by Tony Attwood
I think most of us know what happened when Arsenal Wenger arrived at Arsenal and the way he was hounded remorselessly by the press with their disgraceful rumours, and then for years vilely attacked by Man U fans (whose appalling chants were then sold on CD via the club shop). If you don’t know the story you can read it here.
The disgraceful display has never been forgotten either by the press (who have hounded Mr Wenger ever since) nor by many who were in their early days of their footballing career at the time, which is why some famous managers are back away from any engagement with Arsenal. They know what it means in terms of treatment from the media.
But that is what can happen to an Arsenal manager upon arrival. But what was it like at the time of departure. I thought I might have a look and see: how did things go at the end for the five managers who preceded Arsene Wenger? Stats in what follows come from Statto.com
BERTIE MEE 1976
On 22 March 1976 after a 6-1 defeat of West Ham two days earlier, Bertie Mee announced he would leave Arsenal at the end of the season. The club was in 13th position at that moment.
Thereafter Arsenal won one, drew one and lost five in the league to finish 17th and come awkwardly close to relegation which is what they had been looking over their shoulders at for much of the season.
The club however had been seeing an improvement in the games leading up to the retirement announcement with Arsenal climbing away from relegation, rising from 18th to 13th
|35||20.03.1976||West Ham United||home||W6-1||13||33|
But having made the announcement of Mee’s impending departure matters went into decline once more
|41||19.04.1976||Queens Park Rangers||away||L1-2||17||36|
Much of the period – like the season before, had the media full of talk about Arsenal being relegated for the first time since 1913 (although some, not having done any homework as normal, spoke of Arsenal being relegated for “the first time ever”. Journalists eh? They never learn).
So having been 13th when he made his announcement matters declined and the season (and the Mee reign) ended as below. At this time it was two points for a win, one for a draw, and clubs that had the same number of points were separated on goal average. This was worked out by dividing the number of goals for by the number of goals against. As now the bottom three went down.
|18||West Ham United||42||13||10||19||48||71||0.68||36|
So having missed relegation by just four points the season before, Mee showed improvement in his final season by getting Arsenal up to six points off relegation.
TERRY NEILL 1983
The ex-Tottenham manager Terry Neill joined Arsenal the following season after Mee’s “retirement” (it wasn’t really a retirement, and he then worked with Watford), but Neill was sacked by Arsenal on 16 December 1983 after a bad run of results
|16||03.12.1983||West Bromwich Albion||home||L0-1||15||21|
|17||10.12.1983||West Ham United||away||L1-3||16||21|
As with the league table when Mee left, on the day Neill went it looked pretty awful.
|2||West Ham United||17||10||3||4||30||14||+16||33|
|5||Queens Park Rangers||17||9||2||6||27||16||+11||29|
|12||West Bromwich Albion||17||7||2||8||21||25||-4||23|
Birmingham did in fact go down at the end of that season, which shows how near to the edge Arsenal were.
DON HOWE 1986
Don Howe took over after Terry Neil, but resigned on 22 March 1986 amid rumours he was going to be replaced.
His results leading up to the departure show a team clearly on the up
|30||15.03.1986||West Ham United||home||W1-0||5||55|
The league table showed Arsenal in fifth with two or three games in hand over the top three. That didn’t mean Arsenal were likely to be top at the end of the , but it did mean that Arsenal might certainly end up higher than 5th if Howe had stayed.
|7||West Ham United||29||16||6||7||44||27||+17||54|
However without Don Howe Arsenal slipped back and finished 7th, and instead of being eight points behind the leaders with two in hand ended up 19 points behind the league winners, Liverpool.
GEORGE GRAHAM 1995
On 21 February 1995 George Graham was “relieved of his duties” having been found guilty of accepting an illegal payment in relation to transfer activities. He left the club in 11th position, 23 points behind the league leaders of the day and already out of the FA Cup.
His results leading up to the sacking were
|22||31.12.1994||Queens Park Rangers||home||L1-3||13||28|
Arsenal had improved slightly in the run up to the game, rising from 13th but slipping back again thereafter. We finished the season where we were at the moment Graham left: in 12th.
BRUCE RIOCH AUGUST 1996
Bruce Rioch had ended his first (and as it turned out his only) season in charge of Arsenal with the club grabbing fifth place on the last day of the season. It wasn’t a trophy, as we now know rather well, but it did secure a place in the lesser of the European competitions, and there was much celebrating at the achievement – nerve wracking though it was.
The last run of results was
After 37 games Arsenal were level on points with Tottenham. Tottenham only drew with Newcastle allowing Arsenal to sneak in. So we got St Tots day, but one win and three goals in the last five was not really what we wanted.
The dismissal in August however came only after Arsene Wenger had been secured as the next manager.
So in summary our last five managers to leave have departed in these circumstances
|Manager||Year||Pos at announcement||Pos at end of season|
Thus in the period since “The Long Sleep” of 1953 to 1976 the most successful managers at the time of their leaving to be eased out were Bruce Rioch and Don Howe. The three least successful were George Graham, Bertie Mee and Terry Neill.
In the second part of this consideration, I’ll take a look at what happened next.
- When managers leave Arsenal: what it was like as Mr Wenger’s 5 predecessors were shown the door.
- What has Arsène Wenger ever done for Us?
- Football’s problems are multiple, and largely hidden. But slowly there is a chink of light.
- Eddie Nketiah scores a hat trick again – this time against Man City.