Arsenal’s worst season

Were the Last Four Years the Worst in Arsenal’s History? by “LRV”

Arsenal joined the old Football League Division 1 (the top flight in English football) in the 1919/20 season. Since then, Arsenal Fans have witnessed the good, not-so-good, poor, not-so-poor, Very good, not-so-bad, bad seasons.

In all of these, one thing remains a source of constant pride to the fans: – The Arsenal is only club in England never to have experienced the pain of relegation since then. This fact fills me with tremendous pride. Even the ‘great’ Man U has seen relegation. This will be our 91st year in the top league. Manchester U are entering year 36.

Another fact that fills me with a sense of pride is that Arsenal is one of the Elite English clubs. We have qualified for the Champions League every year for ten years in succession. We have even won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, as well as the European Cup Winners’ Cup on the odd occasions. Currently, we are amongst the elite, top-ten, European clubs. That is not a bad position to be in.

However, there are ‘fans’ who believe that the club is in “crisis”, mainly because the press says so, or because of what the fans of other clubs say. There are even some who believe that the club no longer merits its position in the EPL’s top four. They point to the fact that the club has not won anything in four years as proof that the club is going backwards.

While I am not here to deride these fans, and as interesting as their point of view may be, I feel compelled to ask: – Is this the worst period in Arsenal’s history? Have none of these fans witnessed far worst periods of emptiness in our club’s trophy cabinet?

Sadly, I am forced to answer NO to both questions. Either that or some fans have developed a curious case of amnesia. From the time we joined the top flight in 1919 up to 1930, the club’s performances have ranged from indifferent to ignominious. Yet, we did not lose our status, and the fans at the time endured with the club. They neither turned on the club with derision, nor did they ever stop supporting the team.

Their dedication paid off from 1930 to 1938/39; a nine season period when the club enjoyed vast successes, even in Europe. The club won the league five times. They came second and third once each. These account for seven out of the nine seasons; the remaining two, they came fifth and sixth. The war halted the good fortune in the 1939/40 season when the season was abandoned, with Arsenal likely to have won again.

Worst Periods:

After the war, things were up and down. For seven seasons from 1946, when the league resumed post war, the club won the league twice and came third once. They even won the league in one of the closest title races ever in 1952/53, beating Preston North End to the title on goal average after finishing level on points. Arsenal took the title on 0.099 of a goal. Incredible! Then the really worst period began.

For 17 seasons, from 1953/54 to 1969/70, the great Arsenal could not even win a cup of water. They changed managers as some have suggested we do now; even took chances and gambled on new blood, as is common these days. Billy Wright, former England and Wolves captain, was appointed as manager in 1962, in spite of his lack of prior association with the club and his lack of managerial experience (a bold, but ultimately unsuccessful step).

To make matters worse for the club, the fierce rivals up the road, the Spuds, won the Double in 1960/61. But the true fans were wonderful. They endured and persisted with the club. Suddenly, out of this nothing, Arsenal won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969/70 but still only managed 12th in the league. That’s the power of true support; people achieve beyond capability. The Fairs Cup win galvanized the team to win the league again in 1970/71.

Agreed many fans of today may not have been born at that time, or may be too young to remember, but it is still the same club that you support today isn’t it? If the fans at that time had “killed off” the club as you want to do now (whether you accept that is what you are doing or not), would you have been able to become its supporter? Think!

The barren period returned from 1971/72 to 1977/78; an eight season period when we couldn’t win even a teabag. The true fans endured again. Even though they had diverse opinion, they united in cheering the team back to glory in the 1978/79 season.

Alas, another barren period of seven seasons from 1979/80 to 1985/86 was to follow, when our dear club could not win itself a cup to even make tea. Yet again, the true fans endured the tag “Boring…, boring… Arsenal”, and still refused to be defeated. We were rewarded with the “1 – 0 to the Arsenal”, George Graham era, when some successes began to come our way again.

