Until the staggeringly achievement of the Invincibles in 2003/04, the greatest league campaign ever was surely that of the Arsenal team of 1990/91: George Graham’s charges lost just 1 of their 38 games, conceding a miserly 18 goals in the process of winning the title. Given their apparent dominance, it might be surprising to learn that with 9 matches left the Gunners trailed champions Liverpool by a point. In fact, it looked like they were slipping up; draws in consecutive games – at home against Nottingham Forest and away against Norwich – meant that Arsenal travelled to the Baseball Ground considerably more nervous than their lofty league position might have implied. (via Statto)
Derby were rooted to the bottom of the table, 6 points behind Sunderland albeit with 2 games in hand on the Mackems. The Rams had been humiliated in their previous game, a 7-1 demolition at the Baseball Ground by who else but the Red half of Merseyside. Nonetheless, this was to be a tough encounter, particularly given the presence of performers like Peter Shilton and Dean Saunders, as both sides were in desperate need of points and doggedly fighting to reignite their respective campaigns.
Older readers will not need reminding, but for a number of decades the Arsenal – under Bertie Mee, Terry Neil, George Graham, even well into the tenure of Arséne Wenger – were specialists in a specific type of set-piece; the near-post flick-on corner kick. Usually the Gunners’ tallest centre-half would stand 3 or 4 yards away from the post, a yard or two in from the byline, and the taker would whip the ball in at him. Nodding the cross either away from goal to deceive markers, or towards goal to bamboozle the goalkeeper, would invariably create all kinds of havoc in the opposition area.
So it was at Derby on this day in 1991. The 2 goals that the Arsenal scored – 1 in each half – were carbon copies; both perfect examples of a Gunners trademark. For the first, Steve Bould leapt high on the edge of the 6 yard box and helped the ball on for Alan Smith to attack with lethal precision. The second came when Paul Davis curled in a corner for Bould to yet again outjump his marker, and it was Smith who benefited once more, planting his header into the top corner from close-in. As Martin Tyler said at the time, “An identical goal to Smith’s first”.
The result took the Arsenal back to the top of the pile, as Liverpool surrendered meekly at Anfield to Queen’s Park Rangers on the same day. There they would stay for the rest of the season, as the Gunners made it 2 championships in 3 seasons.
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