This is a triumphant anniversary in the annuls of Arsenal history: 24 years ago today, Tony Adams lifted the League Cup at Wembley. Their vanquished opponents were Sheffield Wednesday, who would have to endure the same result in a replayed FA Cup Final 1 month later. Thus, the victory on this day in 1993 would represent the first leg of what was, at the time, a unique double – no previous club, in the 32 years of the competition’s history, had managed to capture the FA Cup and the League Cup in the same season. Indeed, the Arsenal would remain the only team to do so until Liverpool’s own cup heroics of 2001.
It may appear strange in from the perspective of the two sides’ contrasting fortunes in 2017, but when the Owls and the Gunners went head-to-head ’93 there was precious little between them. Going into the replay, just 4 points separated Sheffield Wednesday in 7th from the Arsenal in 13th. Worryingly for George Graham, his charges had slumped to a 1-0 home defeat against Aston Villa in their previous game, while the men under Trevor Francis had been thumping Southampton 5-2 at Hillsborough (via Statto).
Graham could be forgiven for fearing the worst when Sheffield Wednesday raced into an early lead. He also was probably fuming about the sluggish reactions from his defence, who failed to properly clear an admittedly well-worked free-kick. John Harkes gleefully dispatched the ball past David Seaman, and in so doing became the first American to score in a League Cup Final. The Arsenal had sent out a lineup featuring the defensive ruggedness of Adams, Andy Linighan, Steve Morrow, Nigel Winterburn and record appearance holder David O’Leary, but they were all helpless to prevent the Owls from going ahead (via 11v11).
Thankfully, the lead didn’t last long. Barely 20 minutes were on the clock when Paul Merson seized on the knock-down from a Paul Davis free-kick, and his bending volley flew past the despairing dive of Chris Woods. After receiving the congratulations of his teammates, Merson deployed his trademark ‘downing loads of pints’ celebration in front of the Arsenal fans. Merson was on fire, and would rightly be named Man of the Match for his peerless display. Indeed, he would later say that this was the best performance of his entire career (via Gunnerstown).
The winner, when it came, was scored by the most unlikely hero. Morrow, popping up on the edge of the Wednesday box, latched onto a poor clearance by Des Walker and smashed the ball home. The Northern Irish utility player only ended up netting 3 times in 87 appearances for the Arsenal, but this was a most critical one. Even so, the Gunners had to hold out for over 20 minutes before they could get their hands on the trophy. In Morrow’s own words, “We fought hard. It was backs against the wall for the last 15 or 20 minutes” (via Sky Sports).
Amidst the jubilant cavorting at full-time, Adams would attempt to lift Morrow onto his shoulders. The move went horribly awry, and the match-winner fell to the turf. Hard. Having snapped his upper arm, Morrow required oxygen and was rushed to hospital, unable to receive his League Cup medal with the rest of the squad. However, he eventually collected the winner’s medal at Wembley a month later, when the Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday contested the FA Cup Final.
The League Cup Final on the 18th of April 1993 was noteworthy for one other reason; it was the first time that any European clubs used squad numbers and player names on their shirts. The players of both sides were given individual numbers which would be retained for the FA Cup Final – and subsequent replay – at the end of the season. The Premier League made such squad numbers compusory for their clubs from the beginning of the following season, 1993/94. One of the first matches to feature numbers on shirts, coincidentally, was between Arsenal and Wednesday, in 1928 (via Wikipedia).