History: When George Graham’s Arsenal were shockingly defeated by Luton at Wembley

When Arsenal were ransacked of their League Cup in 1988

In 1988 Arsenal were knocked off their League Cup holders throne by Luton Town in an intense and unpredictable end to end game of football.

George Grahams Gunners had lifted the trophy the previous year against Liverpool to finish their eight year wait for a piece of silverware since winning the 1979 FA Cup against Manchester United.

Arsenals 1987/88 League Cup journey started off against Third Division outfit Doncaster Rovers three hours away up at Belle Vue which would later make way for the now Keepmoat Stadium nearly two decades later in 2007. Perry Groves, Alan Smith and Steve Williams jotted their names onto the scoresheet that night witnessing The Gunners Blast past the DONS 3-0 in the first leg. In the second-leg back at Highbury a fortnight later Arsenal hung onto a narrow 1-0 victory with David Rocastle finding the back of the net.

In the next jostle the men from Highbury hosted Harry Redknapp’s AFC Bournemouth who had just clinched the 1986/87 Third Division title. The Cherries were popped 3-0 by the final whistle thanks to strikes from Kevin Richardson, Smith again and Michael Thomas from the penalty spot mercilessly.

The Gunners remained at home in the next round versus Stoke City who were stuck in the Second Division which they would later finish 11th in for the 1987/88 campaign. Graham’s side ran rampant witnessing David O’ Leary Arsenals record appearance maker scoring alongside his partners in crime Richardson and Rocastle.

In the quarter-finals Arsenal sent their troops to Hillsborough to charge down Sheffiled Wednesday who would later turn out to be a stubborn enemy to beat. After a tricky and tough 90 minutes a thunderous shot from Nigel Winterburn sealed the much needed 1-0 deal.

The Gunners were now through to the semi-finals of the Littlewood Challenge Cup (what the competition was also known as) where a dogged and determined Everton awaited their presence in the first-leg. Grove jumped up with the 1-0 winner whilst walking in a “Perry Groves World”. With over 50,000 fans standing shoulder to shoulder and eye to eye at Highbury in the second-leg Arsenal won instead with an air of conviction to them which would later falter in the final of the League Cup. The Toffees were sideswiped 3-1 as Rocastle, Smith and Thomas all fired in goals that night to send The Gunners on their way to Wembley for a second successful season.

On a sunny afternoon at a nearly packed out Wembley with nearly 96,000 in attendance Arsenal would face one of their biggest shocks in theirs and the games history versus Luton Town in the final. Just past the ten minute mark The Hatters found themselves in the lead after Brian Stein made the most of a free-kick delivered into the box firing in from close range. The Gunners were on the backfoot where it would take them almost an hour to slot in the equaliser on 71 minutes through Martin Hayes who wiggled his effort past the hands of Andy Dibble whilst in the Luton box. Within minutes Arsenal found themselves in a temporary dreamland, Smith received the ball on the edge of the 25-yard area from Thomas before running into the box and slicing in what felt like the 2-1 winner during the moment.

Winterburn had the chance to extend the lead not long afterwards from the spot but Dibble got down denying his and Arsenals chance to put the game to rest. With eight minutes left Daniel Wilson was at it again as he secured the 2-2 equaliser for the Bedfordshire side after a number of defensive hiccups from in front of goal from The Gunners.  Things would only get worse for Graham and Arsenal, in the dying moments of the match Stein blasted in a quickly taken volley to wrap up the 3-2 beating against expected winners beforehand The Gunners.

Arsenal would return to Wembley under Graham again five years later to secure the 1993 League Cup against Sheffield Wednesday. This would be the North Londoners second and final triumph in the completion to date.

Liam Harding


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  1. Not sure where your facts came from but Danny Wilson scored Lutons 2nd goal and Brian Stein the 3rd in the 90th minute.

  2. Great memories for me personally as an 18yr old at Wembley watching this. Arsenal had an exceptional team but Luton had their best team ever so it was a great match. Must still rank as one of the best Wembley finals ever but I could understand if Arsenal fans didn’t feel the same ! Also, it was Danny Wilson who scored to make it 2-2 after a defensive horror show from the Gunners and then Brian Stein scored his second and Luton’s winning goal to make it 2-3 in the final minute following a sublime cross by Ashley Grimes.

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