Arsenal’s 1989 coronation at Anfield ‘has no equal’ among most dramatic title triumphs

Arsenal celebrate winning the First Division title at Anfield on May 26, 1989

Arsenal celebrate winning the First Division title at Anfield on May 26, 1989 - Credit: Archant

When it comes to classic matches in football history, Arsenal fans will rightly claim the Gunners 2-0 win against Liverpool at Anfield to clinch the title in 1989 has no equal.

Arsenal captain Tony Adams lifts the First Division trophy at Anfield on May 26, 1989

Arsenal captain Tony Adams lifts the First Division trophy at Anfield on May 26, 1989 - Credit: Archant

Having let an 11-point lead slip, they travelled to Merseyside on Friday May 26, to face the leaders, who were unbeaten in five months and looking to complete their second Double after winning the FA Cup six days earlier.

And George Graham’s side needed to win by two goals – after Liverpool had beaten West Ham 5-1 on the Tuesday night that week – to ensure the clubs would finish level on points and goal difference, with Arsenal taking the title on goals scored.

“I’ve been reading that it’s a waste of a journey coming up here,” said Graham pre-match to ITV on what turned out to be arguably the greatest night in Arsenal’s history.

Commentator Brian Moore called it ‘a night of chilling simplicity’ and added: “We hope you’re going to be comfortable on the edge of your seats.”

Arsenal's starting XI at Anfield on May 26, 1989

Arsenal's starting XI at Anfield on May 26, 1989 - Credit: Archant

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After a delayed 8.15pm kick-off, John Lukic gathered an early free-kick from Steve Staunton, before Steve Bould – one of three centre-backs in the Arsenal XI – had a header from a Michael Thomas cross headed off the line.

Ian Rush fired into the midriff of Lukic, but was replaced by Peter Beardsley before the break, with Lukic pushing a shot from Ronnie Whelan over the bar.

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Arsenal’s Alan Smith had glanced a header wide from a Nigel Winterburn free-kick as it remained goalless at half-time, but the pair combined again to devastating effect soon after the restart.

Whelan was punished for a high foot on David Rocastle and when Winterburn swung in another set-piece, Smith glanced a header inside the far post.

Liverpool players surrounded referee David Hutchinson, but he gave the goal after consulting a linesman, who then got an earful from Whelan.

“I can’t see room for a genuine complaint,” noted David Pleat, ITV’s co-commentator, who later added: “I get the feeling Liverpool are happy to sit on it, which maybe an unwise policy”.

Thomas saw a low shot saved by Bruce Grobbelaar, having been found in the box by Kevin Richardson, and Pleat warned: “Liverpool are living on their nerves at the moment. Arsenal have played with tremendous passion and drive”.

Martin Hayes replaced Paul Merson and, after Richardson was booked for taking out Ray Houghton, Bould made way for Perry Groves.

Rocastle was booked for dissent following a foul by teammate David O’Leary on Steve McMahon as ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ began to ring around Anfield, but Moore warned: “There’s still a job to be done” before giving birthday shouts to Matt Busby and Stan Mortensen.

Houghton fired over the angle of crossbar with less than 10 minutes to go and Moore noted how Liverpool’s Alan Hansen would not qualify for a medal after only appearing in six matches, while Kenny Dalglish was to become the first manager to win the Double twice.

Richardson was left needing treatment for cramp in his right leg as McMahon, famously, began signalling to teammates that only one minute was left.

“He has really earned a champion’s medal,” added Moore, while Pleat noted how it was going to be poetic justice for Arsenal to get a result on the last day of the season, if not to win the title.

Moore countered by saying how that would be small consolation to the Gunners, but then Lukic launched the ball to Lee Dixon, who played it up the right to Smith.

And when the 25-goal striker played it inside, Thomas took advantage of a kind bounce to bear down on goal and – as Moore screamed “It’s up for grabs now!” – flick the ball past Grobbelaar.

“An unbelievable climax to the season, a momentous occasion for Arsenal, who snatched it in the most dramatic fashion. A superhuman effort against the odds,” added Moore as delirious Gooners sang ‘Boring, boring Arsenal’ and ‘We shall not be moved’.

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