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June 2021

When managers leave Arsenal: what it was like as Mr Wenger’s 5 predecessors were shown the door?

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



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

Game Date Opposition Venue Result Pos Pts
30 21.02.1976 Birmingham City home W1-0 18 25
31 24.02.1976 Liverpool home W1-0 18 27
32 28.02.1976 Middlesbrough away W1-0 16 29
33 13.03.1976 Coventry City away D1-1 17 30
34 16.03.1976 Newcastle United home D0-0 15 31
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

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Game Date Opposition Venue Result Pos Pts
36 27.03.1976 Leeds United away L0-3 14 33
37 03.04.1976 Tottenham Hotspur home L0-2 15 33
38 10.04.1976 Everton away D0-0 17 34
39 13.04.1976 Wolverhampton Wndrs home W2-1 13 36
40 17.04.1976 Ipswich Town home L1-2 15 36
41 19.04.1976 Queens Park Rangers away L1-2 17 36
42 24.04.1976 Manchester City away L1-3 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.

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.


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

Game Date Opposition Venue Result Pos Pts
12 05.11.1983 Sunderland home L1-2 12 18
13 12.11.1983 Ipswich Town away L0-1 13 18
14 19.11.1983 Everton home W2-1 11 21
15 26.11.1983 Leicester City away L0-3 13 21
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.

Birmingham did in fact go down at the end of that season, which shows how near to the edge Arsenal were.


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

Game Date Opposition Venue Result Pos Pts
26 01.02.1986 Luton Town home W2-1 7 46
27 01.03.1986 Newcastle United away L0-1 8 46
28 08.03.1986 Aston Villa away W4-1 7 49
29 11.03.1986 Ipswich Town away W2-1 5 52
30 15.03.1986 West Ham United home W1-0 5 55
31 22.03.1986 Coventry City home W3-0 5 58

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.

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.


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

Game Date Opposition Venue Result Pos Pts
22 31.12.1994 Queens Park Rangers home L1-3 13 28
23 02.01.1995 Tottenham Hotspur away L0-1 13 28
24 14.01.1995 Everton home D1-1 13 29
25 21.01.1995 Coventry City away W1-0 11 32
26 24.01.1995 Southampton home D1-1 10 33
27 04.02.1995 Sheffield Wednesday away L1-3 11 33
28 11.02.1995 Leicester City home D1-1 12 34

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 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

Game Date Opposition Venue Result Pos Pts
34 08.04.1996 Sheffield Wednesday away L0-1 5 57
35 15.04.1996 Tottenham Hotspur home D0-0 5 58
36 27.04.1996 Blackburn Rovers away D1-1 5 59
37 01.05.1996 Liverpool home D0-0 5 60
38 05.05.1996 Bolton Wanderers home W2-1 5 63

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 
Bertie Mee 1976 13th 17th
Terry Neill 1983 16th 6th
Don Howe 1986 5th 7th
George Graham 1995 12th 12th
Bruce Rioch 1996 5th 5th

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.


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27 comments to When managers leave Arsenal: what it was like as Mr Wenger’s 5 predecessors were shown the door?

  • Leon

    I never did hear why Rioch left. Was there some issue with the board, because performance wise we were doing OK?
    Wenger has the opportunity to defy precedence and step down with dignity now or in a couple of years time. I think he should take it.

  • porter

    He stays and some will be relieved others will walk away but he should let supporters know , so that they can assess one way or the other whether to invest yet again . All this uncertainty is doing neither the club , the supporters or the players any favours.

    Come clean tell everyone what is happening , all the smoke and mirrors is no good for anyone. Even if we don’t pick up any more points this season we won’t go down so lets take the punches , wipe our mouths , head off to whichever direction and move on.

  • Zedsaunt

    How can Mr Wenger step down with dignity? He has been called a ‘dictator’ – therefore he must stand up against his detractors, he has been called a ‘cancer.’

    There’s no dignity here.

  • Leon

    As far as I’m aware he’s only been called that on UA. So in the grand scheme of things that’s hardly relevant is it?

  • Wolfgang

    I think Wenger is the last of the Mohicans.Can you believe 21 years at a top club and the last 10 years unable to challenge or finish as champs.
    Not many top class managers can last 3 years let alone 5 years at a top team.
    The problem is the fm thinks he will get things right if he were given extra time.Most fans have lost faith in him being able to get the gunners challenging instead of fizzling out when the going gets tough.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Leon, I don’t know if you are on twitter or Facebook he has been called all that years ago already. And worse. By our own fans…

  • porter

    Sticks and stones I am afraid , not worth getting all twisted about a few insults . The bigger picture is the important bit. Staying or going ? Just let us all know so that we can plan.

  • Leon

    I didn’t know that, but what difference does it make to how he departs?
    My point was it’s better to resign than be sacked, but whatever, let the bleeding hearts have their say.

  • Zedsaunt

    In UA he’s been called a ‘cancer’ twice, more times a ‘dictator.’ What he has been called elsewhere neither you nor I can say. His future a matter of great discussion it becomes very relevant what he gets called.

  • Zedsaunt

    Leon posts

    ”but what difference does it make to how he departs?”

    You’re the one who wrote he should ‘step down with dignity now.’