Arsenal was a founding member of the FA Premier League, aka EPL, 1992/93. That year, we came 10th but improved to 4th the following year, 1993/94. Come 1994/95, we only managed a magnificent 12th. A dimmer seem to have been put on our shine. But then, Bruce Rioch brought Dennis Bergkamp, the best thing he ever did for the club. Along with Ian Wright & co, they helped move us back to a near respectable 5th in 1995/96 and qualification for Europe on the last day of the season.

Then David Dein brought “Arsene Who?” in 1996. Thus, our present era began. Arsenal began to master the “Wengerball”. Our club gave this country, not just the Arsenal fans, the type of football that some could only dream of, and others could only watch from afar. The worst we have ever done since then is 4th.

So, is the last four years really the worst in Arsenal history?

If you would like to contribute an article for Untold Arsenal please do email me ( I’d particularly like to read memories of one particularly bad season!

If you would like to comment and you have not done so before, please write “Ref: Worst” at the top, so I know you are responding to us, and not just pasting a general article from elsewhere.

29 Replies to “Arsenal’s worst season”

  1. Excellent post, Tony.. And I feel every single Arsenal fan should read this..

    I started following Arsenal in the late nineties(that is when the EPL matches began being broadcasted in India). And because maybe of that, I’ve tasted success and wengerball. But I read all about Arsenal – its history & origins in the last few years and read through the Chapman Era, the barren spell of 17years and also the unforgettable events like the first major cup the FA Cup in 1930, Anfield’89 and Cup Winners Cup in 94.

    And I sometimes feel that Wenger is the main cause for all the negative vibes from the fans these days. 2 Doubles, Unbeaten season, 10 consecutive years in Champions League and the 49-beaten games in the League. These successes in a decade has made some of the fans GREEDY and they want more. Why not enjoy the successes We’d in the past and back this team to do those feats again. This team can do it and is as talented as(if not more than) the ones who achieved those feats. SO Lets get behind this team just like We did while at Highbury and enjoy the success We’d. The Emirates Stadium deserves it not just in terms of the trophy but also the fan SUPPORT.

  2. I totally agree with you. But I still think the Board should give Wenger more support and get the takeover sorted out sooner rather than later.

  3. You know this a great article and a superb lesson to the doomers.

    I have been going to The Arsenal since 1956. What I remember of the early years was the thrill of them leading the table for long periods in 58/59 only to fall back to 3rd, the pain of early FA Cup (big thing in those days) exits to the likes of Northampton, Sheffield Utd, Rotherham, Sunderland & Peterborough – all in lower divisions.

    As this was going on Tottenham had one the most exiting teams of any generation. I could just have easily have been a ‘Spud’ but ‘once bitten’…..

    What Tony hasn’t touched on is 74/75 & 75/76, when on both occasions we were with 2/3 games of relegation.

    Bad times but for me the worst season by far was last season, because a number of the support absolutely stank & still do. We have a team that is so obviously nearly there, yet all this crap.

    The only time that approached that was 66 (with some cause) & 81-83, when the intelligentsia were booing an 18yo called Paul Vaesson because we could not afford to buy anyone better than John Hawley.

    Some people just do not recognise a good thing yet alone a great thing. These are still the best of times but spoilt by many of those you have to share it with.

  4. Every Arsenal fan should print this out and hang it above there bed so that every evening before turning off the light they can read it and when they wake up the can read it again and think of how lucky we are.

    On the other hand I can understand, mostly young, fans who are used to winning that they are more impatient than the older fans who have known the barren periods.

    I’ve heard the name Arsenal for the first time when they beat the Belgium MU (Anderlecht) in 1970. Last week it was talked on the Flemish TV in Belgium in a portrait of a former Anderlecht player (Jan Mulder for the connaisseurs- who almost won the game for Anderlecht) and felt the pride again. In 1970 a was a young boy who supported another local team in Belgium and we hated Anderlecht becouse they won nearly everything, so Arsenal was the team that let us have a laugh at the Anderlecht fans and so I became an Arsenal fan in those days.

