Historically Arsenal managers mostly face a 2nd season malaise. Emery must beware!

By Tony Attwood

I have seen it argued that managers often do better in their second season at a club than in their first, as by the second season they have got to understand the players in the squad and been able to bring in new players to suit their style of play.

Thus Mr Emery having achieved a cup final and 5th place in his first season at Arsenal should improve on this in his second season.

But my memory suggests that this is not so, and therefore to check this out I have gone right back to the start of football after the first world war and taken a look at Arsenal’s results in the first two years of each manager since then.

Our first manager after the first world war was Leslie Knighton.

The goal total in his first two seasons was very similar (three more scored, five more conceded in the second season).  There were exits in the first two rounds of the FA Cup each year, and the club came 10th in his first season 9th in his second.  So not much in it.

After Knighton was given the boot following two years of near relegation Herbert Chapman joined us in 1925 and at first all looked wonderful as Arsenal rose from relegation candidates (near certainties at one stage) to making their first ever serious challenge for the title in Chapman’s first season, eventually coming second.

But in season 2, the goal situation declined radically as Arsenal dropped from 2nd in Chapman’s first year to 11th in his second.  The defence got far worse – 23 more goals conceded and the attack declined by 10.  The FA Cup performance was similar – quarter final the first year, runners up the second.

The big problem was the decline of Jimmy Brain as a goalscorer, although seeing a man who got 34 goals in Chapman’s second season as a failure is somewhat harsh.  But the point was Brain got an amazing 43 goals in 1925/6.  The explanation was in a large degree the change in the offside rule which meant many more goals than normal were scored in 1925/6 as teams sought to find new ways to defend under the new rules.

The next permanent manager was George Allison.  He won the league in his first season (1934/5) but could only get sixth the following year – although Arsenal did with the FA cup that year.

His big problem was again a decline in goals – from 115 scored in his first season down to 78 in his second, and here again the problem was with the prime goalscorer.  Ted Drake got 44 in Allison’s first season, but “only” 27 in his second.

Allison was an Arsenal man through and through, and he had been associated with Arsenal since 1910, so not surprisingly when Allison retired after the second world war the club turned to another stalwart – Tom Whittaker

And amazingly once again we see success followed by decline, largely due to the drop in scoring rates of the lead scorer – in this case Ronnie Rooke.   In 1947/8 Rooke scored 33 to be top league scorer as Arsenal won the league.  The following season he wasn’t even Arsenal’s top scorer – that was Reg Lewis with just 18, as Arsenal sank from champions in Whittaker’s first season, to 5th.  The cup results were similar, but the goal difference declined by 19.

After so many second year failures one might have expected relief by this time but the next manager – Jack Crayston – suffered from the same malaise.  In his first season Arsenal were fifth and in his second season Arsenal were 12th – at which point he left the club.  As would be expected from such a drop, the goals scored were down while the defence leaked more.  Even the cup results declined as Arsenal dropped from quarter finalists to going out in the 5th round.

And yet again the top scorer suffered a set back.  Tapscott got 32 in Crayston’s first season.  Herd got 24 in his second.

Next up was yet another ex-Arsenal player – this time George Swindin, and he finally reversed the trend by doing better in his second year than in his first – but only to take the club up from 13th to 11th.  He also changed the fortunes of the top scorer as Herd only got 14 in Swindin’s first year in charge but got 30 goals in his second.

The trouble was, the nine extra goals Arsenal scored were largely countered by the five extra goals the club let in.  The FA Cup provided no relief – Arsenal went out in the third round each time.

And so we move on to Billy Wright, the man famed with giving Arsenal its lowest ever attendances at Highbury.  Under him Arsenal sank from 7th in his first year to 8th in his second.  Quite remarkably Wright found two top goal scorers however – Baker who got 31 in his first season and Strong who got the same number is Wright’s second campaign.  But overall the points gained dropped by one and the club went out of the cup in the 5th round on each occasion.

Now we come to Bertie Mee, who of course is remembered for the first double season.  But at first he was not a great success, except in as much he wasn’t Billy Wright.  In 1966/7, his first season Arsenal were 7th, the following season 9th.  The main problem was the club let in nine more in Mee’s second campaign.  So another decline in season two.

George Graham was the leading scorer in each of Mee’s first two seasons, but here he did make an improvement.   In 1966/7 Graham as top scorer got just 12.  In the second season he got 21, and Arsenal’s total number of league goals went up by nine.   In the FA Cup Arsenal went out in the 5th round each time, but in Mee’s second season the club did make the League Cup final, but lost to Leeds.

Next up was Terry Neill, not remembered as one of our better managers.  Arsenal were 8th in his first season and 5th in the second – so he got an improvement.  And we did reach the FA Cup final in Neill’s second season, but then lost to Ipswich.  So yes he did improve us in season two, but not enough to win anything.

Neill was of course supported by a prime goal scorer in Malcolm Macdonald who got 29 in his first season and 26 in his second.

Neill and Don Howe ran the club as joint managers in 1983/4, and the Howe took over the following season. The club were sixth in the joint season and seventh in the next.  In each case Woodcock was the lead goalscorer; in the first season he got 23 but in the second (while still leading scorer) it was just 13.

So we move on to George Graham, a manager still of beloved memory to many fans.  With him we came 4th in the first season and 6th in the second.  In the first season we won the league cup for the first time, and the second we were runners’ up.  In the first season Martin Hayes was our top scorer with 24, in the second it was Alan Smith with 16.  In each season we scored 58 goals.

