In 1989, Liverpool were to host Arsenal on the 23rd of April. However, the fixture was postponed due to the events of April 15th: Liverpool’s F.A Cup semi final against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough, where 96 fans were crushed to death inside the stadium. The fixture was postponed to a date after the F.A Cup Final. In the final, were Liverpool who beat rivals Everton 2-0. It meant that if Liverpool won the League title, they would complete a historic second double.
So Anfield hosted Arsenal for the final league match of the year. Incidentally, Liverpool and Arsenal sat at first and second on the table respectively and the points were close enough for the match to be a decider. Arsenal would need to win by a 2 goal deficit to claim the title. A draw or a loss meant that the title went to Liverpool for a record 18th time.
Anfield at that time was a fortress, where Liverpool had not lost by two or more goals in three years. Liverpool had also never lost a match with John Aldridge and Ian Rush playing up front together. On the other hand, Arsenal had not won in Liverpool in 15 years. Liverpool were overwhelming favourites. The Daily Mirror’s sports section at that time led a story with the headline “You Haven’t Got A Prayer, Arsenal”.
April 26th 1989, A warm summer evening marked the big matchday. The match kicked off after a delay because many Arsenal fans were caught in traffic. The first half was quiet. It lacked the urgency that the situation dictated. Both teams had very few chances and the match seemed to be going in for a draw. In the 32nd minute, fortune favoured Arsenal. Ian Rush was forced to go off with a groin strain and had to be replaced by Peter Beardsley. The first half closed with the score tied at 0-0.
Liverpool kicked off the second half. Arsenal came out looking a little stronger and more determined. Seven minutes in and Arsenal won an indirect free kick only a few yards from the Liverpool box, captain Ronnie Whelan the culprit. Nigel Winterburn stood on top of the ball. The English Left back dropped the ball into the Liverpool six-yard-box where Alan Smith sent the ball into the net with a glancing header. The score now read 1-0.
Both teams had great chances to score but neither of them were clinical enough. Steve McMahon was seen gesturing to his team-mates that only a minute was left. They had to only hold on for a minute and the title was theirs. An injury to Kevin Richardson held up play, which meant that there would be an extra three minutes of injury time. At 90+1 minutes John Barnes grabbed possession of the ball and headed towards the Arsenal goal. He was dispossessed by, as luck would have it, Richardson who passed the ball to his goal keeper John Lukic. In one swift motion, never faltering, Lukic threw the ball to Lee Dixon who sent a long ball to Allan Smith. Smith spotted a run being made by Michael Thomas and lobbed the ball into his path. Thomas, with a bit of luck, evaded a challenge from Steve Nicol and dashed into the Liverpool box to put the ball into the bottom corner and end Arsenal’s 18 year wait for a league title. I’m really not sure but I think that is where the “boring, boring Arsenal” chants started.”
Fast forward 24 years and today, Arsenal and Liverpool sit at sixth and seventh positions respectively. Arsenal have not won a piece of silverware since 2005 and prior to last year’s League Cup triumph, Liverpool have not won anything since 2006. Liverpool recently suffered a fourth round F.A Cup loss at the hands of third tier Oldham Athletic. And although they are alive in the Europa League, it would seem they are in for a trophy-less season. The same could be said for Arsenal when it comes to the Champions League. Arsenal’s best bet would be the F.A Cup this season but given their record not many would wrong to bet against them.
So essentially, both teams will be playing for a Champions League spot for next season. They will continue to fight for a top four finish when they meet on Wednesday evening at the Emirates Stadium. The match may not have the same appeal as the one where the two teams met back in 1989, but it is probably just as important. Both teams know that this match could prove fatal for their Champions League hopes. A slip here would be very costly.
The game may not be a final. However, fans of both teams will be watching like it is one. Both sets of players have match winners among them that can turn a game around at the drop of a dime. Personally, I’ll be hoping for a “boring, boring Arsenal” chant to ring out. But then again it is Liverpool.