    So I have known bad years, on the pitch and I remember also some financial problems as well during the years.

    So yes we should be proud and let us not believe the doomthinkers or the press who talk about crisis.

    In a few years we will look back and look at those years as the years we have planted the goods and in the near future it will be Arsenals harvest time once more.

    And the thing I’m the most proud of is the 91 years in the PL. This is something that no one, can take away from us.

  5. I can remember one match against Leeds in the 1960s when the crowd at Highbury totalled 11,000. Strolling from one crush barrier to another (do you remember those?) and having a chat with new-found friends was good for socialisation and helped replace the lack of entertainment on the field. Good old days? I don’t think so.

  6. Maybe slightly off topic but Tony mentionned the press in his article and I really love the hate the press these days.
    I dislike the use of words such as racism and xenophobia and think one should be very carefull by using these words but in my opinion the press is talking so much bullsh*t about the Arsenal becouse of these words.
    Giving stick on foreigners has always been good for selling newspapers in the UK and in there eyes Arsenal is the most foreign club in the PL. So they do what ever they can to surround the Arsenal and associate it with losers, fear, and so on.
    And there where times when Arsenal played with almost no English players but this was mostly becouse the best English players didn’t want to come to Arsenal and also becouse the English players level just wasn’t good enough for some time now.
    Maybe this will change around in a few years becouse when you look at the youth that Arsenal are preparing for the future I think that in a few years there will be a lot of English players in the team and maybe the press will start to like the Arsenal again.

    English press, I spit on them. 😉

  7. Can I just make it quite clear, although I am happy to accept the plaudits for this excellent review, I didn’t write it. “LRV” wrote it. I just added the PS about being very happy to receive other articles.


  8. As in everything so in football too, success attract people. So I think that most of “complains” coming from people who started support Arsenal in last 10 years. I guess most of them now wandering did they choose “right” club to support. In fact I am not sure are they supporters or they like to be on winning side,and its great shock once you realize there are some defeats in life. I survived 80ies, I survive last 4 years, I am going to survive next 10 if necessary. Its not about winning its about belief, you do or you don’t, you support or you are only sympathizer.

    Another interesting thing, a bit off topic but, let me as foreigner notice some things. Although in last decade Arsenal became “foreigners club” by players, by style of play. But deep in his whole being Arsenal is still maybe “most English” club in EPL, conservative, closed, without to much “fame” around, players who are “players”, no Beckams… So I guess press which is always hungry of sensations is too much annoyed with Dinosaur team which still stands on values of “our fathers”.

  9. George Eastham- it was 4,500 against Leeds and I was 1 of them.

    Walter- Jan Mulder left a huge impression on the Arsenal players, who thought he was ‘shit hot’.

  10. Brilliant article, but i am afraid to start the new season without any new signings,if that happened then unfortunly we may even lose our favourite forth postion in the last three years.

  11. Excellent post LRV/Tony.

    I was there as well Flint.

    Can’t really add much to the post,except during years of being in the shadow of Spurs,,we finally made itto Wembley for The League Cup Final, against Third division Swindon, on a bog of a pitch.A formality turned into a nightmare and I cried more than Bobby Gould even though he took the game into extra time.

    How things have changed.In those days,there was no live TV, no mobile phones,no Internet or blogs.We chatted face to face even if we supported rival teams,which in most cases was Spurs.No bitterness,just friendly banter and the occasional p*** take.

    It is hard for the younger supporter to grasp those dark days,but even then there was a waiting list for season tickets, showing we had a great following regardless of results.

    No doubt we have been spoilt by the arrival of Arsene Wenger,who has acted like a juggler to keep us apace with the other top teams,with a limited budget.In years to come he will be even more appreciated.

    Last published accounts in May 2008 showed our net spend under Mr.Wenger was just under 4 million.Incredible.

