Match Of The Past: West Ham United vs Arsenal, December 1983
The early 1980s were a relatively fallow period for Arsenal. Having completed the 1970s by winning the FA Cup, beating Manchester United in the final, they’d found the balance of power in North London shifting a few miles north towards their arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and the 1982/83 season had seen the team finish the season in tenth place in the First Division, their lowest league position since 1976. The following season started little better, and despite a couple of impressive away wins – including, most notably, a 6-2 win at Aston Villa at the end of October, by the middle of December 1983 they were labouring down in fifteenth place in the table.
All of this was quite a bad time, then, for Arsenal to be having to visit Upton Park to play West Ham United. West Ham had won the FA Cup from the Second Division the year after Arsenal’s last triumph, beating the Gunners in the final at Wembley, and the following season they won promotion back to the top flight as champions whilst reaching the League Cup final, only losing that after a replay against the all-conquering Liverpool team of the era. Once back in the First Division, they settled comfortably, finishing in eighth place and ninth place in their first two seasons back. The 1983/84 season saw them fly out of the traps with five straight wins and, although they couldn’t maintain that sort of place, by the time that Arsenal arrived for this match they were in second place in the table, four points behind Liverpool.
After this match, however, everything would change. Terry Neill had been the Arsenal manager since 1976, but this would turn out to be his last match in charge of the club. He was sacked six days after this match and was replaced by Don Howe, who oversaw a dramatic rise in the team’s fortunes which saw Arsenal finish the season in sixth place in the table. West Ham United, on the other hand, slumped from the end of February 1984, winning just two of their last fifteen league matches of the season. They would have to settle for ninth place in the end, three points behind Arsenal. Match of the Day’s cameras were present to record the last match of the Terry Neill era at Arsenal, with commentary coming from Barry Davies.