Europe’s Champions: AC Milan 1988-89

BY 1987, AC Milan had declined from their 1960s highs and had even suffered the ignominy of relegation from Serie A in 1980 due to a match-fixing scandal. Milan won promotion back to the top division in 1981 but went straight back down to Serie B. They went up again in 1983 and spent a few years re-establishing themselves as one of Italy’s premier clubs, but the club was in a bad state financially and on the brink of bankruptcy. In February 1986, Silvio Berlusconi, a wealthy entrepreneur, bought AC Milan for 40 million Lire, beginning a successful and often controversial period in the club’s history. Berlusconi had a very clear vision to transform the club’s fortunes. “Milan is a team, but it’s also a product to sell; something to offer on the market.” Berlusconi proceeded to use his media companies to create football’s first global brand, while he also covered any losses.

Serie A at the time was in the midst of a glorious era in which some of the world’s top players were lured to Italy: Diego Maradona had joined Napoli in 1984, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge of West Germany was at Inter and France’s virtuoso, Michel Platini was orchestrating Juventus’s midfield.

In 1987, Napoli won their first scudetto, with Maradona at his very best. Milan finished in fifth place, but Berlusconi was determined to compete with Napoli and bring top talent to the club, signing two brilliant Dutchmen, Ruud Gullit of PSV Eindhoven and Marco van Basten of Ajax. Gullit cost 18 million Dutch guilders, the equivalent of £ 6 million at the time and a world record fee. Van Basten was signed for little more than £ 1 million. Other players to arrive in 1987 were Carlo Ancelotti of Roma, a slow-paced midfielder with excellent vision, and Angelo Colombo.

Milan also had outstanding products from their youth system, such as Paolo Maldini, son of Cesare Maldini, who captained Milan’s 1963 European Cup winning side. Paolo would go on to play more than 900 games for the club and win 126 caps for Italy. Captain Franco Baresi was also a graduate of the Milan set-up and spent 20 seasons with the club. He was one of the best defenders ever produced by Italy, combining power and pace.

Milan effectively rejected the concept of catenaccio

Berlusconi persuaded Parma’s Arrigo Sacchi to join the club, an innovative yet unknown coach who influenced a generation of football managers. But the bespectacled and dapper Sacchi had to win over the demanding Italian media, who felt he was ill-equipped to manage a club like Milan. They predicted he wouldn’t last more than a few months and even when they were heading for the title, were forecasting who would be the club’s coach for the following season.

Sachi created a fluid style of football built around 4-4-2 that was not only effective and entertaining. His approach was basically a rejection of the notorious catenaccio that stifled the life out of opponents. Furthermore, Sacchi’s team played a flat back four and dispensed with the use of sweepers. The emphasis was on space, so man-marking was also abandoned. Milan became the most unItalian of Italian sides.

In 1987-88, Milan looked to be off the pace at one stage, but they only lost twice all season and remained unbeaten away from home. Sacchi admits today Gullit was the key man in the title race, describing him as a formidable athlete. Van Basten was rarely fit in his first season, forever troubled by an ankle injury.

With five games to go, Napoli still had a four-point lead over Milan and looked set to successfully defend the scudetto. But it all went wrong and they lost four of their last five games, including a 3-2 defeat at home to Milan. Prior to the finale, Napoli had lost twice and there have been numerous attempts to explain why they threw away a second successive championship. Needless to say, some tried to link underworld gambling to Napoli’s collapse. Milan were none too convincing in the last couple of games, but they won their first scudetto since 1979 and secured a place in the European Cup in 1988-89. Meanwhile, Milan’s big signing in 1988-89 was another Dutch player, midfielder Frank Rijkaard, who joined from Sporting Lisbon after falling out with Ajax.

In 1987, Gullit was named European Footballer of the Year, a year later, Milan dominated the award, with all top three places occupied by their players: Van Basten top, Gullit second and Rijkaard third. Milan really were dominating European football.

It was fairly clear Milan’s target for 1988-89 was the European Cup and they relinquished their Serie A title all too easily. Sacchi believed his team had, to some extent, lost the will to win after their outstanding efforts in 1987-88. Inter were the latest force to be reckoned with, thanks to their German influence, and four defeats in the first 12 games cost Milan dear. They may have been the only losses Sacchi’s team suffered, but Inter’s relentless form meant they finished 12 points ahead of Milan in third place, with Napoli one ahead in the runners-up spot. Milan drew 14 of their 34 league games, far too many given Inter won 26 games, 10 more than their San Siro co-tenants.

