Throwback Thursday: Liverpool v Arsenal, 1989

Soccer Features Liverpool
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Liverpool-Arsenal is secretly one of the best fixtures of the Premier League season.

It doesn’t have the historical and narrative heft of Liverpool-United or the North London Derby. Nor does it quite have the firepower that Chelsea-City games have had in recent years. No, Arsenal-Liverpool is always something of a sleeper hit. It’s like Real Salt Lake vs Sporting Kansas City, or Cavs vs Spurs, or Daniel Bryan vs Dolph Ziggler. You just know it’s going to be a wild ride.

Arsenal and Liverpool have had some epic clashes over the years, and finding individual games between these two to profile would be a whole column onto themselves. But perhaps the most famous showdown between the Reds and the Gunners was the finale to the 1988-89 First Division season.

The match was originally supposed to take place on April 23, 1989. The week before the game, England was rocked by the events of the Hillsborough Disaster. With Liverpool still reeling from the deaths of more than 90 fans, the match against Arsenal was postponed. As no suitable dates were available until after the FA Cup Final, the game was ultimately rescheduled for May 26, a somewhat rare Friday night match broadcast on national television. (Remember, this was before the Premier League and their mega deal with Sky. League football on the telly wasn’t as big of a thing back then.)

Liverpool went into the game with a three point lead over Arsenal in the table and a superior goal difference. As long as Liverpool won, drew, or lost by no more than one goal, they would win the title. With the boost from winning the FA Cup the previous weekend (3-2 over Everton) and the Anfield crowd behind them, it seemed all but certain that the Reds would be able to close out one of the most emotional seasons in their history and seal the double.

And then this happened.

Arsenal’s first goal came from a glancing header by Alan Smith. (If you play FIFA, you’ll recognize him as the English-language color commentator.) The clincher came about a minute into injury time when Michael Thomas won the ball on the break and slotted it past Bruce Grobbelaar. The match finished 2-0 to Arsenal, squeezing them into first place on goals scored and handing them their first league title in 18 years.

This is widely hailed as one of the greatest single matches in the English game. It also served as a sort of prelude to the renaissance in English football that would emerge in the 1990s. But crucially, this game illustrates how intense meetings between Arsenal and Liverpool can get. The pace is frantic, the emotions run wild, and the stakes, even when neither team are in contention for the title, are always high.

Arsenal host Liverpool this Saturday as both teams vie to keep their top four ambitions alive. Kickoff is at 7:45 a.m. Eastern. If you tend to skip the early morning games, then make an exception. Trust me— you’ll want to set your alarm for this one.