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June 2021

Après moi, le déluge: what happens after Arsenal change managers

By Tony Attwood

I am not suggesting, through that title, that “after me comes the flood” is a perfect way of forecasting what happens after a manager leaves a league club, but rather I’d like to suggest that changing managers at Arsenal does not result in an immediate change at the club.

In a previous article I looked at what happened when a manager was sacked or resigned.  Here I look at what happens next.

Of course telling the future is not much of a science (remembering my favourite adage that economic forecasting only exists to give fortune tellers a good name) and ultimately of course, things do tend to get sorted.  But it can take time.

Howard Wilkinson might have been excused for having thought, as he left Leeds in 1996, that Leeds had a permanent place in the elite.  The results within the club thereafter didn’t look too bad at first but the turmoil and of the constant revolution approach that they used turned the club that won the league twice in three seasons into a financial basket case at the start of the new century and ultimately delivered five years in the third tier of English football. This season will be the first in six where they have finished above 13th in the championship.  Be careful what you wish for was never more true than there.

And this is a story that is repeated so often in football that I thought that having written my little piece about how the Arsenal managers from Mee to Rioch left the club I would do another about what happened in the aftermath.


Betie Mee played out the season after announcing his resignation in March 1976, and the team did rather poorly in the remaining games losing five, drawing one and winning one – a contrast to four wins and two draws in the six games before his announcement that he was going.  Arsenal finished 17th.

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 following season under Tottenham’s ex manager Terry Neill started badly with a home defeat to Bristol City – it was City’s first ever game in the first division.   After 12 games Arsenal were 13th, but ended the season 8th.  Better than the two previous seasons when Mee took the club to 16th and 17th, but not quite what us long suffering supporters wanted.

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Neill was sacked by Arsenal on 16 December 1983 after a bad run of results and Arsenal in 16th.

As with the league table when Mee left, on the day Neill went it looked pretty awful with five defeats and one win in the last six.    Arsenal then won three and drew four in the next seven – an improvement, but still not really the form we wanted to see.

When he left the club were in fifth position in the first division with two or three games in hand over the top three.


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 took over for the 1986/7 season and lasted until 21 February 1995 when he was relieved of his duties. His start at Highbury was not spectacular – Arsenal won just two of the first eight league games, scoring just five goals in those games.  However a very positive run (in terms of results if not goals) then took Arsenal to the top of the table, but a 10 match run without a win in the winter, took Arsenal back down and we finished fourth, ending with a home defeat to Norwich.


On 21 February 1995 George Graham was “relieved of his duties” and Rioch brought in for one season – 1996/7.

Five wins and three draws in the opening games took Arsenal to fourth in the league and by December Arsenal had made it up to 3rd.  But four defeats and just two wins over the Christmas and New Year period pushed Arsenal down to 8th.

The season ended with three draws and Arsenal needing to beat Bolton on the last match of the season to qualify for Europe.  Arsenal won 2-1 and secured 5th.

To see exactly what happens when an Arsenal manager leaves, here are two concluding tables.  The first compares the final season of the old manager (with both the position of the club when the manager’s departure was announced and the position at the end of the season), and the position at the end of the next season.

Manager Year Pos at announcement Pos at end of season  Slippage Next season Change
Bertie Mee 1976 13th 17th -4 8th +9
Terry Neill 1983 16th 6th +10 7th -1
Don Howe 1986 5th 7th -2 4th +3
George Graham 1995 12th 12th 0 5th +7
Bruce Rioch 1996 5th 5th 0 3rd +2

Slippage shows the difference between the position at the announcement of departure and the final position.  The big recovery came after the removal of Terry Neill.  The two biggest recoveries overall came after the departures of Mee and Graham, both of whom were seriously under performing in the league at the end.

So yes, the change of manager can work, as can sacking a manager before the end of the season – but it is not guaranteed.  The big jumps have come from the two times when a manager was removed with the club in the lower part of the table.

Here are the results for the managers showing their first season in each case

Season Manager P W D L F A Pts Pos Top scorer Goals
1976–77 Terry Neill 42 16 11 15 64 59 43 8th Malcolm Macdonald 29
1984–85 Don Howe 42 19 9 14 61 49 66 7th Tony Woodcock 13
1986–87 George Graham 42 20 10 12 58 35 70 4th Martin Hayes 24
1995–96 Bruce Rioch 38 17 12 9 49 32 63 5th Ian Wright 22
1996–97 Arsene Wenger 38 19 11 8 62 32 68 3rd Ian Wright 30

The key point still seems to be that a change of managers can work, but it is not guaranteed – only two of those five managers went on to win the League.   None of our last five managers (stretching back 40 years of Arsenal’s history) has actually won the league in his first season.  The best result came from … Arsene Wenger and he is not the model that most people who want managerial change now, are hoping to use.

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11 comments to Après moi, le déluge: what happens after Arsenal change managers

  • colario

    This surely is a re run of a piece that was here yesterday and is not here now.

    The paragraph beginning:

    ‘TERRY NEILL TO DON HOWE’. I am afraid I can’t follow it. Do I need help or does the paragraph need help?

  • para

    If you come to a fork in the road you have to take it, or turn around.

