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Ranked! The 10 most momentous FA Cup semi-finals EVER

Paul Gascoigne Arsenal 1991

Over the years, the final four have served up some fascinating and memorable encounters. Jon Spurling recalls the cream of the crop

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10. Tottenham 3-1 Arsenal (1991)

Domestically at least, Gazzamania reached its height in April 1991 at the first-ever Wembley semi-final. Tottenham were underdogs against George Graham's Arsenal, who were already eight points clear at the top on their way to the title, but the Gunners were unable to cope with the mercurial (and only half-fit) Gascoigne. The genial Geordie gave his team the lead after just five minutes with an iconic semi-final goal, a blistering 30-yard free-kick which bent beyond David Seaman.

Soon after, Gazza’s intricate passing skills on the right forged a move from which Gary Lineker poked home a second after a goalmouth melee. Although Alan Smith’s header just before the break gave Arsenal hope, another Lineker goal clinched the win – Spurs’ last to date in the FA Cup semis.

"I'm off to get me suit MEASURED," screamed an almost-rabid Gazza in the Wembley tunnel afterwards. His future never looked brighter than on that Wembley day against Arsenal; on the same pitch a month later he would crash and burn.

9. Man United 0-1 Leeds (second replay, 1970)

It took Don Revie's Leeds three attempts to defeat a declining Manchester United in March 1970. The reigning league champions finally delivered the knockout blow in an ugly second replay at Bolton’s Burnden Park, as Leeds's midfield duo of Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner helped stop George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law.

Journalist Brian Glanville later described the quality of football on show as being "largely primitive and horrendous on the eye, with quality being eclipsed by brute force and total pragmatism".

Just for good measure, Bremner scored the winner, with journalist John Arlott noting that while "idealistic" managers would select Best for their teams, "the realists, to a man, would have Bremner".

8. Tottenham 3-1 Man United (1962)

"There are some in the game," seethed Tottenham boss Bill Nicholson, "who claim that we're a flash-in-the-pan side and that Jimmy Greaves – in some way – has disrupted our flow."

The reigning Double-winners' 1962 FA Cup semi against a re-emerging Manchester United at Hillsborough presented the perfect chance to prove that they remained the main attraction in the early 1960s, despite being in the process of losing their league title (eventually won by Ipswich as Alf Ramsey’s top-flight debutants overtook spluttering Burnley).

Fittingly, Greaves opened the scoring after just four minutes, and Cliff Jones nodded in John White’s cross to put Spurs 2-0 up at the break. Although David Herd’s late strike gave United hope, Spurs soon settled the matter, as described by contemporary reporter Alan Hoby: “Moving the ball at strolling pace, time-wasting with nonchalance, they mounted a leisurely yet breathtaking attack down the right wing.”

Terry Medwin’s resultant header was “like the ferocious stab of a bayonet – a killer goal, and it heralded the end for this slow-thinking and unimaginative United side.” As Bill Nick put it rather more bluntly: "I think that we've proved our point." His team went on to win the final – again 3-1, again with Greaves scoring in the opening five minutes.

7. Liverpool 0-1 Arsenal (third replay, 1980)

In the FA Cup’s most drawn-out and evenly matched semi-final, Arsenal finally pipped Liverpool at Coventry's Highfield Road in the fourth match between the two sides in April 1980.

"There was barely a whisker in it," explained Gunners manager Terry Neill of the marathon series between the league champions and FA Cup holders. "Liverpool were the finest team of the day, and we were the cup specialists. There hasn't been a tie like it – before or since."

After the first three games – a stalemate at Hillsborough and two 1-1s at Villa Park – each went to extra-time, the fourth clash was a defensive affair decided by Brian Talbot’s early header. Liverpool went on to retain the league but never did the Double under Bob Paisley. A fatigued Arsenal lost at Wembley to West Ham, the last second-tier FA Cup winners to date. "We'd given everything we had to offer against Liverpool," lamented Neill.

6. Fulham 3-5 Man United (replay, 1958)

"On reflection, it's a miracle that we were able to field a half-decent team in the FA Cup that year at all," reflected Manchester United coach Jimmy Murphy. Just 44 days after the Munich air crash, a patched-up United side drew their semi-final against Fulham 2-2 at Villa Park; four days later at Highbury, they somehow summoned the willpower to win the replay 5-3.

The second game, at Highbury, was a titanic battle. United led 3-0 before the Johnny Haynes-inspired Cottagers fought back to level the scores, but the Red Devils prevailed.

"Of course, I'd have loved to have reached the final with Fulham," Haynes admitted, "but in light of what's happened, there can't be a football fan alive who can begrudge United getting to Wembley." "It's got to be one of football's most remarkable comebacks,” said Murphy, although in the final Bolton denied their neighbours a Hollywood ending.