The 1970s was a decade that started with great triumph, and even ended on a high note, despite the deeply disappointing middle years. A general consensus in the late 60’s was that Arsenal were growing, and as the 70’s began, the FA Youth Cup winning side of 1966 were rising into the first-team. Having come close to success in the League Cup Finals of 1968 and 69, they were still in need of a major breakthrough.
This would arrive in Europe. A seemingly easy run to the Semi-Finals of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup for Bertie Mee’s side, even putting nine goals past Dinamo Bacau over two legs. Not just that, but also beating Ajax, during the era of Johan Cruyff and co, in the Semi’s, but appeared to have lost any chance of lifting the trophy when trailing 3-0 to Anderlecht in the first leg of the final. A late goal at Anderlecht would give Arsenal a lifeline. One which was grabbed with both hands in the return leg when we gave them a footballing lesson at Highbury, winning 3-0 and 4-3 on agg.
The following season, it could be easily suggested that winning the Double was inevitable. However this wasn’t the case. A long and hard fought season in the League with Leeds, came down to the very last game. The Gunners needed a win or goalless draw and the title would be ours. But a score draw or defeat would mean the trophy would go to Elland Road. Fortunately, we won the game. And there couldn’t be a more ironic, or better place to win the league if it was away from home. White Hart Lane. Home to our biggest and longest rivals in Arsenal History.
This was Arsenal’s first League title in 18 years. Five days later, the team would create real history, beating Liverpool in the FA Cup final, coming from behind with goals from Eddie Kelly and, most memorably, Charlie George who scored the winner. Becoming just the fourth team in history to do the Double, and only the second of the more competitive 20th century.
Disappointingly this was to be the peak of Bertie Mee’s side. The next season, 72/73, we would lose the FA Cup Final to Leeds and finish second in the League. This was the last year Arsenal would compete at the top for a number of seasons. Finishing 10th, 16th and 17th in the next three seasons. Prompting Terry Neill to take charge following this poor spell of runs, in 1976.
He spent a club record of £333,333,34p on Malcolm Macdonald, who came from Newcastle, as well as acquiring Pat Jennings, from his old side Spurs. These new signings coincided with the rising talents of Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton, and Arsenal were once again to return to a top-eight side in the League. However they were to be more successful in the Cup competitions.
We would reach three successive FA Cup Finals under Neill’s management – 1978, 1979 and 1980. The first and the third would be 1-0 defeats – to Ipswich and West Ham respectively. The 1979 Final, otherwise known as the ‘Five-Minute Final’ , we seemed in control at 2-0 up, but Manchester United would come back into it with a brace in the closing stages. However Arsenal striker Alan Sunderland would break their hearts, sliding home a goal in injury time to win the game 3-2.
A year later, in 1980, Neill would learn how United felt. Four days after losing the 1980 final, Arsenal would also lose the Final of the Cup Winners’ Cup, to Valencia, on penalties.