Some of you may undoubtedly ask where the season of the ‘Invincibles’ is among our most remembered memories after skimming through this list. Its absence is due to the fact that, while the 2003-04 season was a historic one, it was over the course of the full season. We’re not dismissing its significance, but when compared to the other occurrences on the list, it obviously falls short of the top 5.
The games we’ve chosen are notable for their great drama and intensity. The victories were against the odds, yet Arsenal managed to pull them off, albeit not without a few harrowing moments.
Wenger Emerged Victoriously From the 2001-02 Battle of Old Trafford
During the Ferguson/Wenger era, Manchester United vs. Arsenal was always a thorny game that provided many unforgettable moments for the fans. From the 1990s onwards, it was viewed as a battle between determination and artistry, and it was fought in ‘blood and sweat’.
Ferguson loathed Arsenal and Wenger because of the media’s adoration for their brand of play. United used a hacking mentality in many games, which may have resulted in serious bodily injuries, but it was a style that was eventually adopted by a slew of clubs attempting to suffocate Arsenal and use intimidation as a weapon.
Unfortunately for United, it didn’t work in the 2001-02 season, when Arsenal fought for every ball and inch of grass. The goalkeeper of the ‘Red Devils’ Fabian Barthez committed a blunder in their first meeting of the season, and Arsenal won 3-1 thanks to Thierry Henry’s two goals. United, therefore, needed to beat Arsenal at home to keep their title hopes alive, with the bulk of the press predicting a rematch, but Sylvain Wiltord’s goal sealed Arsène Wenger’s second Premier League triumph. The ‘Gunners’ finished the season with a seven-point lead over second-placed Liverpool, who beat United on the final day of the season. Against his old adversaries, it was undoubtedly Wenger’s best coaching performance.
The Final of the 1971 FA Cup Against Liverpool
On a gorgeous May’s day, a full-fledged brawl featured two domestic game heavyweights. Some of the biggest stars in each club’s history were on hand, such as Highbury legend Charlie George, Steve Highway, Ray Clemence, George Armstrong…
With his zeal and precocious talent, George seemed to dominate the game. All three goals were scored in extra time, with Highway scoring first from a tight angle at the near post. George Graham responded with a nice piece of poaching that was nearly too embarrassed to go in the net, bringing the score to 1-1. But the finest was reserved for last, with a wonderful one-two between Radford and George, the latter returning the ball wide left, Radford prodding the ball into space for George to unleash a 20-yard rocket in the 111th minute.
League Triumph at White Hart Lane in 2003-04
Winning the league is one thing, but winning it at the home of your bitter rivals is the icing on the cake, something Arsenal has done twice. The ‘Gunners’ stayed undefeated for the whole 2003-04 season and then, as if that wasn’t enough, won the title with a 2-2 draw.
The draw may have been enough for them, but they were up 2-0 after 35 minutes following strikes from Vieira and Pires. Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Keane restored the status quo for Arsenal, who once again selected the most difficult and nerve-wracking path to victory. For Arsenal supporters, it’s one of those memorable moments that never gets old and provides the ‘Gunners’ right to brag forever.
Arsenal vs. Manchester United in the 1979 FA Cup Final
Many people refer to this game as the ‘Five-Minute Final’ because of Alan Sunderland’s last-gasp goal. Arsenal led 2-0 thanks to goals from Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton until the 86th minute, when United rallied back with goals from Sammy McIlroy (86th) and Gordon McQueen (88th).
Liam Brady, Arsenal’s mastermind that day, raced forward, laying off to Rix, who was wide on the left, and Alan Sunderland steered the beautifully flighted cross into the net. It was breathtaking, and football historians today rate it as one of the best finals ever and one of the most memorable events in the sport’s history.
The 1989 Victory at Anfield as the Best Ever Finish to a League Season
Is there anyone who can forget Arsenal’s season-ending match at Anfield in 1989, when the ‘Gunners’ needed to win without conceding a goal but, at the same time, by netting two clear? No one thought they had any chance of winning the title, and the media had almost completely neglected them.
Liverpool were a machine at the time, and despite a poor start to the season, they went on a tear and were scoring goals like crazy. Arsenal, on the other hand, had disintegrated and had dropped 19 points between January and the end of the season. Surprisingly, they were 11 points ahead of their opponents at one point, but they experienced a series of uncharacteristic blips against the smaller clubs, and it all came down to one game at Anfield on a night when football resembled a Hollywood script – something that’s unlikely to happen this season even though Arsenal significantly improved a poor start and Premier League bookmakers give lower and lower odds on their matches. It was full of tension, suspense, heroes and villains, and one incredible moment of magic that put an end to Arsenal’s 18-year search for a league title.
Graham went into the match with a back three after playing the entire season with a back four, which confused the bulk of his team. To counter the threat of Houghton and Barnes, he pushed Dixon and Winterburn forward and used the unusual approach of taking the team north on the day of the match – something that had never happened before. Desmond Morris’ book ‘The Naked Ape’, which dealt with the territory, was introduced to him, and he used a large part of his strategy on overturning any psychological home advantage. That’s fine, but Graham’s side still needed to win by two goals, and Alan Smith gave them hope (52) with a superb header from a free-kick.
As the game progressed, Liverpool appeared to be losing the game but winning the league, and Lee Dixon questioned the referee how long until the end of the game when the latter had looked at his watch. The reply that it was over has come. Lee Dixon blasted the ball upfield after receiving a pass from John Lukic. Alan Smith foresaw Michael Thomas’ run and fed it to him; it wasn’t over yet; there was still a lot to do. The space was created by a beautiful ricochet from a Liverpool player back into Thomas’ path, but with two defenders closing in on him and Grobbelaar clearing it, the Arsenal man had just one chance in the 89th minute. As the Liverpool goalkeeper committed himself, he struck it beautifully, and Arsenal had pulled off the most dramatic of victories to take the league title.