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Arsenal and the League Cup

Despite Arsenal`s impressive trophy haul in their 125 year history, the League Cup has not always co-existed easily with Arsenal. Indeed, we have only collected the trophy twice since its inception in the 1960-61 season- once in 1987 and again in 1993. We`ve lost four finals, to Leeds in 1968, embarrassingly to Third Division Swindon in 1969 and just as unexpectedly to Second Division Luton Town in 1988, before Chelsea`s first team edged past our collection of kids and scally wags in 2007. The competition has handed out some chastening defeats too; the 1983 defeat by Third Division Walsall at Highbury culminated in supporters gathering outside the Marble Halls to call for Terry Neill`s head- which was delivered on a platter within 24 hours. Since we last lifted the trophy, we have tumbled out in the semi-final stage to Aston Villa; Chelsea, Middlesbrough, Wigan Athletic and of course, most forgettably to Tottenham Hotspur in 2008.

The League Cup was born in the 1960-61 season and was the brainchild of revolutionary Football League Secretary Alan Hardaker. In its inaugural season, Arsenal were amongst the abstainers and refused to take part in the competition along with Luton, Sheffield Wednesday, Spurs and West Brom. However, in the 1961-62 season, entry into the Fairs Cup was guaranteed for the winners and the rebellion relented. Arsenal got to their first League Cup Final in 1968. The 60s had been an incredibly dry period for Arsenal, a fact emphasised by the fact that their appearance at Wembley in 1968 was their first sojourn to the twin towers for 16 years, since the 1952 F.A. Cup Final triumph over Newcastle United. Much like George Graham 20 years after him, Mee showed signs of breathing new life into a club gone stale, crushed by the weight of his 1930s heyday. It`s perhaps fitting that Arsenal beat Huddersfield Town in the semi finals that year- another side struggling to carry the burden of Chapman`s glorious reign. (In the 60s, any Arsenal fan over 30 would have been reared on an unprecedented era of domination). The likes of Storey, McNab, McLintock, Simpson, Radford, Graham and Armstrong started the final- a significant portion of the side that would win European and domestic honours in the coming seasons.

Their opponents on March 2, 1968, Leeds United, were perhaps further along on their plotted trajectory to greatness, having been losing Fairs Cup Finalists the year before. Coach Don Revie had built a stern, solid (some say psychopathic) side, who had conceded only three goals in the six games leading up to the Final. Their side that day featured the likes of Charlton, Bremner, Lorimer, Sprake and Giles. In hindsight, both team sheets read like a who`s who of 1970s football. Leeds took a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes through Terry Cooper and their defence held Arsenal at bay for the rest of the game. It was the first trophy of Don Revie`s reign and Arsenal`s barren run continued into a 17th year. However, the next year, Mee`s men fought back to the Final. They were to face Third Division Swindon Town, making their first ever appearance at Wembley. Arsenal were strong favourites to collect their first ever League Cup. However, preparation for the match was marred by an outbreak of 'flu in the Arsenal camp, which had caused their previous fixture to be postponed. The Wembley turf had heavy divots from having hosted the Horse of the Year Show just a week earlier. The heavy quagmire of a pitch contributed to the plucky underdogs taking a 35th minute lead. Ian Ure`s attempted back pass to Bob Wilson became quite literally stuck in the mud, causing the ball to stop dead outside the area. Town striker Roger Smart capitalised to round Wilson and score.

