History shows Arsenal are on course for a top four finish

By Tony Attwood

If you have been with us for a while you will maybe remember that during the summer we ran a series celebrating Arsenal’s 100 years in the top division of English football – something no other club has come anywhere close to achieving.

Obviously in doing this I recognised that many anti-Arsenal folk love to spread rumours as to how Arsenal got into the first division, so we published a whole series of articles which look in depth at why there was an election to have two more clubs in the first division in 1919, the match fixing that went on prior to this election, the way the clubs involved were never punished, and why other clubs wanted to vote Arsenal into the top league.

You can find the 100 Years series indexed here.

Now as we are in a period without any meaningful club football going on, I thought it might be interesting to compare our start this season with a few other seasons from across the hundred years in the top division.  I also wanted to see how we were doing after four games in the six most recent seasons in which we have won the league, and compare it with now.

And in doing this a few interesting snippets have turned up as I looked at the early days.

For example in 1923/4, for the first time in the 100 years run, Arsenal lost all four of the opening league games, scoring one and conceding 10.  As a result after four games we were bottom of the league.  By the end of the season we were 19th – just missing out on relegation.

In 1924/5 however we won the first three games without conceding a goal, and drew the fourth 2-2 away to Newcastle.   That placed us second in the league just behind Huddersfield.   But again, that season we only just escaped relegation, this time ending up 20th out of 22.

The next season, 1925/6 was Herbert Chapman’s first season.  We won two, drew one and lost one, leaving us sixth after four games (Tottenham were top, with a 100% record.)   Tottenham however ended up 15th – we came second.

What these snippets show is that the opening four games can be unreliable as guides to what happens by the end of the season.  Indeed so can the very first match of a season, as in 1927 when Arsenal lost the first match of the season 1-5 to, of all teams, the currently non-extant Bury.  We then won the next three games scoring 12 conceding three.  Chapman made just two changes after the first match, but they certainly did the trick.

This pattern of the opening matches not being typical of what was to follow has continued year on year.  In the opening of the 1930/1 season we won all four matches – and this time that was a predictor – we won the league with a record number of points (having come 14th the season before).

In 1931/2, as champions, we didn’t win a single one of our opening four games, and were 13th after those four matches, but finished second.

So it continues through Arsenal’s 100 years in the first division.  A brilliant start can result in winning the league, or a decline down the league table to a poor finish.  And the poor start does not mean things will stay that bad – although one can’t bank on that.

There are several points to be made from this.  The most obvious is that to win the league clubs generally do go on a very good run, winning match after match at some stage in the season.  But that good run can come at any stage of the campaign.

And the second point of course this is not just to do with Arsenal.  Other clubs also have their up and down campaigns with successful and unsuccessful runs occurring at all sorts of different times.

Arsenal opened 1947/8 with four straight wins, and the unbeaten run continued until a 0-1 defeat to Derby in game 18, and we won the league handsomely that season.  After four games in 1952 we were sixth, with two wins, a defeat and a draw.  We went on to win the league.  Turning this the other way around, in 1957 we won three and drew one in the first four matches to leave us second.  We finished 12th.

This seems to show there is nothing to be gained by looking at the opening matches of a season – which would make this article pointless.  However something different emerges when we look at more recent times.    In the table below I look at where Arsenal stood after four games in our championship winning seasons from the first double season onwards.

Season W D L Pos
1970/71 2 2 0 3rd
1988/89 2 1 1 5th
1990/91 2 2 0 5th
1997/98 2 2 0 3rd
2001/02 2 1 1 4th
2003/04 4 0 0 1st
2019/20 2 1 1 5th

So, with one notable exception Arsenal have not started out with a perfect set of results in the first four games, when going on to win the league.

Of course 2003/4 was an exception in every way, and clearly there is no point in comparing the current team with a unique set of players obtaining a result that is unique in English football in the last 100 years.

But this season, thus far we are running in a similar position to that of 1988/9 and 2001/2 – both seasons in which we won the league.

This doesn’t mean that I am saying that we are going to win the league – of course not.  But rather than any sort of complaining about how the club is doing at the moment is surely misplaced.  Openings of the season don’t tell us much, but if we want to take a lesson it can be that in two of our last five title winning seasons we were in the same position as now.

I do take heart from this, and I do believe we are making progress that will see us gain one of the “not a trophy” places by the end of the campaign.



2 Replies to “History shows Arsenal are on course for a top four finish”

  1. You can give a leg and a foot………….I’ll stick to supporting the Arsenal regardless of trophies, placing and other desirable but not necessarily essential achievements.

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