Our next manager only lasted one season, so we can’t do a comparison, and this brings us to Mr Wenger who in his first season gave us 3rd place in the league with Ian Wright scoring 30 goals.  The following season we won the double, and Bergkamp got 22 goals.  Goals scored in total went up by six, goals conceded went up by one.  We were also semi-finalists in the league cup.

Thus we have our overall chart.   Managers who made an improvement in the second season are marked with an asterisk.

  • Knighton: 10th in his first season 9th in his second *
  • Chapman: 2nd in the first season 10th in his second
  • Allison: Champions in the first season, 6th in the second.
  • Whittaker: Won the league in his first season, but only fifth in season two.
  • Crayston: 5th in the first season, 12th in the second.
  • Swindin: 13th in the first season, 11th in the second. *
  • Wright: 7th in his first season, 8th in his second.
  • Mee: 7th in his first season, 9th in his second.
  • Neil: 8th in his first season, 5th in the second. *
  • Graham: 4th in the first season, 6th in the second.
  • Wenger: 3rd in the first season, the double in the second. ***

So, out of 11 managers since 1919, only four have actually improved at all in their second season, with three of them (marked *) improving by just one, two or three places.  The only manager who really made a difference in his second season was Mr Wenger.  True he only increased our position by three, but then he couldn’t go any further since he won the league.  He also threw in the FA Cup for good measure.

Thus I fear history is against Mr Emery.  He might just take us up one position in the League, which will of course give us the much demanded Champions League (fourth is not a trophy) position.  But Arsenal’s history, sad to say, is against him.

Much will depend on what three other clubs do.  Here’s the final league table…

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 38 32 2 4 95 23 72 98
2 Liverpool 38 30 7 1 89 22 67 97
3 Chelsea 38 21 9 8 63 39 24 72
4 Tottenham Hotspur 38 23 2 13 67 39 28 71
5 Arsenal 38 21 7 10 73 51 22 70
6 Manchester United 38 19 9 10 65 54 11 66

A strong recovery by Manchester Utd, could cause us problems.  But if Tottenham face further injuries and don’t straighten their squad, or if Chelsea’s owner refuses to invest much more (or if their transfer ban really causes them problems) we could gain those extra couple of points to reach the Champions League.

But there is one other issue.  You will have noticed that not only did Arsenal slip down the league in most managers’ season two, the leading goal scorer also scored fewer goals.  That too could be a worry.

It all depends if second season malaise is real, or just a quirk of the figures.


6 Replies to “Historically Arsenal managers mostly face a 2nd season malaise. Emery must beware!”

  1. That league table makes me wish it was 2pts for a win probably a few Liverpool supporters might agree .

  2. Tony,
    Do your stats reveal the pros and cons of Arsenal FC appointing past players/employees as Managers?

  3. I don’t think Arsenal manager 2nd season malaise is just a quirk of the figures. But a realism that could confront Emery in his 2nd season at Arsenal as the Gunners boss. Which he must deal with it to overcome the malaise or he could leave the club on his own and not wait to be sacked so that he can get paid severance money by the club if he was to be sacked.

    Anyway, would us Gooners have much resentments against Emery to the point of demanding he should leave the club or be sacked if he’s not given what he needs or demanded for to enabled him steer Arsenal to win titles next season?

    At any rate, let’s see what he’ll come up with in the transfer market for Arsenal during this current summer window to see if he’ll take the gamble to sell Aubameyang to one of the 2 Chinese Super League club sides for at least £75m plus add ons this summer that reportedly bidded for him since it has been alluded to on this site that Auba’ who scored 22 PL goals for Arsenal last season may fail to reach half of this mark in the PL for the club next season. But would Emery and the club hierarchy bosses heed to the UA warning that Auba’ could be under the malaise spell curse to not score up to even 11 PL goals for Arsenal next season to therefore cash-on on him this summer and sell him for a huge amount of money? The gods have spoken!

  4. Once again a great review Tony. Here is my take on the question;

    1) Emery has been a consistent manager in almost every league he’s taken the reins for a club,
    2) He is likely refreshing his team for the 2019-2020 season and this will probably aid the Arsenal a lot,
    3) Auba and Lacazette will likely have Iwobi and Maitland-Niles, as well as a few more youth and academy players backing them up,
    4) Bellerin and Holding will be back from injury and will add defensive nous to our side,
    5) The coaching and assistant changes will provide Emery with better support in his challenge to improve our away form,
    6) Finally, the Arsenal will not have the exhausting Champion’s league to worry about but rather the Europa games which are nowhere near the challenge, making their season less demanding and stressful.

  5. The past players who played for Arsenal became managers of the club have been Tom Whittaker, Jack Crayston, George Swindin, Terry Neill, Don Howe, George Graham.
    Whittaker won the league twice and the Cup once, Neill won the Cup once, George Graham won the League twice, the League Cup twice, the FA Cup and the Cup Winners Cup.
    Crayston, Swindin and Howe won nothing, and are I think it is fair to say, considered by most students of Arsena’s past to have been poor managers.
    Whittaker was a very modest player for the club, famous for his work as a physio while Neill and Howe are generally considered to have been among our star players.
    So I think we can say it can work – but then also remember that Chapman was a very minor footballer, as was Wenger as was Whittaker. Allison wasn’t a footballer at all. Bertie Mee played 13 games for Mansfield.

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