Throwback Thursday: Chelsea v Arsenal (March 18th, 1950)

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Chelsea and Arsenal meet this weekend in what is nearly always one of the more explosive fixtures in the Premier League season. In recent years, the rivalry has been defined by the personal animus between Arsène Wenger and José Mourinho. Indeed, there have been times since Mourinho’s return to Chelsea where the tension on the touchline was more attention-grabbing than anything that was happening on the pitch. Yet this clash is still ultimately about the football, and it’s given rise to some memorable games over the years.

This week, we look back at the 1950 FA Cup semifinal— an historic encounter that played out one of the most thrilling comebacks in the competition’s history.

The build-up to the match was taut, with the high stakes and injury concerns for both teams making for a heady brew. The nearly 68,000 in attendance at White Hart Lane knew from the moment they walked into the ground they were in for something special.

Having never been to an FA Cup Final before, Chelsea were out for blood and looking to make some club history. Center forward Roy Bentley propelled the Blues to an early 2-0 lead in the first half hour. With Chelsea having the better run of play, it looked like they would finally book that elusive trip to Wembley.

But Arsenal were having none of it. Winger Freddie Cox pulled one back before halftime with an amazing Olimpico, and the Gunners came out of the tunnel determined to turn things around. In the dressing room during halftime, manager Tom Whittaker lit a fire under the team with a passionate appeal. “We’ve been in tighter spots than this. I doubt if any other team could fight its way out of this one. But Arsenal can. And you’re ARSENAL.”

The pressure was relentless in the second half, while Chelsea was only barely managing to hold on. Eventually, the bow broke and the cradle fell. In the 78th minute, defender Leslie Compton rose to meet a corner kick, got his head on the ball, and sent it into the far corner. Arsenal got their equalizer and protected it for the last 12 minutes and change. The game finished at 2-2, forcing a replay and giving the Gunners a hard-won lifeline.

Arsenal would go on to win the replay 1-0, thanks to Freddie Cox. The Gunners would go on to beat Liverpool 2-0 in the Final at Wembley, etching their name onto the Cup for the third time.

Will this weekend’s clash live up to its reputation? Find out on Saturday morning. Kickoff is at 7:45am EST, with the game airing on NBC Sports Network in the US.

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