The European Cup of 1988-89 was notable for the lack of English teams, who had been banned following the Heysel Stadium disaster of 1985. Since 1985, the competition has been won by some unlikely teams: Steaua Bucharest, Porto and PSV Eindhoven. Prior to the Liverpool versus Juventus final in Brussels, English clubs had won the European Cup seven times between 1977 and 1984. There was something of a vacuum in European football but Milan were ideally placed to fill the gap left by the absence of clubs like Liverpool. Milan were considered among the favourites, along with Real Madrid and holders PSV.

The first round gave Milan a relatively easy draw, Vitosha Sofia of Bulgaria, the new (and temporary) name for Levski Sofia. They had won their domestic league by a narrow margin, overcoming the challenge of CSKA, the Bulgarian army side. Milan won 2-0 in Sofia and then Van Basten scored four times in the second leg in the San Siro as they ran out 5-2 winners. Van Basten was in sensational form at the time after winning the European Championship with the Netherlands in the summer.

Red Star Belgrade offered a more daunting hurdle in the second round. The first leg ended 1-1 in the San Siro, Red Star going ahead through Dragan Stojković but Milan responding almost immediately with Pietro Paolo Virdis netting the equaliser. The game had been tough and some players, such as Van Basten, felt Milan were already out of the competition. The second leg was in the cauldron that was Red Star’s Marakana, so it would be another stern test of character.

The game in Belgrade was going the home team’s way but was played in thick fog. The Milan bench didn’t realise that Dejan Savićević, who would later play for Milan, had given Red Star the lead. Similarly, they only knew of Virdis’s sending-off when he emerged through the mist after receiving his red card. The game was eventually called off after 65 minutes and was replayed the following day. Virdis and Ancelotti were both unable to play because of red and yellow cards, but there was no denying Milan had got out of jail.

The replayed game ended 1-1 and Milan went through on penalties, but the big talking point was the injury to Roberto Donadoni who was victim of a dreadful challenge – a headbutt and elbow – and almost lost his life. Gullit, who was far from fully fit came on in his place, but the incident understandably dampened the mood.

Milan were drawn to meet Werder Bremen, the West German champions, in the quarter-finals. Milan edged through 1-0 on aggregate, thanks to a Van Basten goal, but the first leg in Bremen saw the home side have a goal ruled out.

The semi-final produced what has been regarded as the definitive performance by this AC Milan side. Real Madrid were the opponents, the club that set the benchmark for European club football. The first meeting ended 1-1, Sacchi very disappointed with his side – “the best Milan couldn’t beat the worst Real Madrid”, he noted in his memoirs – but there was pressure from Berlusconi for Milan to thrash Real in the San Siro. He called for a 5-0 victory, an extravagant request from any club owner, but that was exactly what the Rossoneri delivered.

Milan’s performance in the second leg was sublime, a combination of, to quote Brian Glanville, “technical excellence, dynamic pace and inspired movement”. Ancelotti opened the scoring after 18 minutes, Rijkaard headed a second and Gullit did likewise. By half-time, Milan were 3-0 ahead and it was soon four when Van Basten scored four minutes into the second half. Donadoni, happily recovered from Belgrade, added a fifth on the hour. Real were completely torn apart. Berlusconi, who had envied Real their forward power in Hugo Sanchez and Emilio Butragueno, no longer worried about Real’s riches. The result, for many, announced the second coming of AC Milan.

Their opponents were Steaua Bucharest, who had stunned Europe in 1986 when they won the Europan Cup against highly-fancied Barcelona, who were coached by Terry Venables. Steaua won on penalties after a tedious final, but they had shown their pedigree by reaching the final again, although their path to the Camp Nou was relatively comfortable and included Galatasaray, Sparta Prague, Göteborg and Spartak Moscow. But they had won the Romanian league for four consecutive years and would also be champions in 1988-89, going unbeaten in their 34 league games and scoring 121 goals. Steaua had Gheorghe Hagi, Marius Lâcâtus, Dan Petrescu and Ilie Dumitrescu in their squad, all names that became very familiar across Europe.