The Gunners banged on the door repeatedly in an attempt to equalise, with Town keeper Downsborough making a catalogue of incredible stops. It all looked rather forlorn until the 86th minute, Downsborough fumbled Armstrong`s cross and Bobby Gould stooped to equalise. With the game moving into Extra Time and the wind burgled from Swindon`s sails; Arsenal would surely finish the job in extra time. However, by now the mix of the heavy pitch and as much as eight Arsenal players still suffering the effects of 'flu, Arsenal had nothing in the tank. Don Rogers resumed Swindon`s ascendancy with a cool finish from a goalmouth melee just before the end of the first period of extra time. Arsenal went for broke in the second half, but the game was up on 109 minutes when Ian Ure failed to control the ball on the unctuous turf and he was relieved of possession by Smart, who played a through ball to Don Rogers to seal an unlikely victory. The press were cruel; the Evening Standard carried "The Shame of Arsenal" as their cutting banner headline. But from that defeat and the subsequent mocking came triumph, the Arsenal goalkeeper that day, Bob Wilson says today,

"It's never going to remain the happiest day of my life but I will go to the grave telling people that what we achieved in the years following that League Cup defeat we owe to Swindon, There were certain players who dropped by the wayside, but those who were part of the abuse we got from the London press — who thought there was no way we could lose to a Third Division side — used it as a spur.'

The team would win the Fairs Cup the next season and the domestic Double one season after that.

Perhaps understandably, Arsenal rather fell out of love with the League Cup through the 70s and early 80s, with a semi final defeat to Manchester United in 1984 about as noteworthy as our achievements became in the competition. However, the competition would again contribute to lifting Arsenal out of a period of stagnation in 1987 with a riveting last gasp semi final win over Spurs at White Hart Lane and the subsequent schooling of Liverpool in the Final. That success was arguably the launch pad for the league wins of 1989 and 1991. But once again, dejection and heartache loomed on the League Cup in 1988. After a packed Highbury saw Arsenal dispose of Everton in the semi finals, the feeling in N5 was that the good times were here and few doubted that, having upset Liverpool the year before, that this reinvigorated Arsenal side would have no troubles with 2nd Division Luton Town. But the Hatters, contesting for their first ever major domestic honour, were in no mood to be rolled over and took a shock lead inside 15 minutes thanks to Brian Stein. But the Gunners kept their heads in the warm Wembley sunshine and soon wiped out Luton`s advantage, with a 71st minute equaliser from substitute Martin Hayes and then a goal three minutes later from Alan Smith.

Arsenal looked good value to extend their advantage with Smith hitting the post and Hatters keeper Andy Dibble making gravity defying stops from Hayes, Rocastle and Thomas. With ten minutes left, a weary Mal Donaghy took Rocastle down in the box and Arsenal had a penalty. Winterburn stepped up but saw his spot kick turned round the post by Dibble. The miss served the double blow of knocking the stiffing out of Arsenal and inspiring Luton. With eight minutes left, Gus Caesar took a comical air kick on the edge of his own area, allowing Danny Wilson in to equalise. With extra time looming and the clock ominously striking 90, Tony Adams gave away a free kick on the edge of the area. Black pinged a wicked delivery into the area and Brian Stein headed a last gasp winner. (Incidentally, one of the guys I sit with at away games, Postman Pete, gave up smoking some thirty years ago, but pinpoints the immediate aftermath of this match as his only relapse in that time). Once again, Arsenal were roundly prodded and laughed at by the nation, but a year later, the miniscule matter of a League title win at Anfield went some way to diminishing the stress.

The Gunners were back at Wembley for the newly named Coca Cola Cup Final five years later. Having disposed of Millwall (on penalties), Derby County, Scarborough, Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace en route to Wembley, Arsenal would face the unprecedented task of facing the same side in both the League and F.A. Cup Finals in the same year, with Sheffield Wednesday the opponents. This game arrived slap bang in the middle of a Wembley honeymoon for your correspondent, my first ever visit to the Twin Towers had been exactly a fortnight earlier when Tony Adams` header knocked Tottenham out of the F.A. Cup at the semi final stage. The 93 League Cup Final was the first ever occasion in European football that the players wore squad numbers and their names on the back of their shirts. Wednesday took an early lead when John Sheridan fooled the Arsenal wall, shaping up to shoot for a free kick, only to release Nigel Worthington down the left, he cut the ball back for John Harkes who lashed the ball past Seaman. But rebuttal was swift when Paul Merson`s swerving volley from the edge of the box flew past Chris Woods. Both sides rather laboured after that until the 68th minute, Winterburn`s low cross was only toe ended by Phil King into the path of Steve Morrow, who became an incredibly unlikely Wembley hero, smashing the ball past Woods from close range. The gentlemen behind me lifted my spindly 9 year old frame onto his shoulders and for some reason I have never quite been able to decipher, I cried. The only time I have ever done so inside a football ground. He apologised profusely, thinking he had scared me, until my Mum, knowing me somewhat better, explained that the tears were of joy not worry. That was the first time I had ever seen Arsenal lift a trophy in person and I think it`s fair to say the occasion overwhelmed me.

