It is sometimes forgotten that before the Unbeaten Season, there was the Almost Unbeaten Season of 1990/91. And on 19 January 1991 we had league match 23, the last match of the run before the one defeat of the season in the next game. This match ended Arsenal 1 Everton 0. Merson scored.
Of course with talk of “unbeaten” generally referring to league matches, we don’t take into account the one defeat Arsenal had suffered before this match, on 28 November the game ended Arsenal 2 Manchester United 6 in the League Cup.
After the match on 19 January Arsenal played Leeds United home and away in the FA Cup, both games ending in draws, 0-0 at Highbury, 1-1 at Elland Road, but after those two battles, the game three days later at Stamford Bridge was a step to far, and Arsenal lost away 2-1 to Chelsea. A mere 29,024 turned up to see the game.
Arsenal were however still top of the league, one point above Liverpool, and three points ahead of third placed Crystal Palace. The media’s view was that Arsenal’s bubble would now burst.
In fact the four games between 27 January and 13 February 1991 were the low point of the season – the defeat to Chelsea and three FA Cup draws all told with Leeds, before Arsenal finally beat Leeds 2-1 to continue on to the relentless league match and FA Cup games against Shrewsbury Town (we won 0-1) and the mighty Cambridge United (2-1 to the Arsenal)
In fact the final defeat was in the FA Cup to, of all people, Tottenham Hostpur 3-1. But by then there were just five games to go to see out the title. We won three and drew the other two.
But there was one other twist. The game at which Arsenal were certain of the title (following a failure to win by Liverpool earlier in the evening) was at home against Manchester United, who graciously clapped Arsenal onto the pitch in the traditional manner. No argy bargy this time.
Which was ironic because Arsenal had been deducted two points and Manchester United one point for unruly behaviour in a match between the two on 11 December 1990. It was seen as a deliberate attempt to stop Arsenal winning the title, and so the entire return match against Manchester United, with Arsenal already having won the title, was accompanied by seemingly the vast majority of fans singing a song which reflected upon where the Football League could place the two points that it had stolen from Arsenal.
Even more amusingly, the game was filmed live on ITV, and watching a recording of it later, wherein it is quite clear what the crowd is singing, the commentator was reduced to saying, “And the Arsenal crowd are singing “We are the champions”.” As if we ever would.