This was the team that epitomised “sexy football”

Milan’s fans swamped Barcelona, some 75,000 of them, while Steaua had a mere 1,000 in the Camp Nou. Milan were red-hot favourities, even though Sacchi and his players were outwardly modest about the outcome. Milan had a worry, however, as Gullit was still recovering from a cartilage operation. Sacchi passed him fit on the eve of the final, or at least fit enough to start. “Gullit has to play even if he is not in perfect condition. We will need him if we are to win,” he said. Sacchi also praised the collective spirit of Steaua and saw them as very strong opponents. While Sacchi was being quite diplomatic, Berlusconi was being as controversial as ever, talking about a European Super League and dismissing English clubs because they had antiquated stadiums.

The game was over by half-time as Milan produced a master class for the crowd and watching millions. This team gave birth to the term, “sexy football”. Gullit gave Milan the lead after 18 minutes, finishing from close range after the keeper had parried a shot from Angelo Colombo and Van Basten had followed up. It was a simple tap-in, but 10 minutes later, a cross from Mauro Tassotti was expertly headed downward and into the net by Van Basten.

The first half scoring was completed by Gullit, who receives the ball from Donadoni, controls it and shoots home from just inside the area. Steaua were exhausted, and beaten. Four minutes into the second period, Van Basten runs onto a ball from Rijkaard and strokes it into the net with his left foot.

The 4-0 victory was not only comprehensive but also underlined the sheer beauty of AC Milan’s football. After so many disappointing finals, invariably producing sterile, cautious football, the craft and class of Sacchi’s players built one of Europe’s most watchable teams, but how long could they maintain such excellence? A year later, they retained the cup, beating Benfica 1-0 in a less attractive final after eliminating Real Madrid (again) and Bayern Munich. They would not win another scudetto under Sacchi, but they were champions in 1992. The team of Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard, not to mention, Maldini, Baresi, Donadoni and Ancelotti was very special and deserves its place in football’s pantheon. How fortunate we were to witness it in full flight.

Arsenal ’89 – the drama that changed everything

AFTER such an exhilarating 1987-88 season, Liverpool were hot favourites to retain the title they won in style, especially as they had re-signed striker Ian Rush from Juventus. Arsenal, who had finished sixth, were seen as a team that could chase the eventual champions, but not seriously challenge for top spot. Their success in 1988-89 was a tribute to the talent of their young players, many of which had come through the ranks at Highbury. Furthermore, they also pulled off an unlikely victory in theatrical style in the season’s final game at the home of the reigning champions.

The early-season pacesetter was not Arsenal or Liverpool, however, but none other than Norwich City, who sat on top of the championship table until the turn of the year. Arsenal had started the season well, with a 5-1 win at Wimbledon but were ahead of the pack behind the East Anglians. Arsenal’s away form was notable in the early months of the season, securing impressive wins at West Ham, Tottenham and Nottingham Forest.

Arsenal had gone into the campaign with no major signings, but had unloaded Kenny Sansom and Steve Williams to Newcastle United and Luton Town respectively. Players like Alan Smith and Brian Marwood had been bedded-in during 1987-88 and youngsters David Rocastle, Tony Adams and Paul Merson were all establishing themselves as first team regulars. Manager George Graham has also signed two new full backs over the previous two seasons, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn.

Arsenal hit the top spot after a Boxing Day win at Charlton Athletic, the second victory in a five-match winning run. By mid-February, the sceptics were saying the pressure was getting too much for Arsenal’s young team. Tepid draws against Queens Park Rangers, Millwall and Charlton, along with a 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest added fuel to this argument, but Arsenal regained their confidence and four wins, each accompanied by a clean sheet, put the title challenge back on track.

Liverpool had also rediscovered their verve, but in April, the club was involved in the Hillsborough tragedy and it is arguable that this undoubtedly affected the players and side-tracked the title bid. Regardless, Liverpool appeared to have gained the initiative in the final weeks of the campaign.

Arsenal dropped five points at home, losing  2-1 to Derby and then drawing 2-2 with Wimbledon. Liverpool, meanwhile, extended their unbeaten league run to 24 games and went into the last game in first place with a three point margin over Arsenal. George Graham’s team needed to win 2-0 to clinch the title.

Liverpool had already won the FA Cup in the second all-Mersey final in four years, so the “double” was a possibility, which would make the Reds the first team to achieve that feat twice. The game was screened live on TV, giving the title decider the air of a cup final.

