By Tony Attwood
One of the many reasons why I was not part of the campaign to oust Arsene Wenger last season, was that what Arsenal went through last year was something that had happened before – to Herbert Chapman.
Arsenal had won the FA Cup in 1930, and the League in 1931, and were clearly expected to repeat their success in 1931/2. After all, Arsenal had become the first London team to win the League, and had won it with a record number of points, and an astonishing 127 goals scored. Only Aston Villa had run them close, and the pundits expected a repeat of the Arsenal / Villa race for the top in 1931/2.
But then Arsenal started the new season poorly. Having swept all and sundry aside in 1930/31, Arsenal went the first four games in the next season without a single win. Then once they did start winning, the managed to lose games they should never have lost. One might highlight games such as :
3 October: Grimsby 3 Arsenal 1. Arsenal had scored their all time record win in the League against Grimsby the previous season (9-1), and although Grimsby had managed to get to mid-table by the end of the season they were having a very rough time of it in 1931/2 – and indeed eventually got relegated.
There was a recovery after this during the rest of October but then in November disaster struck twice again.
Arsenal’s November started with a match against Newcastle in 13th place, a team that had lost their game on the last day of October, 8-1 away to Everton. There was a feeling in the air that Arsenal needed to be matching the club that had already scored 17 more goals than Arsenal in just 13 games.
In fact Arsenal lost to Newcastle on 7 November 3-2.
What was then absolutely necessary after that was a strong performance against West Ham on 14 November at home, and this at least was duly delivered, with a 4-1 win in front of 41,028.
However the score was still only considered as the least Arsenal could do as West Ham themselves had just lost their last two games (away to Derby and at home to West Brom) by 5-1 each time, and languished in 18th.
Also it was duly noted that there was no letting up by the remarkable goal scoring machine that Everton had now become, for although on 7 November Everton had only managed a 0-0 draw with Huddersfield on 14 November they bashed Chelsea 7-2.
The following week it was Arsenal’s turn to face Chelsea, and it was the Newcastle story all over again. Everton had thumped Newcastle, and then Arsenal lost. Then Everton smashed Chelsea, and Arsenal … lost. This time 1-2 at Stamford Bridge. It was only Chelsea’s fourth win of the season.
Arsenal slumped to sixth in the league, and their home crowds dropped below 30,000 – the clearest measure of discontent, since there was of course no TV to watch football on, and Arsenal had forbidden the BBC the rights to broadcast radio matches from the game.
Worse, just as no one expected Leicester to do what they did last season, so no one expected this upsurge from Everton and people were still predicting it would soon stop.
In 1929/30 Everton ended bottom of the First Division winning just 12 games out of 42. In 1930/31 while Arsenal were winning the first division, Everton were winning the second, scoring 121 goals, just six short of Arsenal’s first division total, but even so, getting nine defeats in the season. Yes they were good but sometimes quite vulnerable. Bradford PA beat them 4-1 and Burnley beat them 5-2 in that relegation season. No one tipped them to go straight back down to the second division, but no one tipped them to win the league either.
So no one reckoned on what Everton might get up to, and it took a while for it to be seen.
Arsenal beat Everton 3-2 on 26 September, the eighth match of the season – and already it was Everton’s third defeat. Perfectly acceptable for a club bedding down back in the first division, but certainly not good enough to win the league and take away Arsenal’s crown.
But then in October something changed. As Arsenal fluttered in and out of form, and Chapman changed Arsenal’s keeper for the third time in the season, bringing in an unknown keeper from Oldham (and indeed playing him in goal just 24 hours after signing him), Everton transformed themselves. The not only started winning, but winning big time.
Just take a peek at this run of results
|18||05.12.1931||West Ham United||away||L2-4||1||27|
5-1, 9-3, 8-1, 7-2, 9-2, 5-1 – six extraordinary results in a ten game spell in which they won eight, drew one and lost one. By December they were stamping ahead at the top of the League.
Back in October Everton had been fourth and Arsenal fifth, with West Brom two points clear. By 28 November Everton were top of the league with Arsenal six points behind in fourth. In 17 games Everton had scored 62 goals.
And yes Everton, newly promoted from the second division, did go on to win the league, but not by the margin that people were starting to predict after the 5-1 win over Middlesbrough. The final table showed this
So Everton did win the League but only by two points, and with an inferior goal average (the way in which clubs on the same points were separated at the time) to Arsenal.
The following season 1932/3 Arsenal regained their crown as Champions, as Chapman won his second championship, and Everton … well maybe they celebrated being champions that little bit too much in the summer as they slipped back to 11th, just eight points above relegation. Indeed far closer to relegation than to winning the league.
Of course history doesn’t ever exactly repeat itself, but this tale does show that unexpected results can turn up, that teams can have extraordinary runs, and that as quickly as those runs start they can come to an end.
One of the many attractions of football is its unpredictability, and that was as true in the 1930s as Chapman set up the team that would dominate football for a decade, as it is today. Even with all the money that some teams can now command, there is still that glorious uncertainty within football. The sudden twist and turn that injuries and just sheer bad luck can bring, and the good fortune that the opposite can deliver.
Predicting one season on the back of the last, is always going to be tough.
The AISA Arsenal History Society website works its way through different series of events in Arsenal’s history on its blog. We’ve recently recorded the details of every player who played in the first league season of 1893/4, and every match in the 1970s. Now we are looking at Arsenal in the 30s. Here is the series so far…
- 1: Life in 1930 and winning the first major trophy.
- 2: The cup winners who dropped out and the players who came in
- 3: How Chapman put his triumphant 1931 team together.
- 4: September 1930; played 8 won 7 drawn 1.
- 5: October 1930: A stumble, Villa are close behind, Man U have 12 defeats in a row.
- 6: November 1930: Scoring 5 in three games in one month.
- 7: December 1930: 3 games in 3 days and 14 goals scored.
- 8: January 1931: the biggest league win ever at Highbury
- 9: February 1931: the goals just won’t stop coming.
- 10: March 1931: hope, defeat, hope
- 11: April 1931: Arsenal win the league for the very first time.
- 12: Arsenal in the summer of 1931, the records and the Scandinavian tour
- 13: Arsenal in shock – July and August 1931
- 14: September 1931; the champions recover from a poor start.
- 15: October 1931: Arsenal lose to Grimsby
- 16: November 1931: Chapman’s exasperation with goal keepers
We also publish books on Arsenal’s history. Here is the current list…
- The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
- Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace. By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football. By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
- Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood relating to Arsenal in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.
You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page