Brighton & Hove Albion travel to the Emirates on Sunday knowing that it will take a fairly spectacular sequence of results to send us down into the Championship.
If we are to look forward to top-flight football next season, we will need to work out a way of picking up more points against the so-called ‘top-six’, particularly away from the Amex.
Our 18 games against Arsenal over the years have resulted in just three victories, all of them coming at home. The most recent of these was the thrilling win just over 12 months ago, that helped towards securing safety in our first premier League campaign.
Back in 1981/82, the aspirations were slightly different, with Albion looking to make an impact at the other end of the table. Following Alan Mullery’s resignation, manager Mike Bailey had taken the team as high as fifth but a stuttering start to the new year had seen us slip back into mid-table.
The somewhat dour, defensive tactics were causing some unrest amongst the fans and in the run-up to the game against Arsenal in April 1982, we had won just one game in the previous six.
Prior to the game, our nine fixtures against the Gunners had brought just two draws along with seven defeats.
Arsenal manager Terry Neill was able to call on a strong side for the trip to the South Coast.
Scotsman George Wood was in goal and the back four included Kenny Sansom and David O’Leary. In midfield, the veteran John Hollins was joined by Paul Davis and Brian Talbot and up front, we faced the twin threat of Raphael Meade and Alan Sunderland. Meade was to join Albion in 1991 and made 49 appearances for us.
Arsenal started strongly and the Albion back four needed to be at their best to repel the Gunners attacks.
The defensive partnership of Steve Foster and Steve Gatting, assisted by fullbacks Don Shanks and ex-Arsenal man Sammy Nelson, held firm as we went in at half-time goalless.
After the break it wasn’t long before Arsenal made their pressure tell, taking the lead through Talbot.
Based on previous encounters, that was normally the signal for an Albion capitulation, but Bailey’s team were made of sterner stuff. The midfield of Jimmy Case, Neil McNab, Gary Stevens and Micky Thomas began to gain a foothold in the game and the equaliser came from striker Andy Ritchie. His partnership up front with Michael Robinson was to generate over half Albion’s league goals that season and it was Robinson who notched what proved to be the winner.
The victory lifted us to 10th and brought real hope of a push up the table and the possibility of a late bid for a European place.
It was not to be however, as seven of our final eight games ended in defeat. Despite the finishing position of 13th, all was not well at the club, with high wages leading to increasing debt.
The average gate of over 18,000, in spite of a deepening economic recession, was a surprise, given the dissatisfaction with the football on offer.
Safety this season is almost assured, and Cardiff play 24 hours before our game with Arsenal on Sunday afternoon. A repeat of the 1982 success will guarantee Premier League football for the 2019/20 season.
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