Today is a most accomplished date in the annals of Arsenal history; it is the anniversary of the Gunners clinching not one, but two championship titles. On this day in 1998 Arséne Wenger led the side to glory in his first full season as manager, and 27 years before that Bertie Mee’s men won the league at White Hart Lane. There should be a song commemorating that…but I digress. For this edition it will be the 1971 triumph that holds our attention.
“Arsenal have got as much chance of being handed the title by Spurs as I have of being given the Crown Jewels.” So declared Tottenham captain Alan Mullery on the eve of Arsenal’s trip up the Seven Sisters Road (via The Arsenal Collective). Bluff and bluster this may have been, but it pretty adequately summed up the size of the task facing the Gunners.
Unbeaten in 11 league games, Tottenham Hotspur were doubtless rubbing their hands at the prospect of ending the hopes of their great rivals. If local pride wasn’t enough of a spur – no pun intended – there was also the sweetener of an £8,000 bonus per player should the white half of North London succeed (via AFC History).
Due to the vagaries of the Goal Average system – used before Goal Difference was introduced in 1976 – the Arsenal knew that while a scoreless draw would do, a score draw of any kind would see Leeds United win Division One (via Statto). Leeds had played all their games, so they could only watch and hope that Tottenham Hotspur did them a huge favour.
A tense and physically demanding evening was in store for a group of players who had only just come through a bruising 1-0 win over Stoke City at Highbury 2 days earlier. Too demanding for Peter Storey, whose fatigue forced him to be replaced in the Arsenal starting XI by Eddie Kelly (via Angry of Islington). There was also the little matter of an FA Cup Final date with Liverpool 5 days later, but there was absolutely no chance of Mee resting any of his squad for that!
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Frank McLintock led the team out, and the newly-crowned Football Writers’ Player of the Year showed exactly why he had received such an award. He and the rest of the Arsenal backline were imperious as they contained Tottenham, and remained calm in the hostile atmosphere of the enemy stronghold.
The game looked to be heading for the nil-nil that the Gunners needed, until Ray Kennedy popped up in the box to head home a George Armstrong cross and send the travelling support wild. However, it didn’t change the fact that a Spurs goal could still ruin everything, and in those last 3 minutes they threw everything they had at McLintock & Co.
Thankfully, the Arsenal defence were resolute, and at the final whistle they could celebrate a first title in 18 years, and the first part of what would be a historic Double. They could celebrate…but in less than a week they would have to be ready. At Wembley, they would face the might of Bill Shankly’s Liverpool…