By Highbury 808
As Arsenal and Liverpool prepare for the FA Cup clash at the Emirates there is inevitably talk about squad rotation, fixture congestion, injuries and the like.
Yes, it’s a massively important and busy month for Arsene Wenger’s men. The games are coming think and fast and Arsenal can still smell three potential trophies.
But should players be rested? Should they be too tired to play a couple of games a week? Things have certainly changed in the past few decades. It’s time for a moment of mature reflection.
Let’s go back to 1979, Arsenal got to the FA Cup Final, and beat Manchester United 3-2 in a never to be forgotten finish for fans of the Gunners (Alan Sunderland got a late winner after United had scored two goals to come back from a 2-0 deficit in the closing minutes).
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Incredibly Arsenal used just 13 players in a cup run on their way to lifting the trophy at Wembley.
Yes, in those days you could use only one substitute. But delve a bit deeper into the memory bank, and some of the facts will shock those of a younger generation.
Arsenal played TEN matches on their way to Wembley that year.
In the third round they were drawn against Sheffield Wednesday. The game went to four replays. There were no penalty shoot-outs in those days. Arsenal played Sheffield Wednesday in five matches between January 6th – January 22nd (and had one league game as well during this spell, a 2-1 home win over Nottingham Forest).
Arsenal played on a Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Monday.
The first game at Hillsborough ended in a 1-1 draw and it was the same outcome at Highbury in the replay.
The next three games were played at Filbert Street, the old home of Leicester City (and a ground with many fond memories for Arsenal fans, one certainly being a superb Dennis Bergkamp hat-trick).
But enough digression, that third game ended 2-2, the fourth one was 3-3 and then in the fourth replay Arsenal triumphed with Steve Gatting and Frank Stapleton getting the goals in a 2-0 win.
Their fourth round game was on Saturday, January 27th when they beat Notts County 2-0.
Now that was a hectic month. Nine players began each of the five games against Sheffield Wednesday! Resting players? It just didn’t happen then.
In fact, Arsenal used just 23 players over the entire season for all competitive games. In reality, 13 players featured largely while several made just a handful of appearances. A certain Brian McDermott (now the Leeds manager) made two appearances as a substitute during Arsenal’s league campaign of 1978/79. Eight players played 37 games or more in a league campaign of 42 matches. Arsenal played 54 games that season.
And if you think that was a busy season, in 1979-90, Arsenal played 42 league games, 11 in the FA Cup, and seven in the League Cup. Brian Talbot started every single game- 60 matches. That is something you would rarely see these days.
Arsenal surely have a better chance of winning the FA Cup than the Champions League this season. It can be argued that Wenger should field his strongest team against Liverpool in this cup game.
It’s time for a trophy.