Nowadays The FA Cup is a trophy many proclaim is not worth winning. This attitude hasn’t always been the case. The FA Cup is the oldest domestic competition having first taken place in 1872. The FA Cup has taken place every year since 16 March 1872, except for 1916-19 and 1940-45 inclusive. Both Arsenal and Manchester United have won the FA Cup eleven times.
In 1978, whilst manager of Ipswich Town, Bobby Robson said “The FA Cup Final is the greatest single match outside the World Cup Final – and it’s ours.” It’s the only time that Ipswich Town have reached the FA Cup final and, ironically, the team they beat were Arsenal. Though Ipswich Town were also in Division One, the top league at that point in time, they were considered the underdogs; the week before the FA Cup final they’d been beaten 6-1 in the league by Aston Villa and were subsequently beaten 5-0 by Nottingham Forest in the FA Charity Shield on 12th August 1978. According to contemporary reports, Ipswich Town dominated the majority of the game with Roger Osborne scoring the only goal of the match in the 77th minute. Apparently Osborne was so overcome by the emotion he fainted and had to be brought round with smelling salts before being substituted. This isn’t Arsenal’s first upset in an FA Cup final and it certainly won’t be our last.
However, today I’m going to take a look at underdogs who have gunned down Arsenal in earlier rounds of the FA Cup, thereby snuffing out Arsenal’s quest for FA Cup glory.
Saturday 4th January 1992: 3rd Round
Wrexham 2 : 1 Arsenal
One of the first FA Cup matches in living memory was when Fourth Division side Wrexham beat the Arsenal side who were in the top league flight of the First Division. At this time Arsenal were reigning champions having won the league in 1990/91 where they’d lost only one match in that season. Wrexham had finished bottom of the entire football league and would have been relegated to the GM Vauxhall Conference, but the Football League announced that there would be no demotion from their lowest division as Aldershot would be expelled at the end of the season. On paper the two teams were poles apart but on the pitch it was another story. Arsenal dominated the first half and went into half-time 1-0 up thanks to a goal from Alan Smith in the 43rd minute. However, Wrexham came from behind to win 2-1 with both Wrexham goals scored in the final eight minutes of the match and just two minutes apart (82nd and 84th minutes). With less than five minutes left on the clock Arsenal had a goal from Jimmy Carter ruled out for an offside decision. The match has been described as one of the greatest FA Cup giant-killings of all time.
Wednesday 18th January 1995: 3rd Round replay
Arsenal 0 : 2 Millwall
To add insult to injury, this was Arsenal’s second exit from a domestic knock-out trophy in as little as eight days. Millwall had scored early in the game – a Mark Beard shot from six yards out in the 11th minute – gained through a convoluted volley of mis-hits by Millwall which in turn scattered the Arsenal defenders. When the ball finally went through Martin Keown’s legs it found Beard at the far post completely unmarked. During injury time, Millwall’s Mark Kennedy ran away with the ball but Arsenal signalled their surrender by declining to offer a tackle. The 18-year-old thundered his shot high into the net. According to The Independent the shot was reminiscent of the 1966 vintage Geoff Hurst. It seemed that the match was a typical Arsenal tragedy: bad, or at least, unkind refereeing as well as a yellow card for Ian Wright (this racked up the tally to his twelfth booking of the season). Any chances that Arsenal managed to engineer turned to nothing. Towards the end of the first half Wright missed a chance he’d normally put away with his eyes closed. As the final whistle blew, the temperamental striker refused to go quietly from the scene of so much disappointment: Wright and the combative Alex Rae stood nose to nose and Wright had to be restrained by his physio, Gary Lewin, before a policeman forcibly ushered him down the tunnel.
Wednesday 17th January 1996: 3rd Round replay
Sheffield United 1 : 0 Arsenal
A 15-minute delay to kick-off was enough to put Arsenal on the back foot from the very start of the match. By all accounts Arsenal were usually second when it came to getting to the ball and Sheffield United’s strategy was to attack, wave after wave after wave. Throughout the match Arsenal made a few threats; few being the operative word. Sheffield United started to flag in the second half but in the 68th minute Carl Veart headed the ball in from the edge of the 6-yard box. This goal was enough to give United a second wind. In the closing minutes of the match during injury time, Veart almost brought the final score to 2-0. It was only David Seaman miraculously getting an arm to the ball which caused it to bounce under him and hit the crossbar. Unfortunately for Arsenal it was the only miracle that happened on this particular day and it was Division One Sheffield United who progressed to the Fourth Round.
I haven’t been able to find any videos of Sheffield United’s winning goal. At least it’s spared us any further blushes.
On Sunday 25th January 2015 Arsenal will be playing away against Brighton & Hove Albion in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup. The Seagulls are currently sitting in the bottom quarter of the Championship League. Let us hope and pray that in this game history doesn’t rear it’s sometimes ugly head and these underdogs don’t take away our quest for glory.
I’d be really interested to hear of any other FA Cup matches you think should be added to Arsenal’s Hall of Shame (as opposed to fame).