Alan Smith scored Arsenal’s opening goal after half-time and despite the efforts of the Londoners, it looked as though Liverpool would hang on to win the championship. But in the final throes of the season, Lee Dixon’s long ball was knocked on by Smith and Michael Thomas ran on to score. It was a stunning finale and one that destroyed the air of invincibility that had existed around Liverpool’s home ground for many years. Both teams ended on 76 points and with a positive goal difference of 37, but Arsenal were champions by virtue of scoring more goals. It is doubtful there has ever been a more dramatic end to a championship race and for Liverpool it almost spelled the end of an era. For the neutral, it signalled change after a period of Merseyside dominance that stretched back to the mid-1970s.

Arsenal’s team in 1998-89: John Lukic; Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, David O’Leary, Tony Adams, Steve Bould; Paul Davis, Michael Thomas, David Rocastle, Brian Marwood, Kevin Richardson; Perry Groves, Paul Merson, Alan Smith, Martin Hayes.

John Lukic (27) Born in Chesterfield of Yugoslav parentage, Lukic was signed from Leeds United in July 1983 for £ 75,000. A dependable keeper who returned to Leeds in 1990 and went on to win a second title with the Yorkshire club.
Lee Dixon (24) Arrived at Arsenal in January 1988 from Stoke City after earlier playing for Burnley, Chester and Bury. Good going forward and linking-up with forwards and midfielders, Dixon went on to win 22 England caps and played over 600 games for Arsenal before retiring at the age of 38 in 2002.
Nigel Winterburn (24) Left-footed full back who joined Arsenal in the summer of 1987 from Wimbledon, costing the club £ 350,000. Began his career with Birmingham and Oxford before joining Wimbledon in 1983. Won two England caps and played over 400 league games for Arsenal, leaving the club in 2000 to join West Ham United.
Tony Adams (22) Romford-born central defender who captained Arsenal for 14 years from the age of 21. In a one-club career, he played 669 times for Arsenal, scoring 48 times. He was capped 66 times by England and also captained his country. After revealing publically that he had addiction problems, Adams’ career was revitalised by manager Arsene Wenger and he went on to play for the club until 2002, retiring at the age of 35.
Steve Bould (25) Joined Arsenal in 1988 from Stoke City, his home town club, for a fee of £ 390,000. A tall, commanding central defender, he won two caps for England and became a trusted member of the Wenger set-up several years later. Played more than 300 league games for Arsenal.
David O’Leary (30) Centre half who played 722 first team games for Arsenal in a career that saw him make his debut in 1975 and finally stop playing in 1993. An Irish international, 68 caps, he played in the 1990 World Cup and scored a vital penalty in a shoot-out that has since been voted the greatest moment in Irish football history.
Brian Marwood (28) Experienced winger who joined Arsenal from Sheffield Wednesday in March 1988. Won one England cap. Injuries prevented him from playing a full part in 1988-89. Left Arsenal in 1990 to join Sheffield United.
Michael Thomas (20) London-born midfielder who came through the Arsenal youth scheme and made his debut in 1984. Scored the vital goal that won the 1989 championship, but within two years, was sold to Liverpool and his career went into something of an anti-climax. Won two England caps. Later played for Benfica and Wimbledon.
David Rocastle (21) South Londoner who was one of Arsenal’s outstanding home-grown products in the 1980s. Nicknamed “Rocky”, he was popular with the Arsenal crowd and when he was sold in 1992 many were upset that the club dispensed with his services. He had played 228 league games for the Gunners. Rocastle was sold to Leeds United for £ 2 million and his career went downhill from there, latterly playing for Manchester City and Chelsea. He won 14 caps for England. Tragically died at the age of 33 in 2001. Named in PFA team of the year for 1988-89.
Paul Davis (26) Left-footed midfielder who made his debut for the club in 1980. Made over 400 league appearances for Arsenal, despite falling-out with manager George Graham, before joining Brentford in 1995 on a free transfer.
Kevin Richardson (25) Energetic midfielder who won his second league championship with Arsenal after playing a part in Everton’s success in 1985. Moved to Watford in 1987 but spent just one season with the Hertfordshire club before joining Arsenal for £ 200,000. Failed to get on with George Graham and moved to Real Sociedad in 1990. Won one England cap.
Martin Hayes (22) Winger who won a medal in 1988-89 despite playing a cameo role in the title campaign. A product of the Arsenal youth system, he left the club in 1990 to join Celtic.
Paul Merson (20) Right winger who graduated through the club’s youth system and played a key role in the 1988-89 season. He won 21 England caps and played in the 1998 World Cup, although as a Middlesbrough player, the club he joined in 1997 from Arsenal.  He played more than 400 games for the Gunners, scoring almost a century of goals. Named PFA Young Player of the Year in 1988-89.
Perry Groves (23) London-born winger who was signed from Colchester United in 1986 for £ 50,000, becoming George Graham’s first signing for Arsenal. Stayed with the club until 1992 when he joined Southampton.
Alan Smith (25) Tall centre forward who joined Arsenal in 1987 from Leicester for a fee of £ 800,000. Good in the air, he was also adept at holding the ball up and laying off to team-mates. Started his career with non-league Alvechurch and moved to Leicester in 1982 where he scored 76 goals in 200 league games. At Arsenal, he played 347 games and scored 115 goals. Won 13 England caps, scoring twice. Named in PFA team of the year in 1988-89.

