17th November 1990
Arsenal 4 – 0 Southampton
The Football Association had done their worst and it was just Arsenal fans who feared exactly that. Two points deducted left them trailing eight points behind Liverpool, who at the time were an indomitable force in English football. Even with barely a dozen games gone, it was clearly Mission: Impossible.
George Graham remained defiant. “Anybody would think we were second-bottom of the table”, he said before the match, “not second from top. We’re undefeated this season, if anyone remembers.” Not for him a meek and humble approach, he was fostering a siege mentality: “We can still win the title!”, he proudly declared.
And he had a bullish effect on not just the players. Highbury reacted with wounded pride, leaving the FA in no doubt where they could stick their two points. And Highbury, Graham declared, needed to be “behind the team…boosting it through spells of indifference.”
Your wish, George. Your wish.
It could be a tagline of the blog: frankly, there is nothing new in modern football. Graham proved that true as well, observing that the “away support has been tremendous.”
But he needed a reaction from his players as well. Liverpool had what seemed to be a routine away match at struggling Coventry City. They won, albeit with a tighter scoreline than they might have expected with Peter Beardsley’s late goal ruining Terry Butcher’s first match in charge of the Sky Blues.
At the same time, Southampton were the visitors at Highbury. Ensconced in mid-table, they probably harboured fears and hopes about the Arsenal reaction. An off-day for the home side, deflated by their punishment couldn’t be ruled out but the reality was exactly their nightmare. Arsenal shone as Chris Nicholl damned his Southampton players without any praise: “I’m very disappointed, disappointed in everything.” It would come as no surprise if we learned he had money on Nigel Benn to beat Chris Eubank that evening.
It didn’t matter to us. Graham thought the players “perturbed” by the events of that week. Southampton – and football generally – received a message. As Graham put it, the team which could only get better “are not going to be beaten easily”.
In some respects, the FA helped the squad find their feet Unbeaten to this point – the best start in nearly half-a-century – feeling hard done by gave them a sense of righteous indignation to draw upon when times got tough.
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