Our rivalry with Arsenal covers just 16 games, but stretches back over 80 years, to 1935.
In January of that year, we entertained the Gunners at The Goldstone for an FA Cup tie, which we lost 2-0. The next time we played was our first ever game in the top flight resulting in another defeat, this time 4-0.
We played them no less than FIVE times in 1979/80, losing four and drawing just once, a League Cup tie in November 1979. The following season was no better and we had to wait until April, 1982, before we registered our first win and indeed our first ever goal against Arsenal.
In that season, we had enjoyed fluctuating fortunes in Mike Bailey’s first season in charge. A win at Wolverhampton Wanderers in September, 1981, took us to fifth in the first division table, which remains our highest ever placing. When Arsenal came to town we were lying 11th, after a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Southampton the previous week.
Bailey was under pressure from fans, critical of his ultra-defensive style. Against Arsenal, he continued with Perry Digweed in goal, who had done well after replacing Graham Moseley but the team as a whole was fairly settled.
The back-four comprised Don Shanks, Steve Foster, Steve Gatting and Sammy Nelson. In midfield, we had Jimmy Case, Neil McNab, Gary Stevens and Mickey Thomas, while the strike-force comprised Andy Ritchie and Michael Robinson.
The first-half was tight, and we went in at half-time with the game scoreless. Bailey’s half-time talk didn’t take effect immediately, as Arsenal took the lead. This seemed to galvanise Albion into action and goals from Ritchie and Robinson gave us our first win, and first goals, against the Gunners.
Manager Bailey was full of praise for the team, saying “We played with real spirit and fight and I was delighted with the performance of the team. It isn’t often that a team comes from behind to win against the Gunners as they have one of the most organised defences in the league”.
Breaking the Arsenal hoodoo, at the tenth attempt, should have galvanised the team into a push up the league. Unfortunately, of the eight games played after then, seven were lost, the solitary win coming at home to Wolves in May, 1982. We still finished 13th, which remains our highest ever top-flight finish.
A win on Sunday against the 2017/18 Arsenal team could be the springboard we need to better that feat.
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