By Bulldog Drummond
Of course there is still one to go but so far it is hard to imagine that Arsenal could have done anything more in the pre-season…
- Nuremberg 3 Arsenal 5
- Arsenal 2 Everton 0
- Orlando City 1 Arsenal 3
- Arsenal 4 Chelsea 0
Not just four wins out of four but 14 goals scored and four conceded. Which raises the question, have we had particularly good pre-seasons in the past?
Of course, that is a misleading question since no one says you have to play this many games, nor where they have to be, nor indeed that a club has to play any pre-season games at all. Indeed until the 1950s few clubs played any pre-season matches, beyond a couple of “first team v reserves” games, generally behind closed doors. If the clubs did overseas tours, it would be at the end of the previous season, not the start of this. The thinking seemed to be that the coaches didn’t want their teams to tire too easily in the new season.
The modern approach to pre-seasons started in the 1950s: on 4 August 1956 Arsenal played Stuttgart away, putting out the entire first team in what appears to have been our first pre-season game in the modern style. It ended 1-1, and was the only pre-season game recorded for that summer, although I believe Arsenal did play Arsenal Reserves at Highbury on 11 August in private, with the season starting the following weekend. So that game against Stuttgart can make a fair claim to being the start of Arsenal’s pre-season in the modern style.
In 1958 the modern approach finally emerged with games against Schalke, Enschede and Young Fellows Zurich (the latter wonderfully named team sadly no longer with us).
The notion of starting the season with a series of friendlies then took off and has continued ever since.
When Woolwich Arsenal joined the league in 1893 the regulation was that league football started on 1 September, unless that day was a Sunday, in which case the league started on 2 September. It was just one of those arbitrary rules that seemed to be adopted by the league in the early days – undoubtedly as a sop to cricket, whose season had been established long before the Football League came along.
In 1896 the rule was changed so that the first Football League matches would be played on the first Saturday in September. Woolwich Arsenal, noting the new arrangements that year played their first ever pre-season friendly as a league club, on 1 September 1896, beating Rossendale 4-0.
In the early days, friendlies were dotted around within the season, which is not too surprising, because most of the clubs Arsenal had played prior to joining their joining the Football League in 1893 were still without a league to play in, and thus just playing friendlies. And as the earlier AGMs of the London FA and Kent FA had shown, when objection was raised to Arsenal’s move to professionalism, they were very much wanting to continue playing a couple of games a season against the most famous club in the south of England – irrespective of whether they were a professional team or no.
In 1903 Woolwich Arsenal played its first end-of-season friendly series, expanding this in 1907 to its first overseas tour incorporating Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
But let’s now return to the pre-season games and my search for another unbeaten pre-season, and we find the first unbeaten pre-season was in 2005. It went like this…
- 16 July 2005: Barnet 1 Arsenal 4 (Hleb, Henry, Bergkamp, Hoyte)
- 20 July 2005: SC Weiz 0 Arsenal 5 (Flamini, Henry, Bentley, Bergkamp)
- 24 July 2005: SC Ritzing 2 Arsenal 5 (Bergkamp, Henry, Reyes, Hlev, Larsson
- 27 July 2005: FC Utrecht 0 Arsenal 3 (Pires, Reyes, Henry)
- 29 July 2005: Ajax 0 Arsenal 1 (Lupoli)
- 31 July 2005: Porto 1 Arsenal 2 (Ljungberg 2)
Unfortunately, this was followed by three defeats (one in the Community Shield and two in the league) and two league victories. So not a good omen. Yet by 29 November Arsenal had climbed up to third. By the end of the season, Arsenal were fourth.
And, just to complete the record, here are the results from the second unbeaten pre-season, this ins 2015
- 15 July 2015: Singapore XI 0 Arsenal 4 (Akpom 3, Wilshere)
- 18 July 2015: Everton 1 Arsenal 3 (Walcott, Cazorla, Ozil)
- 25 July 2015: Arsenal 6 Lyon 0 (Giroud, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla)
- 26 July 2015: Arsenal 1 Wolfsburg 0 (Walcott)
- 2 August 2015: Arsenal 1 Chelsea 0 (Oxlade-Chamberlain) (Community Shield)
This time Arsenal lost the opening game of the season 0-2 at home to West Ham but then things picked up. By the end of the season, Arsenal were second.
Of course, pre-seasons don’t always tell us much about the club and what it is going to achieve in the following nine or ten months, but a winning streak always helps the confidence both on the pitch and for the supporters, which makes me feel pre-season score lines are not as irrelevant as commentators tell us when Arsenal are winning.
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- Arsenal v Wolverhampton Wanderers: where will each team finish?
- Arsenal v Lens: what we found, what we felt, what they did
- Arsenal v Lens: the team, the home/away form and the strange coincidences
- Arsenal v Lens: they had a poor start but are now flying