On May 26th, 1989, Arsenal’s season, and title hopes, came down to a fateful trip to Liverpool on the last match of the season. The Gunners faced a daunting challenge as they traveled to face the formidable league leaders on their own turf, needing no less than a two goal victory, at Anfield, to earn their first title in 18 years.
That season had seen Arsenal climb as high as 11 points clear of Liverpool before a poor run of form saw their lead, and title odds, erode. In the run-in to the final match, Arsenal squandered two chances to all but secure the league, while Liverpool had handily won twice to overtake the Gunners. The momentum had swung firmly in favor of the home side, the reigning title-holders, who had not lost to Arsenal at Anfield in 15 years.
Everything pointed toward yet another Liverpool title, their 8th in 10 years. Arsenal’s run that season under manager George Graham was impressive, but it was nothing compared to the unprecedented dominance of Liverpool during the 70s and 80s. The Gunners were finally losing steam, and it became a matter of formality before Liverpool overtook them.
On that fateful night, Arsenal bucked history, punching the favored behemoth in the mouth with one of the most dramatic wins in the history of the game, launching the final dagger at the death and securing the title with the last kick of the last match of the season. For all of the fanfare of that Aguero goal in 2014, Michael Thomas and Arsenal did it first.
On Wednesday night, Arsenal will look to repeat history when they travel to Manchester to take on the league titans in Manchester City with the weightiest of title implications on the line.
While not a perfect allegory, the stakes are no less high, and the circumstances no less daunting for Arsenal. The Gunners’ league-leading form over the first two thirds of the season has begun to sputter, and the once-robust lead over City has been dashed on the rocks after three straight draws leading up to this week’s match.
While there will still be 5 matches for Arsenal to play following Wednesday’s showdown, the match against Manchester City is, to many, the de facto title match. The winner gains three crucial points and all of the momentum ahead of the May run in. A win puts Arsenal’s lead back to 8 with City having two games in hand. A draw or a loss, and the Cityzens will almost assuredly coast through a much more manageable fixture list to yet another title.
Ahead of this massive matchup, the question all Arsenal fans are asking is the same: will the real Arsenal please stand up? For three straight matches, the Gunners have been good enough to not lose, but too inconsistent to keep teams from growing into the game. The draws have each been a death by a thousand paper cuts, the results totally avoidable and yet entirely predictable.
The last three weeks have done a number on the collective Arsenal psyche, but a win on Wednesday could see that once-ebullient belief rekindled. The injury to William Saliba has been tough for Arsenal to cope with, but the three draws have not been solely due to his absence. We have seen the Gunners open matches with sustained periods of sublime excellence before letting off of the gas and losing focus. We’ve also seen them shoot themselves in the foot and be their own worst enemies.
How Arsenal choose to approach this match is anybody’s guess. Could Arteta shake things up and opt for an untested formation in hopes of catching City off guard? Does he stay the course and hope that his starters can live up to their potential? The permutations are too many to comprehend, but the fact remains the same - Arteta will need to be note-perfect in his tactics and personnel decisions, something that has been a point of contention in the recent winless skid.
As always, please check out Nathan’s post for more on possible lineups and predictions.
It all comes down to this. Nothing before matters. Dropped points, missed chances, all of that fades into the haze of the past. Three points and a chance at glory await Arsenal if they are bold enough to reach for it.
Wednesday has the potential to be an historic night for Arsenal. The cards seem stacked against them, and the only route to keeping their title hopes alive rest on the road against the league’s most prolific side in recent history.
We’ve seen this movie before. Let’s hope it ends the same way.
WHAT: Arsenal vs Manchester City
WHEN: Wednesday, April 26th, 3:00pm EST/12:00pm PST/8:00pm BST
WHERE: The Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England
HOW TO WATCH: Streaming on Peacock.
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