Classic Encounter: Arsenal 1-3 Wolves

Between 1970 and 1974, the teams that lost in semi-finals of the FA cup played each other in a playoff to decide who came third. Ahead of Sunday's game, VAVEL looks back at one of those playoffs played at Highbury on 18th August 1973, that saw Wolverhampton Wanderers take on Arsenal

  • A different era

Compared to the modern day game, football in the 1970's was a very different ball game. Long, messy, flowing locks of hair with generous sideburns were in fashion. Thick, bushy moustaches were all the rage and short-shorts were definitely in.

Goalkeepers did not wear gloves and pass-backs were still allowed. This meant a lot of goal-kicks saw goalkeepers passing to defenders, who would then pass it straight back for the keeper could pick it up and give it a big old boot up the park. 

There were no names on the back of shirts, who only ever had numbers 1-11 on the field. The pitches were nowhere near the carpet-like surfaces played on today and the balls were the old fashioned leather balls. There was also no sponsors on the shirts and most importantly, there was no VAR.

A very different era indeed. 

  • The teams ahead of the game

The fixture was played a week before the start of the 73-74 season, but it was still classed as the season before. In that previous season, Wolves had managed to finish 5th, qualifying for a competition back then known as the Texaco Cup, which featured teams from England, Scotland and Ireland.

They also reached the semi-final of the League Cup, with the team going on to beat Manchester City 2-1 in the final the following season. Wolves were a very good, solid top division team at the time under manager Bill McGarry.

This was a Wolves team with the trickery of David Wagstaffe, the tenacity of Derek Dougan and the finishing of John Richards. They had even managed to finish runners-up in the UEFA Cup the season before, a feat not equaled since. 

Arsenal on the other hand, had managed to finish 2nd in the 72-73 season and funnily enough, were also knocked out of the League Cup semi-final like Wolves.

Their team was also very talented, with the likes of Bob Wilson in goal and England World Cup winner Alan Ball strutting his stuff around Highbury week in, week out. The Gunners had Bertie Mee in the dugout, who had led Arsenal to their first double in their history two seasons previous.

  • A first half of clinical finishing and poor defending

It was Wolves who managed to get onto the score-sheet first. Arsenal's Brendan Batson, who was the first black player to don the red and white of the Gunners, conceded a throw in to Wolves, deep in Arsenal's half.

Wagstaffe took it quickly and sent it towards Jim McCalliog whose clever dummy completely bamboozled the Arsenal defence and managed to fire it in first time to put Wolves one up.

The next chance fell to Wolves again, when a long ball by keeper Phil Parkes was headed on by Dougan to Wagstaffe, who played a lovely ball through to Richards who tapped it just wide of the goal, with Wilson coming out well to narrow the angle.

Wolves again came on the attack and this time made it two. Derek Parkin played a lovely long through ball up to Dougan, who after letting it bounce once on the right-hand side of the Arsenal penalty box, smashed it in on the half-volley. An emphatic finish.

  • A second half of more defensive mishaps

Arsenal's defence faltered again early in the second half, with a missed interception from a long ball allowing Wolves to put Alan Sunderland through on goal who poked it just wide.

A standard goal-kick to defender, back to keeper, then thump forward manoeuvre, gave Arsenal the opportunity to strike back. The long ball was not dealt with well by Wolves who let it bounce into their box, with Brian Hornsby nipping in ahead of Parkes to toe home Arsenal's first goal of the game. It was quite clear that Parkes was not happy with his defence by his reaction!

Arsenal were now starting to get a foothold in the game, with Ball seeing more of the ball in the middle of the park. Ball played a pass into the Arsenal forwards, which then broke loose to Hornsby, who miscued his kick. A let off for Wolves.

Eventually though, Wolves bagged their third. After some great work and trickery from Wagstaffe to shake off his man, he played a clever ball through to McCalliog down the Wolves right hand side. The ball was then played into the box to Richards, who held it up and after having his lay-off intercepted, saw the ball bounce across the Arsenal six-yard box. 

In what should have been a routine thump-up-the-pitch clearance by Brian Chambers, the Arsenal player slipped! The ball then fell to Dougan, who slotted in his second goal of the game, putting the result beyond the Gunners and giving Wolves the win.

The third-place playoffs did not continue for long after this one, but it gave Wolves a rare win against the Arsenal. The men in gold would only go on to register seven more wins against the Gunners, compared to Arsenal's twenty-one, a damning win-rate for the Wolves.