Arsenal were of course double winners in 1971, and started the following season full of hope for further glory. Indeed they won their opening two games of the 1971/2 season beating Chelsea and Huddersfield. But then came a shock – a 3-1 defeat to Manchester United.
That game was played at Anfield, as Man U were banned from playing their first two home matches anywhere at all within Greater Manchester, after their fans had thrown objects, believed to be knives into the away section at a match at the end of 1970/71 season. The front page of the Guardian announced with ill-concealed excitement and mock horror that “About 100 fans” were thrown Anfield, and that “the windows of some houses in Anfield were smashed and “600 skinheads” were said to have been “kept in check” by police.
With the deep analytic ability for which Fleet Street was and is famed we were told that the hooligans were “mindless”. That was it.
So Arsenal had an early defeat but in odd circumstances, but for match 4 on August 24 it was an even greater shock with Arsenal 0 Sheffield United 1 in front of 45,395. That things were not going to go as well as everyone had hoped was now completely apparent and it was clear that the result against Man U could not be put down to being “just one of those things,” what with the game played at Anfield.
But this was different. Newly promoted Sheffield United based their game on endless energy – everyone ran constantly looking for the best position, and it left Arsenal unsure who was where, and who should be marked by whom. Mee’s tactics looked askew, and there was no Don Howe to make suggestions – Don having moved on.
In fact it was Arsenal that looked more like a newly promoted side than the visitors, who controlled the pace of the game in the manner and style of George Graham last season.
Unfortunately, having found the game not going as they expected Arsenal didn’t seem to have another plan, and with no Charlie George to provide the unexpected, Arsenal were reduced to looking very ordinary indeed.
With a second home game just four days later Arsenal needed to pick themselves up, but instead August 28 gave us Arsenal 0 Stoke City 1 in front of 37,637. After five games Arsenal, the double champions, were 15th.