Will Arsenal beat Hull? They damn well should. Look at the size of the clubs, look at the trophy count, look at the league positions. But unfortunately in football things often don’t go as planned, and with Arsenal in finals that is especially true. We can all remember a few we have messed up.
But are we worse than anyone else at throwing away what look like easy victories? Do we roll over and die more than others? We have a long history of being on the wrong end of giant-killings, starting with Walsall in 1933, right through to Bradford last season. But all big clubs have a few of those, don’t they? Maybe not as many as Arsenal, but perhaps I just remember the Arsenal ones more vividly. Either way it would be a long trawl through the history books to prove it conclusively.
So sticking with finals, do Arsenal perform worse than their main rivals? Do they bottle it on the big stage while others stay true to form and superior class?
I did a comparison of performance in major finals (the two domestic and three European cups) for the most successful English clubs, and Spurs. First the bald numbers:
Arsenal: 30 finals, won 14, lost 16. Won 47%, lost 53%
Liverpool: 36 finals, won 23, lost 13. Won 64%, lost 36%
Man Utd: 32 finals, won 19, lost 13. Won 59%, lost 31%
Chelsea: 22 finals, won 15, lost 7. Won 68%, lost 32%
Spurs: 20 finals, won 15, lost 5. Won 75%, lost 25%
This is not good. Arsenal are the only one of this group to lose more finals than they’ve won!
Then I looked at whether each team was expected to win or lose. Most finals are between big clubs and there isn’t an overwhelming favourite. One team might be fancied, but not to the extent it’s considered a giant-killing if the other wins. Nearly all the finals that feature two of these five clubs are in this category, and most of the European finals they’ve featured in.
So ignoring finals where you wouldn’t consider it a shock whichever team won, we’re left with this:
Liverpool: By my reckoning, of their 36 finals they’ve been strong or very strong favourites in ten and won eight of them. The biggest exception was the 1988 FA Cup against Wimbledon, followed by the 1987 Littlewoods (League) Cup Final against Arsenal. They also lost to Man Utd in the FA Cup final in 1977 when they were favourites, about to win the title for the second year running, but Man Utd were still massive so it was hardly a major shock. I can’t find any finals where Liverpool were a clear underdog.
Man Utd: of their 32 finals I’d say that like Liverpool they were strong favourites in ten of them, also winning eight of those. The exceptions were the 1976 FA Cup v Southampton and the 1991 League Cup v Sheffield Wednesday. They’ve never been a huge underdog. Probably the biggest overturning of odds they’ve achieved was beating Leicester in the 1963 FA Cup final, when Leicester were close to the top of Division 1 and Man Utd struggled near the bottom.
Chelsea: 22 finals, five where they’ve been strong/very strong favourites, and they’ve won four of those. The exception is Spurs in the League Cup final 2008, and even then you could argue that although Chelsea were at the height of their powers, losing to a top 6 side is hardly an upset. Chelsea also beat Bayern in the 2012 Champions League as fairly clear underdogs, which probably cancels out losing to Spurs.
Spurs: 20 finals, and like Chelsea strong/very strong favourites in five, losing only one of those – to Coventry in the FA Cup, 1987. Also won as underdogs in the FA Cup in 1901 (they were in the Southern League, though that was equivalent to at least Division 2 at the time) and of course against Chelsea in the 2008 League Cup.
So all the others have blown it no more than a fifth of the time when they were considered on paper to have an easy victory in the bag. But what of Arsenal?
Out of our 30 finals I would say we started as strong or very strong favourite in nine of them:
- 1932 FA Cup v Newcastle (Arsenal were Champions and on the way to a second consecutive title) – lost
- 1936 FA Cup v Sheff Utd – won
- 1969 League Cup v Swindon (of Division 3!) – lost
- 1978 FA Cup v Ipswich (Ipswich were on the rise, but still considered a very small club compared to Arsenal) – lost
- 1980 FA Cup v West Ham (of Division 2) – lost
- 1988 League Cup v Luton Town – lost
- 1998 FA Cup v Newcastle – won
- 2003 FA Cup v Southampton – won
- 2011 League Cup v Birmingham – lost
Making six losses and only three wins. We have blown it two thirds of the time, twice as often as we’ve strolled it! Everyone else: 20%. Arsenal 67%!
We’ve sometimes been slight underdog, but not usually by much, and the clearest example of overcoming odds to win is v Liverpool in ’87. Arguably Parma in 1994, though they’re hardly a giant of the game. Either way, these do not go a long way to mitigating the six losses when we were clear favourites.
But that was the old brittle Arsenal. We’ve learnt our lesson. This is a new Arsenal now. An Arsenal who aren’t going to blow it. I have every confidence in a superb performance against Hull, who really have no chance. And that’s my final word (ha!) until 6:50pm tomorrow.
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