On this day in 1983, Sunderland were in North London and looking to build on a strong recent record against Arsenal.
Unbeaten against the Gunners since 1970, we’d pulled off a vital win at Highbury earlier in the calendar year to ensure survival during the previous campaign, and now we were looking to continue our Division One project.
Boss Alan Durban was seeking to turn a squad of potential into real contenders, and not only was our record against Arsenal promising, recent performances on the road also pointed towards an increasing level of maturity.
Two victories and a draw in the last three away trips had given a tantalising indication of how good Sunderland could be if we continued our progress, and the return of two regulars to the starting eleven confirmed that things were looking promising.
Durban knew he needed to balance his side with a touch of proven top level ability and know-how, and that was exactly what Leighton James brought to the team. Ian Atkins had also become a key player since arriving on Wearside the previous summer, and now back on the pitch together, they resumed their strong influence on proceedings.
Alongside them in midfield was Paul Bracewell, who showed why he’d been the subject of rave reviews with a ‘man of the match’ performance, and the trio helped to control matters as the Lads turned in a composed effort.
The hosts had gone into the game in high spirits too, having scored ten goals across their previous two fixtures, but they were dealt an early blow when, appropriately enough for November 5, Colin West hit a rocket past Pat Jennings in the opening minutes.
West, who’d also scored the all-important winner last time out at Arsenal, was given the ball thanks to James winning possession from a Gunners throw in, and he cut inside before hitting a twenty five-yard curler into the corner of the net.
Charlie Nicholas was one of the few home players to do themselves justice, with Sunderland looking by far the better side during the first half.
Making the first appearance of what would prove to be a stellar career, Tony Adams did get the ball into the net following the break, but the attempt was ruled out for a foul on Chris Turner and seconds later, it was 2-0 instead.
Barry Venison linked up well with James to earn a corner, and when Mark Proctor swung it in, Gordon Chisholm rose highest to head it towards goal. Although he later admitted he was trying to get out of the way, the ball then struck Atkins en-route and dropped over the line.
Arsenal looked to respond quickly and after they’d withdrawn the aptly-named Alan Sunderland, they earned themselves a lifeline through Tony Woodcock’s cleanly hit volley.
However, rather than signalling a late charge, the goal merely prompted Sunderland (AFC that is) to steady their resolve and it was the visitors that went closest to another when Gary Rowell was denied by a smart Jennings stop.
The Lads had done enough to keep the records going. Arsenal had been unable to break their hoodoo as our impressive away form continued, but the best thing about it all was that the win was fully deserved.
Saturday 5 November 1983
Football League Division One
Arsenal 1 (Woodcock 59’)
Sunderland 2 (West 3’, Atkins 56’)
Sunderland: Turner, Venison, Chisholm; Atkins, Pickering, Bracewell; Atkins, Proctor, James; West, Rowell.