After a further 6 trophyless seasons, Dan Howe, who had taken over from Terry Neil, asked to be released from his Highbury contract, paving the way for the arrival of his successor in the summer of 1986. He was a Scotsman by the name of George Graham, and was installed as manager after a successful spell at Third Division Millwall.
Graham drew a line under what had been an inert period under Neil and later Howe. Arsenal lost some of their most established stars after FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup Final defeats in 1980. Liam Brady, who was named Player of the Year three times in succession, joined Juventus, before Frank Stapleton moved on to Manchester United. These two departures embodied the passing of an era.
Within a year of being at the helm, Graham delivered the Club’s first silverware since the FA Cup in 1979. Graham’s young side came back from a goal down against Liverpool, to win 2-1 and claim Arsenal’s first ever League Cup. We also reached the Final the following year, but lost out to Luton Town.
Graham’s philosophy was inspired by Italian football. He put his faith in strict discipline, both on and off the pitch. Resulting in Arsenal becoming second to none defensively under his reign. Graham established a back four who 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.
In just his third season, Graham managed Arsenal to one of the most dramatic League triumphs in history, if not the most. It was the 1988/89 season, and on the final day we played Liverpool at Anfield. A victory by two goals was what was needed to bring the Title home, propelling us above Liverpool themselves on goals. It was by no means an easy task, and Smith made it 1-0, but it was Michael Thomas who will and is most significantly remembered, scoring the second goal at the death, and Arsenal were once again involved in one of the most memorable events in history.
This was the Club’s first Division One triumph for 18 years, again, and was supposed to be the start of a new period where Arsenal were the dominant force in English football. Unfortunately this didn’t become reality. The very next season was scarred by inconsistent performances and resulted in a disappointing fourth-place finish.
Reinforcements became a necessity and Swedish midfielder Anders Limpar and a Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper by the name of David Seaman were brought in with immediate effect. Arsenal were given a two-point deduction due to a brawl during a 1-0 win against Manchester United. Which also gave Adams an eight-week prison sentence. Nonetheless, we only lost one game in that season of 1990/91, and regained the Division One Title, in somewhat blistering fashion.
But the inconsistency was set to return and once again Arsenal were incapable of building on their league success, finishing in a relatively low fourth-place compared to the high standards expected. The league title was pursued for the following years but evaded Arsenal all the while. However positives could be taken from Cup competitions as Arsenal would emerge as a highly-efficient knock-out team.
Achieving a unique FA Cup and League Cup double in 1993 was a testament to that. And a year later Arsenal stunned Parma in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, winning 1-0, epitomising the era of ‘One-Nil, to the Arsenal’ that Graham had created. This European success was to be only Arsenal’s only 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.