  • Leon

    I don’t want to make a long debate out of this , but I thought it was quite obvious from my reply to Walter that what he was called made no difference to how he departed.
    And it doesn’t
    Leaving on his own terms is more dignified than getting sacked no matter what he’s called

  • colario

    I was at Terry’s first home game and there was excitement among the fans that Terry ‘had come home’ and all would be well.

    I wasn’t too sure as his managerial results until then were not that exciting. Like all Arsenal fans I wanted him to succeed.

    There were a number of problems that seem to dog Terry initially. It seems to me that the club was a lot calmer when Don Howe arrived.

    I thought Don’s leaving was to do with David Dein arranging a match against Luton without first reference to Don.

    Perhaps the reason you give here for is leaving is the more important one.

    Sad to see him go.

    I met Don Howe when our paths crossed. I was able to give him my personal thanks for all he did for the club.

    I wanted to ask him questions that a reporter might ask about the past.

    I wanted to say ‘If only you had stayed after the 71 double.’

    But I didn’t. In the context of our conversation it didn’t seem right to do this.

    He told me how he was with the England team on the night of our 1989 match against Loserpool. (Arsenal 2 loserpool nil). He said that all the England players wanted Arsenal to win.

    So did Don. Always.

  • porter

    I was told that Don Howe left because the news that we had approached Terry Venables had leaked out.. Might be another rumour but it came from a reliable source.

  • Iron

    Pointless looking at the past. Football has moved on, Arsenal have not. Things have got to change and scaremongering supporters into believing the world is going to end is just a bunch nonsense. Come on Arsenal, make the changes and move onward and upward.

  • Leon

    I think you’re right about TV. Howe did have some success later with Bobby Gould at Wimbledon, but never really made it as a manager. I was there when he broke his leg. You could actually hear the bone snap.

  • porter

    Perhaps it was the acoustics at Highbury , I was on the clock end when Ian Selley’s leg was snapped by Iwan Roberts . That was loud too.

  • Andy L

    My view is that Arsene Wenger’s departure will be governed by the pace of season ticket renewals, that is to say that the club are well aware of the take up rate for season tickets and if the indications are that supporters are not renewing in numbers I think he will go. The club cannot ignore the commercial aspects of the support for the club.

  • Atta

    Couldn’t read through the article frankly, so many unsubstantiated assumptions in the introduction alone. But i think this is the best of the lot “this is why some famous managers back away from any engagement with arsenal. They know what it means in terms of treatments from the media”
    Wow!!! Omniscient Tony, would you care to enlighten us who these managers are and other than clairvoyance, how u got this info

  • “Pointless looking at the past” is an interesting point of view. How else do we understand where we are?

  • Atta, I am sorry you could not read the article, but I know (because I have earned my living for much of my life as a writer, that while some find some things I write, to be of interest, many others don’t like my stuff. Fair enough. But what puzzles me is that you write in with a comment on an article that by your own admission you haven’t read all the way through.

  • Atta

    @Tony, do I have to Read through the article to find out how you became aware of the managers not wanting to come to arsenal because of the press? Ok, I’m sorry now I’ve read the article, can you point out the part where this evidence is?

  • Jimbo

    Wenger’s stats show that he’s still miles ahead of the rest in the way his team attacks and the style in which they play.I always look to
    the stats of the amount of through balls a team plays to show it’s attacking intent and the amount of time a team reverts to playing long balls.Arsenal have made 109 through balls this season with only Man City on 101 anywhere near,Spurs sit a sorry tenth behind the like of Stoke and Hull with 36.As far as having to use the long ball again Arsenal come out top with the least use with City again second,Spurs have reverted to long balls on more occasions than Watford,Stoke and Sunderland and sit 11th on the list..

  • There is no evidence presented as such evidence as I have comes from private conversations supplied on a non-attributable basis. But as I am sure you can see, that was not my point. My point is that you felt it suitable to comment on an article without reading it. I find that interesting.

  • porter

    Through balls , long balls are both legitimate and there is no problem with either. It’s horses for courses and it’s about juggling your style to meet requirements. I would be interested in where Chelsea sit in those listings because you state that Spurs are about halfway in both lists and that suggests that mixing things up may well be the way to go.

  • Polo

    @ Andy,

    ‘Arsene Wenger’s departure will be governed by the pace of season ticket renewals’ maybe but I suspect it is the propose structural change to Arsenal FC with the new Director of Football role. The Club and AW is probably negotiating on the terms for this change such as AW role and the controls he have for player recruitments. Once a compromise is attain, then an announcement probably be made hence why I think the chairman talked about a mutual agreement between the club and AW on extending his contract. No evidence just a suspicion.

  • Polo

    There are reports that Arsenal had signed Shalke’s left back Kolasinac, if this is true, then one of the major problem for our poor season had been dealt with.

    Since the chance of not making top four in very likely and the first teamers seem to be playing poorly, I would like to see AW start some of the kids in some of the remaining matches to see if they are ready to play in the first team next season. Maybe another Bellerin or Iwobi could be uncovered – Eddie Nketiah.

    For the next match either as starters or subs: Holding, Maitlan-Niles, Renne Adelaide, Eddie Nketiah, Alex Iwobi.

  • Sammy The Snake

    Living in the past, and using it for doom & gloom…. UA is (or should be) better than that.