Arsenal may own the FA Cup, having won it a record 13 times, but their record in the League Cup is largely unimpressive. They have only ever won it twice and never under current manager Arsene Wenger. As they prepare for the 2018 League Cup Final against Manchester City, we look back at their previous finals in the competition, some of which have been among the most dramatic finals in the club’s history.
Arsenal in the League Cup Final
1968: Leeds United 1-0 Arsenal
In 1968, Leeds were in the middle of their golden age under Don Revie while Arsenal were still struggling to emerge from the long shadow cast by the club’s great sides of the 1930s and early 1950s. In fact, their appearance in the 1968 League Cup Final was their first trip to Wembley since 1952, which they had lost to Newcastle. Later, in 1968, they lost again, as Leeds scored early on through fullback Terry Cooper and then held on relatively comfortably for the rest of the game. The giant, Herbert Chapman-shaped shadow would continue to cover Arsenal for at least another year.
1969: Swindon 3-1 Arsenal
In 1968, Arsenal had been the underdogs against Leeds, but against Swindon, who were then in the old Third Division, they were strong favourites. However, the club had gone so long without winning a trophy of any kind (since 1953, when they were league champions) that collectively they had forgotten how to win one. As against Leeds, Arsenal fell behind early on. However, when they got a late equaliser, through Bobby Gould, almost everyone at Wembley assumed they would win the game in extra time. It was not to be, as Don Rogers, probably Swindon’s greatest ever player, scored two goals to keep the Gunners waiting for at least another 12 months to end their long trophy drought.
1987: Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool
Arsenal finally won the League Cup at the third attempt, and against the toughest of opponents, the great Liverpool side of the 1980s. Since the start of the decade, Liverpool had won two European Cups and five League titles. By stark contrast, Arsenal were trying to win their first silverware since the 1979 FA Cup. They were enormous underdogs and when Liverpool’s great Welsh striker Ian Rush put them ahead it seemed as if Arsenal were destined to suffer another League Cup Final defeat. Then, everything changed. Charlie Nicholas, who had astonishingly chosen Arsenal ahead of Liverpool when he left Celtic in 1983, produced his greatest ever game for the club. He equalised soon after Rush scored and then got the winner in the 83rd minute. Arsenal held on to win and Liverpool lost their first ever match in which Rush had scored.
1993: Arsenal 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday
If ‘Charlie Nick’ had been the star of the show in 1987, it was Paul Merson in 1993. He equalised after Wednesday’s American defender, John Harkes, had put them ahead and then set up substitute Steve Morrow for the winner. Of course, the afternoon did not end happily for Morrow, as he was famously dropped by Tony Adams when the Arsenal captain tried to lift him aloft like a trophy. Morrow broke his arm and had to miss the post-match celebrations. It was the perfect image of early 1990s Arsenal, who were undoubtedly a winning team but also one prone to boorish, or even reckless, behaviour. Within a few years, Tony Adams had ‘come out’ as an alcoholic and Merson would admit to gambling and drug addictions. Then in 1996, Arsene Wenger would come along and sweep away the whole booze culture that had come to dominate the club.
2007: Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal
Throughout his two decades in charge of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has always played weakened teams in the League Cup, seeing it as the perfect competition in which to blood young players and rest first team stars. Nevertheless, the 2007 second string side were good enough to beat Spurs in a two-legged semi-final and reach Cardiff, where domestic cup finals were played in the noughties while Wembley was being rebuilt. Theo Walcott scored his first ever goal for Arsenal to put them ahead, but a much more experienced and resilient Chelsea side fought back. Arsenal’s nemesis at the time, Didier Drogba, scored twice to give the Blues the cup and give Arsenal the plain old blues.
2011: Birmingham 2-1 Arsenal
Four years later, Arsenal’s League Cup Final woes continued, as they lost to another side all in blue. Arsenal were strong favourites to win their first trophy since the 2005 FA Cup but failed lamentably against an organised but limited Birmingham side that would end the season by being relegated to the Championship. Nevertheless, Birmingham were too good for Arsenal at Wembley.
First, they went ahead through their towering Serbian striker, the six foot seven Nikola Žigić. Then, after Arsenal had equalised through Robin Van Persie just before half-time, Birmingham won the game at the death. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say Arsenal threw it away, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny and Laurent Koscielny collided in the 89th minute, allowing Birmingham substitute Obafemi Martins to score the winner. It was a mistake that was typical of Arsenal at the time and it would be another three years before the club finally won another trophy, the 2014 FA Cup.
Can Arsenal make it a hat-trick of League Cup wins on Sunday? To do so, they will have to defeat the most formidable of opponents; the Manchester City side that are 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League. However, Wigan proved in the FA Cup that City can be beaten and, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang eligible to play, anything is possible.