Wenger, Chapman, Graham – a comparison
By Tony Attwood
I was intending to stop this series on Wenger after covering the three basics: Philosophy, Practice and the Total Revolution.
But a reader wrote in asking me what would constitute failure in terms of the Wenger revolution, and I thought it such a good question I decided to bore everyone stupid with some more of this series.
I was immediately struck by the problem of defining success. I mean, winning the League would be success, and Barcelona won their League last season so that must be success. And yet within weeks they were the laughing stock of football when they failed to pay their players. So, was that season really a success? If yes, how much of a financial crisis must they have to turn the league victory into a failure? If the answer is, it doesn’t matter, winning the league is always a success, then, at that point I part company. There must be a moment when the end does not justify the means – be it in financial cost, the playing style (would it be acceptable if Arsenal became like Leeds in the 80s?), success achieved through corruption (in the style of Italian football), illegal activity (would it be a success if a club based its transfer dealings on money laundering, and then won the league) and so on.
There is also the issue of what the rest of the football world is doing. Comparing Wenger with Chapman as I do below is in many ways a silly thing to do, because Chapman did not have to face a sudden revolution in football. Clubs like Everton, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland were big at the time of Chapman, but none were dominant, and none suddenly changed their funding method or made any other spectacular change as Chelsea and Man City have done in our era.
But there is also comparative success – success now compared with the position of the club in the past. For example, Torquay United have got to Wembley a couple of times in the FA Trophy but no more – so reaching the FA Cup final would be a staggering achievement. It depends on what position you start from.
These then strike me as the big issues:
- the price you have to pay for success,
- the competition you face and the level of change
- and the comparative history of the club taking in its previous achievements.
I think that to ignore such factors is to ignore reality. Likewise if you deal with one, you have to deal with all three
I want to deal with the comparative history in this piece, and then in another article I will come back to the price one has to pay for success, and the impact of the change in funding in recent years, and then try and draw it all together. I’m sure that this won’t in any way overcome the simpletons – those who think that complex issues can be reduced to single sentences. People who seriously believe that the ability of Wenger can be measured by weather he buys a goalkeeper, and weather he wins a trophy this year. But I don’t see the world as a simple place.
So, to try and get an initial perspective into Wenger’s achievements I decided to take a little peek at our history – and in the course of what follows I want to give several examples. But I must add a word of warning. Gathering this data is not too hard, but typing it up of an evening can lead to slips as the reference books I use tend to have small print in part. If I have got a fact wrong here, please do tell me. (Oh, and for the guy who always writes in and says, “if you are going to comment at least get the facts right”, yeah, well, you know…)
The obvious starter is Herbert Chapman. Here’s his record…
- 1925/6 Division One: 2nd, FA Cup 6th round
- 1926/7 Division One: 11th, FA Cup final
- 1927/8 Division One: 10th, FA Cup semi-final
- 1928/9 Division One: 9th, FA Cup 6th round
- 1929/30 Division One: 14th, FA Cup winners
- 1930/1 Division One: 1st, FA Cup 4th round
- 1931/2 Division One: 2nd, FA Cup final
- 1932/3 Division One: 1st, FA Cup 3rd round
- 1933/4 Division One: 1st, FA Cup 6th round
3 league championships, 1 FA Cup in nine seasons
Herbert Chapman, as we all know, died during the 33/34 season and the ex-player Joe Shaw took over. There’s a link to Joe, giving details of his long career at the club on the Arsenal History site – follow the link.
So we have got nine seasons if we include the final season in which Chapman tragically passed away, and in terms of trophies we got one FA Cup and three leagues.
Financially it is harder to say. We were owned by Norris, and it appears from such research as can be done that he had used up a lot of his fortune in supporting the club by the time he left in 1930. Certainly by the early 1930s we were known as the “Bank of England” club.
I thought we might next have a look at the rest of the 30s – our Golden Era – and on to the first post war year. The manager was George Allison who you will know (if you have read Making the Arsenal) became programme editor in 1910 – he carried on for the first year after the war.