Football League Appearances

Adams, T 36 Hayes, M 3+14 Richardson, K 32+2
Bould, S 26+4 Lukic, J 38 Rocastle, D 38
Caeser, G 2 Marwood, B 31 Smith, A 36
Davis, P 11+1 Merson, P 29+8 Thomas, M 33+4
Dixon, L 31+2 O’Leary, D 26 Winterburn, N 38
Groves, P 6+15 Quinn, N 2+1

Goalscorers:Smith 23, Merson 10, Marwood 9, Thomas 7, Rocastle 6, Adams 4, Groves 4, Winterburn 3, Bould 2, Dixon 1, Richardson 1, Davis 1, Hayes 1, Quinn 1. Total: 73

Football League Results

Aug 27 Wimbledon Away W 5-1 Smith 3, Merson, Marwood 15,710
Sept 3 Aston Villa Home L 2-3 Marwood, Smith 37,414
Sept 10 Tottenham Hotspur Away W 3-2 Winterburn, Marwood, Smith 32,621
Sept 17 Southampton Home D 2-2 Marwood (pen), Smith 31,384
Sept 24 Sheffield Wednesday Away L 1-2 Smith 17,830
Oct 1 West Ham United Away W 4-1 Smith 2, Thomas, Rocastle 27,658
Oct 22 Queens Park Rangers Home W 2-1 Adams, Smith 33,202
Oct 25 Luton Town Away D 1-1 Smith 10,548
Oct 29 Coventry City Home W 2-0 Thomas, Adams 31,273
Nov 6 Nottingham Forest Away W 4-1 Smith, Bould, Adams, Marwood 19,038
Nov 12 Newcastle United Away W 1-0 Bould 24,003
Nov 19 Middlesbrough Home W 3-0 Merson 2, Rocastle 32,294
Nov 26 Derby County Away L    1-2 Thomas 21,209
Dec 4 Liverpool Home D 1-1 Smith 31,863
Dec 10 Norwich City Away D 0-0 23,609
Dec 17 Manchester United Home W 2-1 Thomas, Merson 37,422
Dec 26 Charlton Athletic Away W 3-2 Marwood 2 – 1 pen, Merson 18,439
Dec 31 Aston Villa Away W 3-0 Smith, Rocastle, Groves 32,486
Jan 2 Tottenham Hotspur Home W 2-0 Merson, Thomas 45,129
Jan 14 Everton Away W 3-1 Merson, Smith, Richardson 34,825
Jan 21 Sheffield Wednesday Home D 1-1 Merson 33,490
Feb 4 West Ham United Home W 2-1 Smith, Groves 40,139
Feb 11 Millwall Away W 2-1 Marwood, Smith 21,854
Feb 18 Queens Park Rangers Away D 0-0 20,543
Feb 21 Coventry City Away L 0-1 21,390
Feb 25 Luton Town Home W 2-0 Groves, Smith 31,012
Feb 28 Millwall Home D 0-0 37,524
Mar 11 Nottingham Forest Home L 1-3 Smith 39,639
Mar 21 Charlton Athletic Home D 2-2 Rocastle, Davis 30,259
Mar 25 Southampton Away W    3-1 Groves, Rocastle, Merson 19,202
Apr 2 Manchester United Away D 1-1 Adams 37,977
Apr 8 Everton Home W 2-0 Dixon, Quinn 37,608
Apr 15 Newcastle United Home W 1-0 Marwood 38,023
May 1 Norwich City Home W 5-0 Smith 2, Winterburn, Thomas, Rocastle 28,449
May 6 Middlesbrough Away W 1-0 Hayes 21,803
May 13 Derby County Home L 1-2 Smith 41,008
May 17 Wimbledon Home D 2-2 Winterburn, Merson 39,132
May 26 Liverpool Away W 2-0 Smith, Thomas 41,783

