fter two years in charge, Graham was beginning to build a pattern of his own. Unlike Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs, he kept away from big signings. At the same time as Liverpool were spending no less than £5.5 million to buy a forward line ( Aldridge, Barnes, Beardsley and Rush, though the latter was a return ticket ), Graham stuck to Alan Smith at £800,000. The only public enquiry he made was for Tony Cottee, though it was clear Highbury was not any striker's preferred destination. Apart from the Littlewoods Cup win, Arsenal had only won one trophy since the Double - the FA Cup of 1979 - and the really talented players either wanted medals ( which tended to mean Liverpool ) or money ( which meant Italy or Spain, with Old Trafford next best ).
onetheless, Graham was not short of Talent. He had inherited Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Paul Davis and Michael Thomas. All were coming to their peak and would attract England's attention. The full-back slots had been a problem with the decline of Kenny Sansom and the failure of Gus Caesar or Michael Thomas to replace Viv Anderson, who headed off to a final payday at Old Trafford. Graham solved the problem competently by replacing Sansom ( who went, unhappily to Newcastle for a season ) with Nigel Winterburn ( who cost £400,000 ) and buying Lee Dixon from Stoke for the same modest £400,000 ultimately to fill the right back spot. Winterburn, still then best known for his Wembley penalty miss, had been apprehensive about replacing Sansom: 'I was worried about being compared with Kenny - after all, he's won more England caps than any other left-back. Then I realised that the comparisons would be made anyway, so I just concentrated on my own game. Highbury's a bit like Wimbledon really. When I was there we were always being criticised, but we drew strength from these attacks. The mood's the same in the Arsenal dressing room. We've scored more goals than any other team in the 1988-89 season, yet as soon as we experiment with a sweeper we're called negative.'
raham's other signings before the Championship season of 1988-89 were equally modest - Brian Marwood from Sheffield Wednesday for £600,000, third center-back Steve Bould from Stoke for £390,000 and Kevin Richardson for £200,000 from Watford. It was to be a particularly memorable year for Richardson, who became one of the few players to win a Champions' medal with two different clubs - he also has one from Everton in 1985.
raham improvised well, fitting his new players to the existing structure and covering up well where he had clear deficiencies. This even led, towards the end of the season, to the three center-back sweeper system after the ponderous offside trap had been severely battered at Highbury by both Forest and Charlton.
he team was not entirely unlike the Double side of 1971 in that it depended on perspiration rather than inspiration and, in David Lacey's words, was: '...fast, fit and pragmatic. They play the long ball towards the head of Smith and depend on the breakdown of opposition movements as a springboard for the counter-attack.'
he Arsenal of 1989 were not as resilient as their predecessors of 1971. They lost and drew games the Double team would have won. Rdaford, Kennedy, Storey, Simpson and McLintock would force results in games where the team played badly. The 1989 team were not as dependable, particularly at Highbury where, on occasions, they looked frighteningly frail. Again, the double team had two clear creative talents - Charlie George and George Graham - who had no real equivalents in 1989. David Rocastle came closest, winning the Barclays 'Young Eagle of the Year' Award, but there was no pretension to the pure skill of Liam Brady or the sheer unexpected explosiveness of George at his best. To an extent though, this was a reflection of a changing game as much as a changed Arsenal.
iddlesborough manager Bruce Rioch said of Arsenal early in the 1988-89 season: 'They work extremely hard to take possession. If you can't stop service into the penalty area, you're in trouble. They have massive midfield strength. Once they get the ball in your half, they keep it there. They pressure you on the ball so you make mistakes. It's not easy playing them, and not very pretty either.'
rsenal were not averse to the long-ball game, and it was here that their dependance on Alan Smith became clear. As the season progressed, he played better and better, ending it as the First Division's top scorer and an International. His performance against Liverpool in the final game was quite outstanding. 'You could have fired a cannonball at him that day and he would have controlled it and laid it off to one of the midfielders without a second thought', said one of the Liverpool defenders afterwards.
he Championship season was, in truth, a patchy one. The Gunners did not reach the top of the league until Boxing day, and then lost the lead to Liverpool with just 13 days left. They won more games away from home than at home ( 12 versus 10 ) which was very odd indeed for a Championship side. Far more peculiar was the sides which eventually finished second ( Liverpool ), third ( Forest ) and fourth ( Norwich ) effectively did the same, all having better away than home records. All the top four lost at least three home games during the season.