  • porter

    The past is the past .We should not be scared to go forward.Most teams go backwards a little after a brief surge. It takes time for new ideas to be accepted but once they are a good coach should take their team forward again.

  • Alex

    I would take Moyes.One concern only…

    will he able to attract international muslim players ….hmmmm i doubt it .

  • Alex

    I mean that it is we are getting from Le Prof this days….lol

  • Menace

    OT but I would appreciate a response. I posted this before but I think it is important for us to understand.

    Walter – in the Referee program with Neville & Carragher, the referees said that they prepare for the game with information on the teams, players & their shortcomings. Isn’t that a basis of prejudice for any judge? If that were the case in Law, every case would be thrown out of court.

    The officials are meant to judge without any prejudice other than the Laws of the Game. How can their preparation allow prejudicial information of players? I will accept information of the pitch & shortcomings like pits or moats or even ambulance access, but not of players. The PGMOL officials are programmed by the bias & result in the most corrupt judgements in sport.

  • Fishpie

    Tony, as always your articles are based on facts, research, data and verifiable information. But, just judging a change of management by the immediate past of the outgoing manager and the immediate results of the incoming manager is no way to judge the success or otherwise of a new manager. Well ok it is if your team needs to get out of a relegation dog fight quickly. Or if you are hoping a new manager can quickly salvage a season going off the rails. But each of the managers including and post Bertie Mee had to have time to work through a number of seasons to compete for and ultimately win trophies. It took time. It’s true Arsene was the quickest to find success as a new Manager and it’s also true his achievements subsequently were the greatest. But each of our “new” managers did, in their own way, in time, achieve a level of trophy success that we were very happy about at the time, for a while. (i.e. getting to 3 consecutive FA cup Finals under Neill was a very creditable achievement when of course the FA Cup was still highly regarded). The reason why fans are not happy to see Mr Wenger given more time to build a successful team is a) because he has had 10 years of trying already and despite the greater consistency of his top 4 finishes has not, in all that time, with money or without, created a team which has shown any real ability to win a top trophy b) his FA Cup successes in recent seasons while welcome, enjoyable and absolutely to his credit, were not really what he and the Club set out to achieve and c) the context of Arsenal’s move to the more expensive seats of the Emirates was all about the club, in time, moving up to another level, which, as yet has not been achieved and d) and this is the crucial bit, nothing in the last 4 years, not a thing, even with Ozil and Sanchex, even with record spending by the club, suggests Mr Wenger is capable of taking Arsenal to the next level. The promise some of the team’s performances suggest are constantly counterbalanced by the team caving in or giving up. So yes replacing Mr Wenger with a new man will almost certainly see an initial period of continued underachievement and yes ultimately it may not be successful at all. But the current evidence of Mr Wengers end of season achievements over 10 years, not just a few months pre or post a new man starting, in todays football environment clearly points to more of the same. Which amounts is settling for less than we aspire to. I’d rather try for something more and fail.

  • omgarsenal

    Menace….believing anything that comes out of the mouth of Neville & Carragher is debatable. However, officials are never given player information or even encouraged to review player performances, stats, cards or discipline records specifically because that Is prejudicial. We are human so of course we discuss repeat offenders and other bad boys/girls BUT once on the field we tend to forget what was said and just officiate firmly but fairly. I do know of some referees or assistants having vendettas against some players who were extremely abusive or disrespectful, and of course we do eventually get even if we hear a player complaining too much. We just apply the laws to the letter in their case and send the message that a calmer attitude is always better.

  • Jojo

    @ Tony

    “but rather I’d like to suggest that changing managers at Arsenal does not result in an immediate change at the club.”

    I don’t think you need to suggest that, goners who want change don’t make the argument that things will immediately get better upon changing manager.

    “The key point still seems to be that a change of manager can work, but it is not guaranteed”

    Gooners wanting change don’t make this argument either about anything being guaranteed after changing manager.

    Why these straw man arguments and caricature of those with a different viewpoint?

    Ah..never mind….

  • Brickfields Gunners

    From which country will our next manager emerge from ? Am sure that the local media will feign surprise and indignation that an Englishman was not chose for the job.
    And the jokes will begin….

    Can it get geographically punnier than this?

    Timmy : I’m Hungary,.
    Mum : Why don’t you Czech the fridge.
    Timmy : Ok, I’m Russian to the kitchen.
    Mum : Hmm…maybe you’ll find some Turkey.
    Timmy : Yeah, but its all covered in Greece. Yuck !
    Mum : There is Norway you can eat that.
    Timmy : I know, I guess I’ll just have a can of Chile.
    Mum : Denmark your name on the can.
    Timmy : Kenya do it for me?
    Mum : Ok , I’m Ghana do it.
    Timmy : Thanks, I’m so tired as Iran for an hour today.
    Mum : It Tokyo long enough !
    Timmy : Yeah, Israelly hard sometimes !

    Goan , have a laugh !

  • Menace

    omgarsenal – I saw this program on Sky & the PGMOL referees clearly stated that they were given playere information prior to games. It was not Jamie or Gary but FIFA badged PGMOL officials describing their pre match preparation.

    It is a sad indictment of the corrupt practice shown to all without any shame.