It was £800,000 (£2.5m today) well-spent by George Graham in 1987 although a loan back to Leicester City meant that we had to wait until the August of that year to see our expensive new purchase in action.
He warmed up nicely in the friendlies before the season started but failed to find the net in the opening games at home to Liverpool and at QPR and Manchester United. With one goal to their name and one point, Arsenal faced Alan Ball’s Portsmouth at Highbury. Smith gave them a warm welcome to the top flight as he grabbed a hat-trick in the 6-0 thrashing.
Smith was not prolific in his opening season but he was somewhat talismanic; Arsenal only failed to win three games in matches in which scored that season. A point-saver in the return match at Fratton Park as well as one in retrieving a three-goal deficit at Hillsborough. The one defeat came at Wembley in the Littlewoods Cup final against Luton Town.
This was but a taster for the following campaign. He hit the scoring grove in pre-season with three goals in the two Makita Tournament wins at Wembley before an opening day hat-trick at Plough Lane in what remains one of the most complete routs I have seen Arsenal deliver; 5 – 1 flattered Wimbledon. I remember that day well, conversing with Bobby Moore once he had finished his radio summary for the day and being able to wander unchallenged into the dressing rooms post-match. Plough Lane remains one of my favourite grounds.
Focus on his career as below often turns to Anfield and Copenhagen; why not, they were great nights in the club’s history and his part in those wins should be celebrated. The match-winning goal over Parma was unexpected in terms of the execution and distance; he didn’t score many from outside the area. A hat-trick in the 1991 title party win over Manchester United also ranks in those moments.
I think the match I most remember is the 6 – 1 thrashing of Austria Memphis, the club’s first European night following the lifting of the ban on English clubs participating in European competition. Bedecked in the awful away shirts of that era, Arsenal and Smith in particular were rampant with the striker scoring four. The away leg was a formality and the performance reflected that.
If you talk about Smith to other football supporters, he is most remembered as being the player who replaced Gary Lineker in his final England appearance during the ill-fated 1992 European Championships. He never really reproduced his club form for his country. Despite being top goalscorer in the English game in 1988-89 and 1990-91, Smith only played for England thirteen times, scoring twice. Many argued at the time that he was the ideal foil for Lineker, the two having formed a good partnership at Leicester City in the early part of their careers. Successive England managers never saw it that way.
His last goal for the club came on 12th December 1994 at Maine Road in a 2 – 1 win over Manchester City. Injury curtailed his career, meaning that he finished having played 318 games for the club, scoring 115 goals. For services rendered to Arsenal Football Club, we thank you.