It was supposed to be a routine home win but this is football and the straightforward often results in a bloody nose. Or more appropriately in this case, a broken jaw.
Southampton had other ideas. They were a decent mid-table side, even venturing into the top eight in the 1989-90 season but for a team with title pretensions, this was a must-win match. In his book, Matt Le Tissier was scathing about match referee, David Axcell, whose camp posturing for the harshly awarded penalty in front of the North Bank is quite comical now.
The equaliser came in Fergie Time. Nine minutes were added to the ninety due to Paul Davis’ left hook to Glenn Cockerill’s jaw, Arsenal’s punishment would come at a later date with the midfielder suspended for nine matches. The FAs punishments are considerably more lenient now, Joey Barton would be lucky to be playing again if such bans were issued nowadays.
As it was, a late freekick was headed home by Alan Smith, Russell Osman added to Fergie Time with a pointless clearance after the initial foul was committed. Southampton were the architects of their own downfall to a certain extent.
For Arsenal, it was their first point at home. Aston Villa had taken a two-goal lead in the first home match, been pegged back, only to snatch a late winner. Fortunately, Arsenal had won their two away games, 5 – 1 at Wimbledon and 3 – 2 at White Hart Lane. This result moved them to fifth in the table although the early season wobble was not entirely over, defeat at Hillsborough followed before an unbeaten run of seven games would change the face of the season.
Le Tissier argued that this point contributed to winning the title as much as Michael Thomas’ winner at Anfield. As flawed as singling out individual matches in a season is, the former Southampton maestro is not far wrong in identifying this draw as a pivotal moment.