FA Cup: Round Three
Football League Cup: Round Three
Average home attendance: 34,477

Pos   P W D L F A Pts
1 Arsenal 38 22 10 6 73 36 76
2 Liverpool 38 22 10 6 65 28 76
3 Nottingham Forest 38 17 13 8 64 43 64

 

 Photo: PA

 

 

We are the Champions: 1988-89 – Arsenal

AFTER such an exhilarating 1987-88 season, Liverpool were hot favourites to retain the title they won in style, especially as they had re-signed striker Ian Rush from Juventus. Arsenal, who had finished sixth, were seen as a team that could chase the eventual champions, but not seriously challenge for top spot. Their success in 1988-89 was a tribute to the talent of their young players, many of which had come through the ranks at Highbury. Furthermore, they also pulled off an unlikely victory in theatrical style in the season’s final game at the home of the reigning champions.

The early-season pacesetter was not Arsenal or Liverpool, however, but none other than Norwich City, who sat on top of the championship table until the turn of the year. Arsenal had started the season well, with a 5-1 win at Wimbledon but were ahead of the pack behind the East Anglians. Arsenal’s away form was notable in the early months of the season, securing impressive wins at West Ham, Tottenham and Nottingham Forest.

Arsenal had gone into the campaign with no major signings, but had unloaded Kenny Sansom and Steve Williams to Newcastle United and Luton Town respectively. Players like Alan Smith and Brian Marwood had been bedded-in during 1987-88 and youngsters David Rocastle, Tony Adams and Paul Merson were all establishing themselves as first team regulars. Manager George Graham has also signed two new full backs over the previous two seasons, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn.

Arsenal hit the top spot after a Boxing Day win at Charlton Athletic, the second victory in a five-match winning run. By mid-February, the sceptics were saying the pressure was getting too much for Arsenal’s young team. Tepid draws against Queens Park Rangers, Millwall and Charlton, along with a 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest added fuel to this argument, but Arsenal regained their confidence and four wins, each accompanied by a clean sheet, put the title challenge back on track.

Liverpool had also rediscovered their verve, but in April, the club was involved in the Hillsborough tragedy and it is arguable that this undoubtedly affected the players and side-tracked the title bid. Regardless, Liverpool appeared to have gained the initiative in the final weeks of the campaign.

Thousands of football fans watch Arsenal midfielder David Rocastle does a victory dance on the balcony of Islington Town Hall during the Gunners homecoming parade. Rocastle holds the traditional League Championship trophy, won by Arsenal with a thrilling 2-0 victory over Liverpool.

Arsenal dropped five points at home, losing  2-1 to Derby and then drawing 2-2 with Wimbledon. Liverpool, meanwhile, extended their unbeaten league run to 24 games and went into the last game in first place with a three point margin over Arsenal. George Graham’s team needed to win 2-0 to clinch the title.

Liverpool had already won the FA Cup in the second all-Mersey final in four years, so the “double” was a possibility, which would make the Reds the first team to achieve that feat twice. The game was screened live on TV, giving the title decider the air of a cup final.

Alan Smith scored Arsenal’s opening goal after half-time and despite the efforts of the Londoners, it looked as though Liverpool would hang on to win the championship. But in the final throes of the season, Lee Dixon’s long ball was knocked on by Smith and Michael Thomas ran on to score. It was a stunning finale and one that destroyed the air of invincibility that had existed around Liverpool’s home ground for many years. Both teams ended on 76 points and with a positive goal difference of 37, but Arsenal were champions by virtue of scoring more goals. It is doubtful there has ever been a more dramatic end to a championship race and for Liverpool it almost spelled the end of an era. For the neutral, it signalled change after a period of Merseyside dominance that stretched back to the mid-1970s.

Arsenal’s team in 1998-89: John Lukic; Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, David O’Leary, Tony Adams, Steve Bould; Paul Davis, Michael Thomas, David Rocastle, Brian Marwood, Kevin Richardson; Perry Groves, Paul Merson, Alan Smith, Martin Hayes.