- 1934/5 Division One: 1st, FA Cup 6th round
- 1935/6 Division One: 6th, FA Cup won
- 1936/7 Division One: 3rd, FA Cup 6th round
- 1937/8 Division One: 1st, FA Cup 5th round
- 1938/9 Division One: 5th , FA Cup 3rd round
- 1946/7 Division One: 13th, FA Cup 3rd round
2 league championships, 1 FA Cup in five seasons
Here’s a final era to compare with the present day: George Graham
- 1986/7 Division One: 4th, FA Cup 6th round, League Cup Winners
- 1987/8 Division One: 6th , FA Cup 6th round, League Cup final
- 1988/9 Division One: 1st, FA Cup 3rd round, League Cup 3rd round
- 1989/90 Division One: 4th , FA Cup 4th round, League Cup 4th round
- 1990/1 Division One: 1st, FA Cup semi final, League Cup 4th round
- 1991/2 Division One : 4th, FA Cup 3rd round, League Cup 3rd round, Euro 2nd round
- 1992/3 EPL: 10th, FA Cup won, League Cup won.
- 1993/4 EPL: 4th, FA Cup 4th round, League Cup 4th round, CWC won
- 1994/5 EPL: 12th, FA Cup 3rd round, League Cup, 5th round, CWC final
2 league championships, 1 FA Cup, 1 League Cup, 1 CWC in nine seasons
It is interesting how well Graham holds up against Chapman and Allison. Graham and Chapman managed for the same number of years and although Chapman got more league titles (if we give him the final one in the year he died) Graham gave us three cups (although of course Chapman had just one cup to have a bash at).
These then are the highlights of Arsenal – the greatest moments before Wenger came along. So here we go into Wengerland
- 1996/7 EPL: 3rd, FA Cup 4th round, League Cup, 4th round, UEFA Cup 1st round
- 1997/8 EPL: 1st, FA Cup winners, League Cup semi-final, UEFA Cup 1st round
- 1998/9 EPL: 2nd, FA Cup semi-final, League Cup 4th round, Champs League: group round
- 1999/2000 EPL: 2nd, FA Cup 4th round, League Cup 4th round, Champs League: group round
- 2000/1 EPL: 2nd, FA Cup final, League Cup 3rd round, Champs League: QF
- 2001/2 EPL: 1st, FA Cup winners, League Cup 5th round, Champs League: 2nd group phase
- 2002/3 EPL: 2nd, FA Cup winners, League Cup 3rd round, Champs League: 2nd group phase
- 2003/4 EPL: 1st, FA Cup semi-final, League Cup semi-final, Champs League: QF
- 2004/5 EPL: 2nd, FA Cup winners, League Cup 5th round, Champs League: last 16
- 2005/6 EPL: 3rd, FA Cup 4th round, League Cup semi-final, Champs League: final
- 2006/7 EPL: 4th, FA Cup 5th round, League Cup final, Champs League: last 16
- 2007/8 EPL: 3rd, FA Cup 5th round, League Cup semi-final, Champs League: QF
- 2008/9 EPL: 4th, FA Cup final, League Cup 5th round, Champs League: semi-final
- 2009/10 EPL: 3rd, FA Cup 4th round, League Cup 5th round, Champs League QF
3 league championships, 4 FA Cup, in 14 seasons
Comparing Chapman with Wenger we have 3 leagues and 1 cup in nine seasons for Chapman compared with 3 leagues and 4 cups in 14 for Wenger.
The other comparison could be with the final positions achieved in the league – a measure certainly of consistency. Chapman had four seasons outside the top four, Graham had three. Outside the top two Chapman had four, Graham had seven, Wenger six.
We can go on playing figures for ever, and of course the people who like simplicity will probably go for success at any price, and with no comparison with our past, no questions about what other clubs are doing financially, and no issues about playing style. But I would argue that through many measures (number of trophies, years in the top four) this is our best era. But of course you can decide.