Liam Brady left Arsenal for Juventus in the summer of 1980, and the team entered another barren spell. They continued to finish in the top four at the start of the 1980s, but never really looked like winning the title, and they could not rediscover their FA Cup form either – aside from 1982–83 when Arsenal reached both cup semi-finals in only to be knocked out in both by Manchester United. Neill struggled to control his team at times; throughout his tenure, he had fallings-out with many of his players (including Hudson and Macdonald) and he was unable to contain the drinking culture within the squad. His signings to replace the departed Brady and Stapleton failed to make the same impact, and towards the end of Neill’s reign the club suffered several embarrassing cup defeats; this included losing to part-timers K.F.C. Winterslag in the 1981–82 UEFA Cup and Third Division Walsall in the 1983–84 League Cup. Neill was sacked in December 1983, soon after the latter result.
Don Howe, Neill’s assistant, succeeded him but he could not get the side anywhere near a trophy either. Although Arsenal managed to finish sixth and seventh under him, they never seriously challenged for the title (although they did briefly top the league in October 1984) and were dumped out of the 1984–85 FA Cup by Third Division York City. The fans were getting increasingly disillusioned with the club’s muddling performances and attendances started to dip beneath 20,000. In March 1986, after hearing the board had approached FC Barcelona coach Terry Venables as his replacement, Howe resigned.Steve Burtenshaw was briefly caretaker manager but the club decided to look to outside for Howe’s long-term successor.
The Arsenal board of directors did contact Scottish club Aberdeen with a view to offering the job to their manager Alex Ferguson (while also drawing up an offer to Millwall manager George Graham to become assistant manager of Arsenal), but Ferguson rejected the offer. However, Ferguson did cross the border six months later to succeed Ron Atkinson at Manchester United.
- From the Vault: Arsène Wenger joins Arsenal in 1996 and bans Mars bars (theguardian.com)
- A history lesson for Fergie and Man United from Liverpool, Arsenal and Man City (talksport.com)
- Wenger Predict Say Ferguson Go Still Comeback To Coach United (proudlymumu.wordpress.com)