The match has since been made famous for a rather calamitous post match celebration. A fortnight earlier, Paul Merson had earned opprobrium by celebrating the semi final win over Spurs by mimicking the act of necking pint after pint of lager towards the Arsenal fans. In a snapshot, he had summed up the drinking culture that was rife within the club at the time. On this occasion, another poster boy for the booze culture spawned a thousand satirical cartoons, as Tony Adams attempted to hoist match winner Steve Morrow onto his shoulders and dropped him, causing Morrow to break his collar bone and miss the rest of the season- including the F.A. Cup Final. The trophy was again something of a catalyst as Arsenal assumed a status of Cup kings. The side had become too dour to strongly challenge for the league, but with the famous back five and a dogged, hard to beat team, they were ideally set up for knockout tournaments. They would go on to win the 1993 F.A. Cup, the 1994 Cup Winners Cup and were runners up in the same European tournament in 1995.

Since Arsene`s arrival in 1996, the League Cup has taken a backseat with the Gunners annual contestants for Europe`s big prizes. The League Cup has been used as a laboratory for Professor Wenger`s young Frankensteins as a bridge between the reserves and the first team. As the youth products at the club began to steadily improve under Wenger`s guidance, so too have performances in the League Cup. The Gunners got to their first League Cup Final in 14 years in 2007, having played away from home in every round, culminating in a satisfying victory over Spurs in the semi final. Wenger took the brave decision to keep faith with the young players who had gotten the club to the final, with the average age of the team at just 20.3 years old- the youngest ever to play a domestic cup final. 17 year old Theo Walcott gave Arsenal the lead and Petr Cech was in inspired form to keep Arsenal from stretching their lead. But the power and experience of Chelsea took over, with our bęte noir Dider Drogba grabbing a brace to win the cup for Chelsea. The game exploded into a melee in injury time after a cynical foul by Mikel on Toure caused Arsenal`s skipper for the day to lose his head. An unsightly brawl broke out, with Toure and Mikel sent off, Wayne Bridge catching a light brush to the face by Eboue causing him to collapse in false agony. Emmanuel Adebayor was sent off for looking a bit like Eboue apparently (a mistake Howard Webb refused to fess up to) and both managers ran onto the pitch to appease the brawl. Whilst the media found plenty of mileage, the cup was Chelsea`s but the performance of Arsenal`s young team provided much promise for the future.

The club`s relationship with the League Cup has been a colourful if complicated one. We have only won the trophy twice which would surprise most even considering the tournament`s relative youth. The wins in 1987 and 1993 were glorious days in isolation and used as springboards for bigger and better things. Though there has been retrospective value in some of our darkest hours in the League Cup. The pain of consecutive final defeats to Leeds and Swindon fuelled the first embers of the Double winning side in 71, who used the pain and humiliation as inspiration. The 1988 final defeat to Luton was a blip on the road to League title success and a valuable lesson for a young team. We go into Sunday`s final with Birmingham hoping to simultaneously remove an orang-utan from the back and provide the tang of success in the nostrils of a team that has been so near, yet so far from trophy success until now. But we should heed the caution of history and temper any complacency by softly repeating the names of Swindon Town and Luton Town to ourselves, who were weaker opponents on paper than Birmingham will be on Sunday.LD.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Friday February 25 2011

