Arsenal in the 30s. December 1933: Chapman’s last month; Arsenal triumphant

By Tony Attwood

At the start of December 1933 – tragically the last full month of being active in football for Herbert Chapman – Arsenal came to the games with a record of five wins and a draw in the last six – the best form in the league.  They were also one point clear of Tottenham who having gone through an unbeaten run of eight games had just been beaten by the up and coming Derby County.   Derby’s victory over Tottenham on 25 November was their fourth successive win and they were starting to be noticed in the press.

Here is the table at the start of the month.

On 2 December 1933 the result was Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1 making it 8 wins and two draws in last 10.  Hulme and Dunne scored.  The team was now looking more settled, with just one change from the last game – Bowden dropping out to make way for Alex James.

Meanwhile Tottenham lost away to Man City and so slipped further behind while Huddersfield drew 3-3 away with Newcastle.  Derby made it five wins in a row by beating Wolverhampton 3-1.

Then on 4 December 1933 (as if there were not enough games to play in the month!) there was a second attempt by Arsenal to introduce numbered shirts in a friendly against F.C Vienna, a team made up of players from various Viennese clubs, also referred to as Vienna XI, which Arsenal won 4-2.  Jack came in and Dunne dropped out.  Bastin scored two, Jack and Hulme got the others. 

9 December however saw the wheels suddenly come off the rails for Arsenal with a 3-0 away defeat to 7th placed Sunderland.  It was the first time since Christmas Day 1931 that Arsenal had been beaten by three clear goals.  Coleman was back in at number 9 in place of Dunne who had played the last 10 league games in that position, but otherwise the team – and particularly the defence, was as per normal.

The explanation for the defeat however was simple.  Hulme and Coleman got injured during the game giving the team little chance to reform and mount anything other than a damage limitation exercise, after going in 0-2 down at half time.

Also on this day, Tottenham ended their run of defeats with a 3-2 win over Birmingham, Huddersfield beat Middlesbrough 2-1 and Derby made it six wins in a row with a 2-0 away win at Aston Villa.  Suddenly it seemed as if everyone was catching up.  The table now looked like this…

Interest in the ups and downs of the league table was intense as Christmas approached, and in particular in London as on 16 December Arsenal took on bottom of the table Chelsea at Highbury winning 2-1 to maintain their position at the top of the league.

Given the injuries, for this match Chapman needed to move the team around and he surprised everyone by moving Bastin, who had played outside left in virtually every game since December 1930, (apart from a handful when he had played inside left) to inside right where he had never played before.  Beasley came on for his first game of the season taking the number 11 shirt and keeping it until mid-February.

Roberts returned at centre half after a long lay off and Hulme and Coleman were replaced by Birkett and Bowden (who moved from inside right to centre forward – a position he had held for a few games earlier in the season).  It was a real all change situation.  Only six players from the Sunderland game played against Chelsea in the same position.  But it worked.  Beasley got both goals.

At the same time Tottenham lost away to Sheffield Wednesday 1-2, Huddersfield drew with Blackburn and Derby won their seventh successive game beating Sheffield Utd 5-1.   During this run of seven games they had risen from 10th to second in the league, scoring 19 while letting in five.

And then we had the normal mad Christmas period.  Virtually all the teams (including Arsenal and the other front runners) had three games to play in four days over Christmas and a match om 30 December which made it four games to play in eight days.  Everyone guessed this was going to be the time when the table would change.

Prior to the game on 23 December the table looked like this

Derby’s game in hand and near identical goal averages meant a win from that spare game would take Derby to the top.   But Arsenal, having played one of the relegation threatened clubs (Chelsea) now played the other (Sheffield United), while two of the top four (Tottenham and Huddersfield) faced each other home and away in the coming days.

On 23 December the results read…

  • Sheffield United 1 Arsenal 3.   Beasley (2) and Bowden got the Arsenal goals.
  • Sunderland 0 Derby County 0
  • Tottenham Hotspur 4 Blackburn 1
  • Huddersfield Town 0 Birmingham City 0

That was only Tottenham’s second win in six.   Derby’s run of consecutive wins at last was at an end.

Two days on, on Christmas Day, we had 

  • Leeds United 0 Arsenal 1.  Bastin scored his first goal since 4 November.
  • Tottenham Hotspur 1 Huddersfield Town 3
  • Derby County 4 Manchester City 1

Tottenham’s brief return to winning ways looked like a flash in a pan, but Derby’s goalless draw two days before seemed more like a mere hiccup – they were carrying on with the form of the previous winning sequence.

Boxing Day, as usual, had the return matches from Christmas Day

  • Arsenal 2 Leeds United 0.  Bowden and Dunne got the Arsenal goals
  • Huddersfield Town 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0
  • Manchester City 2 Derby County 0

Tottenham were now hardly to be considered challengers with just two wins in seven, and Derby’s defeat was very welcome news for the surrounding teams – they were not picking up where they had been before the draw with Sunderland.   After seven wins in a row they had now just won one in three.

30 December finally brought

  • Birmingham City 0 Arsenal 0
  • Derby County 2 Middlesbrough 0
  • Sunderland 1 Huddersfield Town 1
  • Tottenham Hotspur 4 Sheffield United 1.

Tottenham had won two games in five – both by 4-1.  Huddersfield finished the year undefeated in seven.

Remarkably, after all the chopping and changing during this run of four games, Arsenal kept almost the same team throughout.


Male Roberts Hapgood

Jones  John/Hill

Birkett Bowden Dunne Bastin Beasley

John played on the 23rd and 26th, Hill played on the 25th and 30th.

Here’s the regular summary of the month’s games.

Date Opponent Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
02.12.1933 Liverpool  9 home W2-1 1 25 38,362 40,750
04.12.1933 F.C Vienna away W4-2 35,000
09.12.1933 Sunderland  7 away L0-3 1 25 35,166 18,269
16.12.1933 Chelsea  22 home W2-1 1 27 43,897 40,750
23.12.1933 Sheffield United  21 away W3-1 1 29 31,453 15,901
25.12.1933 Leeds United  12 away W1-0 1 31 33,193 15,429
26.12.1933 Leeds United  14 home W2-0 1 33 22,817 40,750
30.12.1933 Birmingham City  16 away D0-0 1 34 34,771 22,197
  • Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game
  • Pos is Arsenal’s position after the game
  • AC is the average crowd for the home team through the season, providing a comparison between the crowd on that day (in the previous column) and the norm expected by the home side.

Tottenham were the big losers in the month slipping from second to fourth, Derby the big winners, travelling in the opposite direction.

Also Arsenal had won eight home and six away – no other team could match this.  Derby and Tottenham had both won 8 at home and four away, Huddersfield 8 home three away.  The counter attacking approach home and away was once more paying off in what must be counted just about the most exciting December ever in English football.

The current series being researched and published is Arsenal in the 1930s.

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