John Lukic (27) Born in Chesterfield of Yugoslav parentage, Lukic was signed from Leeds United in July 1983 for £ 75,000. A dependable keeper who returned to Leeds in 1990 and went on to win a second title with the Yorkshire club.
Lee Dixon (24) Arrived at Arsenal in January 1988 from Stoke City after earlier playing for Burnley, Chester and Bury. Good going forward and linking-up with forwards and midfielders, Dixon went on to win 22 England caps and played over 600 games for Arsenal before retiring at the age of 38 in 2002.
Nigel Winterburn (24) Left-footed full back who joined Arsenal in the summer of 1987 from Wimbledon, costing the club £ 350,000. Began his career with Birmingham and Oxford before joining Wimbledon in 1983. Won two England caps and played over 400 league games for Arsenal, leaving the club in 2000 to join West Ham United.
Tony Adams (22) Romford-born central defender who captained Arsenal for 14 years from the age of 21. In a one-club career, he played 669 times for Arsenal, scoring 48 times. He was capped 66 times by England and also captained his country. After revealing publically that he had addiction problems, Adams’ career was revitalised by manager Arsene Wenger and he went on to play for the club until 2002, retiring at the age of 35.
Steve Bould (25) Joined Arsenal in 1988 from Stoke City, his home town club, for a fee of £ 390,000. A tall, commanding central defender, he won two caps for England and became a trusted member of the Wenger set-up several years later. Played more than 300 league games for Arsenal.
David O’Leary (30) Centre half who played 722 first team games for Arsenal in a career that saw him make his debut in 1975 and finally stop playing in 1993. An Irish international, 68 caps, he played in the 1990 World Cup and scored a vital penalty in a shoot-out that has since been voted the greatest moment in Irish football history.
Brian Marwood (28) Experienced winger who joined Arsenal from Sheffield Wednesday in March 1988. Won one England cap. Injuries prevented him from playing a full part in 1988-89. Left Arsenal in 1990 to join Sheffield United.
Michael Thomas (20) London-born midfielder who came through the Arsenal youth scheme and made his debut in 1984. Scored the vital goal that won the 1989 championship, but within two years, was sold to Liverpool and his career went into something of an anti-climax. Won two England caps. Later played for Benfica and Wimbledon.
David Rocastle (21) South Londoner who was one of Arsenal’s outstanding home-grown products in the 1980s. Nicknamed “Rocky”, he was popular with the Arsenal crowd and when he was sold in 1992 many were upset that the club dispensed with his services. He had played 228 league games for the Gunners. Rocastle was sold to Leeds United for £ 2 million and his career went downhill from there, latterly playing for Manchester City and Chelsea. He won 14 caps for England. Tragically died at the age of 33 in 2001. Named in PFA team of the year for 1988-89.
Paul Davis (26) Left-footed midfielder who made his debut for the club in 1980. Made over 400 league appearances for Arsenal, despite falling-out with manager George Graham, before joining Brentford in 1995 on a free transfer.
Kevin Richardson (25) Energetic midfielder who won his second league championship with Arsenal after playing a part in Everton’s success in 1985. Moved to Watford in 1987 but spent just one season with the Hertfordshire club before joining Arsenal for £ 200,000. Failed to get on with George Graham and moved to Real Sociedad in 1990. Won one England cap.
Martin Hayes (22) Winger who won a medal in 1988-89 despite playing a cameo role in the title campaign. A product of the Arsenal youth system, he left the club in 1990 to join Celtic.
Paul Merson (20) Right winger who graduated through the club’s youth system and played a key role in the 1988-89 season. He won 21 England caps and played in the 1998 World Cup, although as a Middlesbrough player, the club he joined in 1997 from Arsenal.  He played more than 400 games for the Gunners, scoring almost a century of goals. Named PFA Young Player of the Year in 1988-89.
Perry Groves (23) London-born winger who was signed from Colchester United in 1986 for £ 50,000, becoming George Graham’s first signing for Arsenal. Stayed with the club until 1992 when he joined Southampton.
Alan Smith (25) Tall centre forward who joined Arsenal in 1987 from Leicester for a fee of £ 800,000. Good in the air, he was also adept at holding the ball up and laying off to team-mates. Started his career with non-league Alvechurch and moved to Leicester in 1982 where he scored 76 goals in 200 league games. At Arsenal, he played 347 games and scored 115 goals. Won 13 England caps, scoring twice. Named in PFA team of the year in 1988-89.