Time: 11:01AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
Goodness me. This team needs a trophy to silence the haters. I don't know what it will do for them mentally but it will do wonders for the supporters.
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25/02/2011 11:39:00

You forgot to mention the year you got to the semis in 2008, you know, the one where we beat you 5-1 :P
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25/02/2011 11:46:00

"we have tumbled out in the semi-final stage to Aston Villa; Chelsea, Middlesbrough, Wigan Athletic and of course, most forgettably to Tottenham Hotspur in 2008." I'll admit I glossed over it though!
Little Dutch
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25/02/2011 11:52:00

I hope my blood pressure won't shoot through the roof by the time the match is over. But i do feel that Cesc's absence might be a blessing in disguise, the lads seem to assume more responsibility when Cesc is absent from the pitch, maybe, its me hoping they will, but we do seem to play better sometimes. Come on you Gooners!
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25/02/2011 12:15:00

Most forgettably, love it haha. Good luck *cough cough i hope you lose cough cough* on Sunday. Looking forward to your visit to the Lane already, could be a title/4th place decider all in one. If we could beat teams like Blackpool the we could have it wrapped up by then but that just wouldn't be the Tottenham way now would it.
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25/02/2011 12:16:00

SteadySpur with due respect your argument is an example of 'my aunt would be my uncle if she had b*lls'. Its a simple but flawed argument like me saying if we had not lost to Newcastle and West Brom at home or maintained our leads against Newcastle away and Spurs at home we would have the league wrapped up.
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25/02/2011 12:37:00

The final on Sunday is a lose-lose situation for Gooners. Birmingham win = trophy drought is extended. Arsenal win = hypocrisy after years of saying "it's only the Carling Cup"
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25/02/2011 12:55:00

Fair point Delta, guess I'm still smarting from the manner of the defeat to Blackpool. I doubt you saw the game but the last time I saw a game that one sided we won 9-1, crazy game. I'll be off now before I get accused of trolling, this just came up in my newsnow thats all.
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25/02/2011 12:56:00

Big_D, its not a lose-lose situation. If we win, the CC is a platform for future success but is not an end in itself.
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25/02/2011 12:57:00

Yes I saw the Blackpool game SS, your strikers were not clinical with the service provided by the midfield which largely did its job. Blackpool scored 3 goals from the 4 shots that they had on target. A freakish game.
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25/02/2011 13:01:00

Fellow gooners, please tell me I'm wrong to have bad vibes about Sunday.
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25/02/2011 13:27:00

What's going on here? Spurs & Gooners exchanging well-mannered pleasantries? Strange times indeed! I'll break the trend though - Come on you Blues!
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25/02/2011 13:34:00

jaelle, your vibes are not without reason. Without Theo and Cesc we can probably forget about blitzing Birmingham in the first 15 minutes. We have stunned teams like Chelsea at home and Citeh away in the first 15 minutes by playing high intensity creative football which has yielded us early goal/goals. The creativity of Cesc and the pace of Theo are vital to this strategy which can overwhelm teams. I expect a slower cagey game than usual with us maintaining possession but not having many clear cut chances. I think the conversion rate of RvP and Arshavin in front of goal will be vital. Our defence looks more composed than before now and we can hope they will do well.
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25/02/2011 13:37:00

I'll take some heart from your reply, Delta. I'm probably just psyching myself up too much but my nerves are on edge for this game. I'd certainly feel better if Cesc & Theo were available but even with them, I was already worried. Now I'm even more so.
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25/02/2011 13:50:00

No supporter worth their salt goes into a final with anything other than nerves, trepidation and unabashed fear.
Little Dutch
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25/02/2011 14:10:00

