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October 2016
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It’s all happened before; how the results of one season don’t help predict the results of the next.

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

Game Date Against Venue Result Position Points
10 10.10.1931 Sheffield United away W5-1 2 14
11 17.10.1931 Sheffield Wednesday home W9-3 2 16
12 24.10.1931 Aston Villa away W3-2 1 18
13 31.10.1931 Newcastle United home W8-1 1 20
14 07.11.1931 Huddersfield Town away D0-0 1 21
15 14.11.1931 Chelsea home W7-2 1 23
16 21.11.1931 Grimsby Town away W2-1 1 25
17 28.11.1931 Leicester City home W9-2 1 27
18 05.12.1931 West Ham United away L2-4 1 27
19 12.12.1931 Middlesbrough home W5-1 1 29

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…

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




6 comments to It’s all happened before; how the results of one season don’t help predict the results of the next.

  • Oldham Gunner

    I never usually leave a comment on the articles here on Untold but I am an avid and regular reader.

    Very pleasant surprise to know a player from my home town played for the Gunners, Oldham’s never had the best reputation 🙂

    Thank you as always for the refreshing insights into the Arsenal; it’s keeping my mind sane while the media ploughs a new furrow that follows their excrement filled narrative.

  • nicky

    @Oldham Gunner,
    In my book, Oldham has a reputation for being one of the most friendly, generous and welcoming towns anywhere in our land.
    In 1940, it hosted my old School, escaping from certain German Occupation.
    Nothing was too much for those folk in inviting a crowd of some 200 noisy, grubby, excited boys to share their homes.
    The townsfolk of Oldham of that generation were and are the salt of the earth.

  • insideright

    Those who protest about our current and recent ‘failures’ should certainly examine past crowd attendance figures to get a proper taste of reality. Even when we were winning the League and Cup double in 1971 the average crowd was only in the middle forty thousands – most of whom were paying a few shillings to stand on crumbling terraces. A few years later, when we were close to relegation, it wasn’t unusual for crowds to be below 20,000 and (I can assure you) to be able to turn up and sit where you liked whatever you had paid for your seat.
    Arsene Wenger has not only transformed our playing style, consistency of performance and league position he has also greatly enhanced fan loyalty levels – even at much higher ticket price levels. He is a man of unrivaled football genius. We should celebrate his achievements and hold on to him as long as we can.

  • paul35mm

    Two seasons ago Chelsea won the league and were widely tipped to battle Man City for the crown with Arsenal and a resurgent Man U (they spent £200 million) to be the foils for Chelsea’s new dynasty.

    Oops. Mourinho’s toxic personality and penchant for being an ass despite his obvious footballing intelleigence, doomed him. City was crowned as the obvious heir to the throne but their management undermined Pellegrini with their panting pursuit of Pep Guardioloa and the club stumbled.

    van Gall built a Man U that was hard to beat but failed to inspire either his players or his fans. At the richest team in world football it isn’t enough to win, you have to win with flair. van Gall failed to do either and he was fired.

    This left Arsenal as the obvious champion, but of course, the best laid plans of mice and men… 15 penalties awarded, almost double the next closest (Tottenham) and 13 more than Arsenal, saw Leicester safely to the title and Arsenal into a frustrating second.

    It is hard to imagine Leicester winning once never mind twice, but who knows. If the referees remain as generous to one or two and as stingy to the others, nothing is impossible.

  • porter

    Paul you have to know your referees , the ones that give certain fouls and the ones that don’t. However in the main it is getting harder to get a penalty for handball if the ball is played onto the arm, neither will you get one for being held or pushed at a set piece. Penalties are given however for spectacular falling in the box . To get one of these you have to enter the box at speed and run into a defender and go down. We see it against us but as we tend to build slowly and try to pass into the box we don’t create the circumstance that influences the ref.Vardy and Hazard get those decisions because of the way they attack defenders , Giroud / Ozil do not because of the style we employ.

  • Micko

    Porter, “we tend to build slowly and try to pass into the box we don’t create the circumstance that influences the ref” – that has to be the biggest load of bollocks I have ever read.
    You have either not watched any Arsenal games from last season or wtached them with your eyes closed!