Football League Appearances

Adams, T 36 Hayes, M 3+14 Richardson, K 32+2
Bould, S 26+4 Lukic, J 38 Rocastle, D 38
Caeser, G 2 Marwood, B 31 Smith, A 36
Davis, P 11+1 Merson, P 29+8 Thomas, M 33+4
Dixon, L 31+2 O’Leary, D 26 Winterburn, N 38
Groves, P 6+15 Quinn, N 2+1

Goalscorers:Smith 23, Merson 10, Marwood 9, Thomas 7, Rocastle 6, Adams 4, Groves 4, Winterburn 3, Bould 2, Dixon 1, Richardson 1, Davis 1, Hayes 1, Quinn 1. Total: 73

Football League Results

Aug 27 Wimbledon Away W 5-1 Smith 3, Merson, Marwood 15,710
Sept 3 Aston Villa Home L 2-3 Marwood, Smith 37,414
Sept 10 Tottenham Hotspur Away W 3-2 Winterburn, Marwood, Smith 32,621
Sept 17 Southampton Home D 2-2 Marwood (pen), Smith 31,384
Sept 24 Sheffield Wednesday Away L 1-2 Smith 17,830
Oct 1 West Ham United Away W 4-1 Smith 2, Thomas, Rocastle 27,658
Oct 22 Queens Park Rangers Home W 2-1 Adams, Smith 33,202
Oct 25 Luton Town Away D 1-1 Smith 10,548
Oct 29 Coventry City Home W 2-0 Thomas, Adams 31,273
Nov 6 Nottingham Forest Away W 4-1 Smith, Bould, Adams, Marwood 19,038
Nov 12 Newcastle United Away W 1-0 Bould 24,003
Nov 19 Middlesbrough Home W 3-0 Merson 2, Rocastle 32,294
Nov 26 Derby County Away L    1-2 Thomas 21,209
Dec 4 Liverpool Home D 1-1 Smith 31,863
Dec 10 Norwich City Away D 0-0 23,609
Dec 17 Manchester United Home W 2-1 Thomas, Merson 37,422
Dec 26 Charlton Athletic Away W 3-2 Marwood 2 – 1 pen, Merson 18,439
Dec 31 Aston Villa Away W 3-0 Smith, Rocastle, Groves 32,486
Jan 2 Tottenham Hotspur Home W 2-0 Merson, Thomas 45,129
Jan 14 Everton Away W 3-1 Merson, Smith, Richardson 34,825
Jan 21 Sheffield Wednesday Home D 1-1 Merson 33,490
Feb 4 West Ham United Home W 2-1 Smith, Groves 40,139
Feb 11 Millwall Away W 2-1 Marwood, Smith 21,854
Feb 18 Queens Park Rangers Away D 0-0 20,543
Feb 21 Coventry City Away L 0-1 21,390
Feb 25 Luton Town Home W 2-0 Groves, Smith 31,012
Feb 28 Millwall Home D 0-0 37,524
Mar 11 Nottingham Forest Home L 1-3 Smith 39,639
Mar 21 Charlton Athletic Home D 2-2 Rocastle, Davis 30,259
Mar 25 Southampton Away W    3-1 Groves, Rocastle, Merson 19,202
Apr 2 Manchester United Away D 1-1 Adams 37,977
Apr 8 Everton Home W 2-0 Dixon, Quinn 37,608
Apr 15 Newcastle United Home W 1-0 Marwood 38,023
May 1 Norwich City Home W 5-0 Smith 2, Winterburn, Thomas, Rocastle 28,449
May 6 Middlesbrough Away W 1-0 Hayes 21,803
May 13 Derby County Home L 1-2 Smith 41,008
May 17 Wimbledon Home D 2-2 Winterburn, Merson 39,132
May 26 Liverpool Away W 2-0 Smith, Thomas 41,783

FA Cup: Round Three
Football League Cup: Round Three
Average home attendance: 34,477

Pos   P W D L F A Pts
1 Arsenal 38 22 10 6 73 36 76
2 Liverpool 38 22 10 6 65 28 76
3 Nottingham Forest 38 17 13 8 64 43 64