By Tony Attwood
This weekend’s match sees what has become an increasingly rare meeting between the two Invincibles – the only two sides in top division history to have gone through a season unbeaten: Preston North End and Arsenal. Indeed it is the first meeting of the pair since Arsenal joined the ranks of the Invincibles equalling a record that Preston probably thought they would hold until the end of football.
These were heady days for Preston. In 1887 PNE won a match against Hyde 26-0 and so achieved the highest ever score in the FA Cup, and in the 1888/9 season they won the league and cup double, and were unbeaten in what was the first season of the football league.
But given that Arsenal have not played PNE in the league since Preston dropped down the divisions in 1960, there have only been two cup matches since…
|04 Jan 1999||Preston North End v Arsenal||W||2-4||FA Cup|
|12 Oct 1999||Arsenal v Preston North End||W||2-1||League Cup|
… and so this is now a momentous occasion.
But first back to Preston’s great moment…
Their double season was the first of two occasions in which Preston has won the FA Cup – the other was 1938, (although they have lost in the final five times). Winning the double of course is never easy, and doing it without conceding a goal in the cup or losing a match in the league, is something special. But it is somewhat explained by the statistics of the event.
In the Cup this season the eventual winners will have to play and win six games. Preston had it slightly easier with five games. Here were their results
Round 1: Bootle 0–3 Preston North End
Round 2: Grimsby Town 0–2 Preston North End
Quarter-final: Preston North End 2–0 Birmingham St George’s
Semi-final: Preston North End 1–0 West Bromwich Albion
Final: Preston North End 3 Wolverhampton 0.
It was in the league however that they had the biggest difference, with just 22 games to play against the current round of 38.
|1||Preston North End||22||18||4||0||74||15||40|
|6||West Bromwich Albion||22||10||2||10||40||46||22|
Since then Preston have won the league once more – in the immediately following season of 188/90, although they have been runners’ up six times, most recently in 1957/8. They’ve also won the second tier of English football three times, the third tier twice and the fourth tier once.
At the moment they play in the Championship, where they sit above the Chinese owned West Midlands teams…
|11||Preston North End||25||10||6||9||33||32||1||36|
In their most recent games that have drawn with Nottingham Forest, beaten Bristol City, lost to Leeds, drawn with Sheffield Wednesday and won against Burton Albion.
Overall Arsenal and Preston have played each other 79 times, with Arsenal winning 34, Preston 26 and 19 being drawn.
Of these games the number in the FA Cup have been few and far between. Here is the full list…
|04 Mar 1922||Arsenal v Preston North End||D||1-1||Q-F||37,517|
|08 Mar 1922||Preston North End v Arsenal||L||2-1||Replay||30,000|
|12 Feb 1938||Arsenal v Preston North End||L||0-1||5th||72,121|
|16 Feb 1957||Preston North End v Arsenal||D||3-3||5th||39,608|
|19 Feb 1957||Arsenal v Preston North End||W||2-1||Replay||61,501|
|04 Jan 1999||Preston North End v Arsenal||W||2-4||3rd||21,099|
The high crowd in 1938 reflected not only the interest in the FA Cup at the time (the previous two rounds for Arsenal both attracted crowds of over 60,000) but also because Arsenal were heading for yet another league title and there was talk of Arsenal possibly emulating Preston’s double. We didn’t of course, but we got there in the end – three times in fact.
We have a film of the highlights of the last PNE v Arsenal match – interesting that the commentator speaks of the “controversy” around Arsenal taking the goal. It was ever thus.
Arsenal were the FA Cup holders, had five players missing through injury, and managed to go 2-0 down before coming back to win.
Mr Wenger’s comments were interesting after this game, saying, “They played a game of poker. Preston gave everything in the first 20 minutes and if they had got a third they might have hung on.”
This was also the time when the Ferguson character was endlessly talking about Arsenal being rough, and violent, responsible for all the fights in football, and how the referees needed to tighten up on punishing the team – which of course they dutifully did.
Mr Wenger replied to the latest outburst, “You don’t win championships or cups just by fighting. We respect every team we play and let the referees do their job on the field. We are known for our football.”
Preston got their two goals in five minutes. Manninger had looked nervous early on and he missed a corner allowing the striker to come in behind him and head in. Parlour worked hard to restore normal order but as Preston went two up and the referee turned down what even the Independent newspaper’s reporter said “appeared to be two legitimate penalty appeals when Boa Morte was brought down” it looked hard going.
Then Mendez took a throw-in on the right and Boa Morte lost Murdock with a lovely turn. His shot, from an unpromising angle, might have taken a deflection but it certainly surprised Lucas, flying in at the far corner.
Preston (managed at the time by David Moyes) kept going until Overmars broke from a central position in the 58th minute and had beaten three players when he was brought down on the very edge of the area (with the Preston defence kicking anything that moved, knowing the ref would let them get away with it). At least until eventually it got so violent that Eyres had to be sent off for one foul too many. Petit put the free-kick into the net.
In the final 12 minutes when Petit and Overmars profited from quality crosses from Boa Morte and it was all done.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Keown, Bould, Vivas; Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars (Garde, 89); Boa Morte, Mendez (Caballero, 69). On the beach but not allowed to play: Upson, Grondin, Lukic.