It's a one off final. We should have won the 2001 FAC final based on our performance and we should have lost the 2005 FAC final on the same basis. Anything can happen. We just have to make sure we put out players that can do the job. RvP, Nasri and Rosicky are a must for me. Along with Jack they'll be where the football comes from. Whether football is enough or not we will find out on Sunday.
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25/02/2011 14:36:00

I'd agree with Rosicky, not least because I think Nasri has to be in the front 3. Have this weird feeling he'll play Diaby though.
Little Dutch
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25/02/2011 14:41:00

Brums plan will be to get the ball in early to that big lump they've got up front. Your central defensive pairing aren't the best against this sort of player and if you don't kill them off early I can see them nicking it 1-0
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25/02/2011 14:41:00

Id go Rosicky. Villa away we played Nasri, Arsh and Rosicky and they interchanaged very well and we got 4, Also Nasri's best performances this season have come when playing from the right. The back 5 plus Song and Jack are solid, Arsh, Nasri and RVP will create chances we just have to be clinical on Sunday.
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25/02/2011 14:58:00

Nervous already!!
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25/02/2011 15:21:00

A day and a half since all the comments got wiped and we've already accrued more than vital manure ever has.
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25/02/2011 15:56:00

I wouldn't go for Rosicky. He has everything to be the perfect replacement for Cesc but he just doesn't click. I think we need to go for it and Diaby would certainly bring a threat from midfield to the table but he will also bring that unpredictable Diabyness which could at worst cause us to self-destruct. Without Cesc this game will be much more even. Hopefully RVP will continue his fantastic reign of form and lift the trohpy at the end of the day.
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25/02/2011 20:35:00

Agreed with gronedrone on this one. I vote Diaby over Rosicky. Diaby performs best when Cesc is out of the game because central midfield behind the striker is the position that suits him best it seems. Two of the best Diaby performances in recent years were 2-2 draw a Villa and 3-1 victory at Newcastle, both in the 08-09 season. I remember Cesc being injured and Diaby bossed both these games and scored a couple goals. Conversely he seems inefficient and aimless when Cesc is in the game.. Against Birmingham he would add steel to the midfield and height for defending set pieces. I'm a big Rosicky fan but I think Diaby should get the nod if he's fit.
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25/02/2011 22:02:00

Only trouble I see is Diaby hasn't played a competitive game for about 10 days now and may be a big risk for a final; and I could be wrong. Other than their big man upfront, JD and Kos have to keep an eye on their on-loan returnee striker. It is okay to be nervous as it is an indication that the fans feel with the players and can WILL the team to win, therefore. The team should be good even without Cesc and Theo; at least, if this were a league game, the nerves will not be jangling so much. We would be somewhat confident of the 3 points. So, why not in the cup final? The sheer desire should see them through. All the years together can't all go to waste.
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25/02/2011 22:32:00

We could play the same system we played at the start of the season in the absence of Cesc with Nasri in the middle and Arshavin and Bendtner flanking RvP. I think this lineup would be good enough to beat The Blues
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26/02/2011 04:50:00

Bendtner and RvP weren't there at the start of the season, E=G. But, I get your point, all the same.
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26/02/2011 10:41:00

I meant with Nasri in the middle. That was the way we set up when Cesc was out at the start of the season.
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26/02/2011 13:42:00

I'm quite nervous about the game. Brum have nothing to lose, and we really could use some more experience in Cesc. The team need to be ruthless and professional. This game is crucial to the rest of the season.
Report Abuse
27/02/2011 10:32:00

we got mocked an laughed at by winning the worthless beer cup, now its your turn
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27/02/2011 15:31:00

yeah you could've just stopped after the first six words there 123. The reasons people have laughed at your lot are legion, that particular reason of celebrating the league cup like it was the champions league was just one reason in a million.
Report Abuse
27/02/2011 15:47:00

and how will ur lot celebrate it if ye win it. with ur feull team out you are desperate to win anything
Report Abuse
27/02/2011 16:40:00

well not now lol
Report Abuse
27/02/2011 18:14:00


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