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Lashings of North London rivalry

Jack Zorab
February 28, 2013
David Rocastle delivers a 'stab through the heart' to send Arsenal to Wembley © Getty Images
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Arsenal's trophy drought will extend to an eighth season once Bayern Munich have disposed of them and their limp Premier League campaign becomes a mathematical waste of time - which by our calculations will be around the end of March.

Former players are calling for Arsene Wenger's head, the fans are demanding changes to the board and no-one, not even Jack Wilshere, is able to boss the midfield in a big game.

But ahead of the north London derby this Sunday, ESPN rewinds to when the Gunners were experiencing an equally barren stretch and a victory over Tottenham set them on the path to glory once more.

In March 1987, Arsenal had not won a thing since lifting the FA Cup in May 1979 - a period just short of eight years.

But they had drawn Tottenham in the semi-finals of the League Cup, then named the Littlewoods Cup, and a trilogy of games followed which can lay reasonable claim to starting the welding process of a side which would go on to win the First Division in the 1989/89 and 1990/91 seasons.

Tottenham were touted as the most talented team in the land at the time with Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle and Clive Allen - who scored 49 goals that season, in the side. Spurs were never behind across the three matches until right at the death of the third game when teenager David Rocastle scrambled home the winner to send the away fans at White Hart Lane, and himself, into delirium.

Charlie Nicholas and George Graham helped end Arsenal's trophy drought in 1987 © Getty Images
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"I was so involved in the game that I thought there was still another 15 minutes left on the clock," Rocastle told the Daily Express a week after the victory. The first leg was held at Highbury and Spurs won 1-0, the goal coming from Allen, yet the visitors spurned several opportunities to put the tie beyond doubt. But so convinced were Tottenham's directors that they would reach Wembley that the post-match talk in the tea room centred on sorting out the printing of t-shirts for the final.

"I went crazy when I heard that and I know there was a nervousness among the fans about the second leg as Arsenal had once won at White Hart Lane to clinch the title," Spurs manager David Pleat wrote in the Guardian in 2007.

Pleat's fears looked to be falsely placed to begin with in the second leg when Allen scored again to make it 2-0 on aggregate. But then came the moment which the history section of Arsenal's official website claims turned the tie on its head: "Arsenal looked down and out. But, riled by half-time tannoy announcements advising Spurs fans how to get hold of their Wembley tickets, the Gunners came roaring back."

Pleat however disputes that version of events. "I suspect it is a myth that Arsenal were fired up by hearing that in their dressing room," he wrote in the same Guardian column. "If they knew about it at all it is more likely that someone in the tunnel mentioned it as they came out."

Whatever Arsenal heard at half-time they were inspired by it and Viv Anderson and Niall Quinn scored second-half goals to earn a 2-1 victory, making it 2-2 on aggregate. But with no weighting for away goals, referee Alan Gunn tossed a coin to see who would have home advantage for the deciding leg. His first attempt landed perpendicular in the mud and the second went the way of Spurs.

Hoddle was ruled out of the decider with a stomach muscle injury and Steve Curry in the Daily Express wrote before the game that his absence meant advantage Arsenal. It did not seem that way for the first 82 minutes as Allen's third goal of the three-match tie looked to be enough for Spurs to finally book their Wembley tickets and make their commemorative t-shirts, particularly as Charlie Nicholas had limped off with an injury.

The role of 'Rocky'

  • Arsenal's teenage match-winner David 'Rocky' Rocastle sadly died from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2001 at the age of 33.
  • Despite Rocky ruining Spurs' League Cup hopes, David Pleat would go to describe him as a "gentleman and a fine player". But in 1987 he was just getting used to being a key part in Arsenal's first-team squad. He had not passed his driving test at that age and thus regularly took the train to training. It proved a winning commute as he picked up Arsenal's player of the season award that year.
  • On top of the League Cup he added two First Division titles to his trophy haul with the Gunners, in 1989 and 1991, but was sold to Leeds United in 1992 after 228 appearances and 23 goals for Arsenal.

But eight minutes from time the Spurs defence lost its bearings when a long ball was fired forward, allowing Ian Allinson, on for Nicholas, to collect it. Desperate Spurs defenders caught up with him meaning Allinson had to find a different route to goal. So he swiveled on a sixpence and struck the ball from the left-hand edge of the six-yard box and Ray Clemence was beaten at his near post, in all too easy a fashion.

The winner followed soon after. David O'Leary launched a free-kick from inside his own half and Quinn challenged for it in the air. The ball found its way to Allinson who laid a flat sideways foot on it, seemingly aiming for goal.

It was blocked but only to ricochet into the area where Rocastle was waiting, but certainly not expecting the ball. The 19-year-old did well with no time to prepare. He took the pace off it with his shin and nudged it forward, away from Spurs' defenders, all in one motion. Then, from a similar position to Allinson's goal, he squeezed the ball under Clemence, who, again, was at fault.

The former England international was blamed in the press for Spurs' exit and could only curse the nature of the zero-to-hero, and back again, culture of the tabloids.

"Some of the criticism of the goals was justified," he admitted in the Daily Express. "I accept it because I have been happy to take praise in the past. After I'd kept six clean sheets in six successive wins only a week ago, people said I was playing as well as ever and I was still good enough for England. Now I read that another goalkeeper is on the way to Tottenham."

Clive Allen scored a goal in each of the three ties © Getty Images
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Pleat described the win like a 'stab to the heart' but soon recovered to give his rival in the Arsenal dugout George Graham a lift home in his car.

"I sat in my office having a cup of tea and a sandwich with George Graham and a couple of his backroom staff before giving George a lift home. That is what the camaraderie was like between a lot of managers in those days," he said. "George needed a lift to his home in Cockfosters and that was en route to my house in Luton so I dropped him off and - with a heavy heart - wished him good luck for the final."

What happened next?
Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 a month later at Wembley. Nicholas returned to score both goals and cancel out Ian Rush's opener - the result ended Arsenal's trophy drought of almost eight years.

Spurs reached the FA Cup final where they lost 3-2 to Coventry. They finished third in the league, one place above Arsenal, but neither efforts earned them a place in the European Cup as English clubs were still banned from European competition following the 1985 Heysel disaster.

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