Four cup finals under Neill (1976–80)

Under Neill, Arsenal moved back into the top half of the table, inspired in part by the emergence of Irish superstar Liam Brady. Brady formed part of a large Irish contingent at Highbury, which included Pat RiceFrank StapletonPat Jennings and the young David O’Leary. Further to this were experienced signings such as Malcolm Macdonald and Alan Hudson, as well as the return of Don Howe, who had been part of the backroom staff when the Double was won, to the Arsenal coaching setup.

Although they could not challenge the League dominance of Liverpool at the time, towards the end of the decade they proved their mettle in the FA Cup. Arsenal reached three finals in a row (19781979, and1980), but won only one, the 1979 final against Manchester United. Largely inspired by Brady, Arsenal went 2–0 up through Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton and looked to be coasting to victory; with five minutes to go, United scored twice in quick succession to level the match. Extra time loomed, but Alan Sunderland converted Graham Rix‘s cross in injury time to secure a famous 3–2 win.

The next season, 1979–80, proved to be cruel as Arsenal played a record-breaking 70 matches and reached two cup finals, only to end the season empty-handed. Arsenal were favourites to beat Second Division West Ham United in the FA Cup final, but lost 1–0 to a Trevor Brooking header. Meanwhile, they had also reached the Cup Winners’ Cup final against Valencia, after Paul Vaessen‘s goal had given them a famous victory over Juventus in the semi-finals; the final finished goalless and Arsenal lost on penalties, with Brady and Rix having their efforts saved.

 

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