28th November 1990
Rumbelow Cup Fourth Round
Arsenal 2 – 6 Manchester United
Losing a cup tie was disappointing but not an unexpected result. It’s 50:50 on those nights, particularly against a top flight side which had won the FA Cup the previous season. It doesn’t make it any easier to bear, before you ask.
Attention was firmly focused on the two sides given the ‘Battle of Old Trafford’ the previous month. In the build-up, speculation had been aired that a repeat of that situation would see the winners of the tie removed from the competition, irrespective of who started it. Two more well-behaved sets of players, you couldn’t have wished to meet to the extent that you wouldn’t have minded your daughter bringing them home for tea on this kind of behaviour.
Perhaps you’d be as generous hosts as Arsenal who struggled to recover from conceding a second-minute goal albeit pulling the three-goal half-time deficit to a single-goal with twenty-minutes remaining.
My mind recalls Lee Sharpe’s trademark rock star celebration, bending the corner flag as if it were a microphone. It never did snap in half and leave him slumped face down in the turf; the footballing gods truly knew how to make us suffer. I can’t remember if it was the first ever ‘stylised’ goal celebration – I’m sure it wasn’t – but it’s the first one I recall being anything other than a firm handshake, an arm raised aloft in triumph or Mike Channon’s windmill. I suppose that could be the first rock star celebration, mimicking Pete Townshend as it did. Anything which denies a United player a moment of glory in my mind, works for me.
The size of the defeat was a shock but hindsight shows it inevitable. A quick goal, cascaded into a three at half-time. It was, for an unbeaten side, a poor first half which was replaced by the expected fight in the second. It was pulled back to 3 – 2 but United were ruthless on the counter-attack. I’m not sure if my mind is playing tricks but I seem to recall watching Highbury empty when the fifth goal went in; leaving early is not a new phenomenon. The anger at a home defeat to United gave way to disbelief when the fifth and sixth went in; we just couldn’t believe what we were seeing.
It was generally a bad night all round. Arsenal were on the receiving end of a thrashing at home to Manchester United which is never a pleasant experience at the best of time, made even more so by the idiocy of others’ drinking games which left me explaining a bloodied hand to the Met every fifty or so yards between The Plimsoll and Highbury, as well needing a tetanus booster jab the following morning. As night’s at The Arsenal go, I’ve had better. Much better but not many worse.
click to enlarge