The unveiling of Arsenal’s new away-kit brought to mind the away-kits of the 1970’s, specifically those worn in the 1979 FA Cup, a glorious 3-2 victory over Manchester United. The new away-kit features the same (or similar) bright yellow and royal blue. It’s probably one of the most-famous finishes in FA Cup history. The squad featured greats like Liam Brady, Pat Jennings, Pat Rice, David O’Leary, Brian Talbot, Sammy Nelson, and Frank Stapleton. Had I discovered Arsenal just a few years earlier, I could cherish this victory all the more. Having said that, seeing the highlights gives me goosebumps and a thrill down the spine all the same.
Before we go too much further, though, let’s offer a moment of silence for the ill-fated 2012-13 away-kit. I rather liked it and will be sad to see it go. It made very few appearances, especially during the final run-in. Ironically, the final time it was worn was during the famous 2-0 victory over Bayern at Allianz Arena. That was March 13. You’d have to reach all the way back to January 6’s 2-2 draw with Swansea in the FA Cup 3rd round to see the away-kit. Too bad. That said, I like the throw-back appeal of the 2013-14 kit (except the socks), and I like the fact that the 1979 away-kit is the last of them to not feature a sponsor emblazoned across the chest. Call me old-fashioned if you will.
It was a glorious game, as Arsenal went up on the 12th minute after a brilliant exchange. Stapleton worked his way down the right flank and threaded a pass into the box to Brady, who drew out Man United’s keeper before putting the back across the goal for Talbot to finish. The second was just as exquisite, as Brady, who eviscerated the Man United defense all day, dribbled past two or three defenders, shrugging off several fouls in the process, and lofted a lovely little cross towards Stapleton just outside the six yard box, who coolly nodded it home. This might have been an era dominated by hoof-and-hope football, but we can almost see the genesis of Arsenal soccer in these goals—intelligent movement, insightful passing, befuddled defenses. If only that were it.
Man United managed to pull two back, and I don’t think I’m too churlish in suggesting that each was the product of a bit of blind luck—the first involved a set-piece received outside the opposite side of the box, blindly sent back in and poked home, and the second involved a blindly lofted ball (kicked forward without looking to see who’s making a run) and some sloppy defending. At any rate, a match that looked all but decided since before halftime was knotted up, and all of the momentum was going Man United’s way: two goals in two minutes, both in the last five minutes of regulation. Even if Arsenal could hold onto the draw and force extra time, it seemed like all of the confidence on the Arsenal side was fading while, on the Man United side, it was surging. As the announcer called it, Arsenal was “gobstruck.”
The ensuing kick-off, however, put things right again.
Even as Man United’s fans continued to cheer and the announcers continued to extol the goal, Arsenal reloaded. While the announcer commented on ‘The despair on the face of Don Howard, Terry Neill…”, he had to shift gears abruptly as Brady collected the ball and pressed through the middle, finding Graham Rix on the left-flank, and Rix floated a beauty of a cross to the far-post, beating Gary Bailey, who had come off his line, and finding at the back-post Sunderland waiting to send it home. Mere seconds after commenting on Neill’s despair, the announcer followed by saying, “but wait a moment! It’s there by Sunderland!” 3-2 Arsenal. Pandemonium ensued. The 89th-minute goal stood, and seconds later, it was over.
Sadly, I missed it. ESPN, the station on which I first discovered Arsenal, didn’t come into existence until September 1979, four months after this moment of glory. The choice of an away-kit that so closely resembles the 1979 away-kit, though, thrills me. It connects me to the club’s past, extending beyond what was available to me in my youth. It reconnects us all to a moment of glory—but it does so without saddling the current squad with yet another comparison to the Invincibles. It also serves to remind us that the moments of glory are sometimes, by necessity, placed like oases, surrounded by seemingly endless stretches of harsh, barren desert. It would be 14 years before we won another FA Cup, and it would be 10 years before we would win a league title.
Now, as we prepare to enter the 2013-14 season, there are a lot of reasons for optimism. The design of this away-kit, I’d submit, is one of them. I won’t go so far as to say that we’re going to win the FA Cup. The tea-leaves I’m reading, however, all suggest that it’s going to be a banner-year for the Gunners. Right. Let’s make it happen: Sign Higuain. See about Rooney and Cesar. Make room for Walcotts’s breakthrough season. All of the pieces are coming together, slowly but surely, and 2013-14 could be the year that sees an end to the trophy-drought. I’m sure of it — come on, you Gunners!