal 100 Greatest Games. Hamlyn. ISBN 0-600-61376-3.
- Tossell, David (2002). Seventy-One Guns: The Year of the First Arsenal Double. Mainstream. ISBN 1-84018-589-9.
- Weaver, Graham (2005). Gunners' Glory: 14 Milestones in Arsenal's History. Mainstream. ISBN 1-84018-667-4.