  12. Oops!!! My mistake.. Didn’t see “LRV” at the end of Were the Last Four Years the Worst in Arsenal’s History? by “LRV”

    Excellent post, LRV. Hope to see more such articles in future… 🙂

  13. What a wonderful dose of perspective. Thanks for an excellent piece LRV. Those who bemoan the state of affairs as we go into this season need to have a better grasp of history. This should give it to them.

  14. The reason why people moan is because we have been spoilt with some of the best football ever to be seen. Records broken never thought to be broken again. and because of a bit of recovery and a few mistakes made, fans gat the arse. A story like this will give the niave fans a better picture. Well played.

  15. Good post LRV. Well done.
    The late George Graham era was pretty dire. Names like McGoldrick, Caesar and Hillier on the teamsheet. Our flamboyant foreigners were John Jensen and Glen Helder back then. My goodness how things have changed!

  16. I was just thinking of the old days where I followed Arsenal in the newspapers. I had to wait until mondaymorning to see the results. And then it just said: Arsenal – Sunderland 1-0. No idea who scored, never seen the goal, just the result on paper. 😎
    Then a few years later the BBC came on the cable in Flanders (Belgium) and I could watch MOTD. It was the days of Jimmy Hill. O my God… what memories.

    What a difference, now I think I have seen almost every minute from the last seasons live on tv or on my sons pc.

  17. Excellent post LRV. Unfortunately, I am a “newbie”, becoming a gooner only over the past 10 years or so. Absolutely spoiled by the Wenger era.

  18. Thanx LRV, you have made my day.

    Our fan base is a rather strange one, Everton and Aston Villa are keeping up with Moyes and O’neill for the possibility of a 5 or 6 position whilst spuds keep hiring and firing coaches and in the process taking 2 steps forward and 4 steps backwards, Newcastle tried and went down whilst we want to replace AW for keeping us in the top 4 whilst having around 15million to spend per season.

  19. Excellent article LRV.

    Even though I’m a relatively new fan and only familiar with Arsenal in the Wenger years, I still understand the value of loyalty and commitment. After all, we expect our players to have these qualities, so don’t they have a right to expect exactly the same from us? We should also consider the functional value of fans who are unwavering in their support. Who is likely to perform best, a team that can count on the loyalty and optimism of its fans, or one where players and manager are subject to public vilification whenever they are perceived to fall short of perfection? Do fans make a difference to the chances of success (or failure)? You better believe they do!

  20. Ref: Worst
    I am very happy to see someone put in a post, and so coherently at that, what the reality of our situation is. These past four years, while they have been disappointing, have provided some of the best football I’ve seen played. In my opinion this coming season will be the turning of the tide for the Gunners, I expect us to win a trophy or maybe two.
    I remember as a kid going to Highbury, not very often because I lived outside London most of my childhood, and being in awe of the occasion. On of my lasting memories was a game against Fulham, with the memorable Johnny Haynes playing, which we won 4-2. Might have been 1968. That was the last year I lived in England and haven’t been able to go to a game since. 🙁
    This post was excellent! Full of valuable historical background to put the most recent performances in wonderful perspective.
    With the amount of displeasure I hear from fans both through the media and in the stadium it makes me wonder whether they even appreciate great football or whether they just want Arsenal to be successful so they can use their ‘fan’ affiliation as a status symbol.

  21. Brickfields Gunner

    A timely and well written article .As a Arsenal fan since 1971 , I ‘ve seen
    some crap teams.The last 10 years will probably remembered as “the best years” in Arsenal”s history.The worst season was in 1974-1975 where relegation was avoided by the aid of 2 ex-Man. Utd players -goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer and the goals of Brian Kidd .It was truly a close call.I waited for 19 barren years to see Arsenal win the 1st division championship- on a magical night in 1989 -vs Liverpool in Anfield.The rest has of the journey has been mostly pure joy.Enjoy this Golden Period.

  22. Good article. It is a sad reflection of our times that many people do not have a sense of history. If Arsenal do not ever win another trophy I still have the memories of Highbury, the victory parades and pleasure of watching players such as Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp week in week out. But obviously, I’d like them to do the double this coming season.

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