I’ve done a review of 1926/7 as part of the series that looked at Chapman’s life and work at Arsenal year by year.
But here’s a chance to focus on one moment in that season, thanks to the publication of a newspaper report on the excellent web site “Arsenal on this day”.
Here’s a bit of context of the period.
1923/4: This was Knighton’s fifth year as manager and Arsenal ended the season 19th out of 22. The bottom two went down, and Arsenal missed relegation by one point.
1924/5: Knighton’s final year, and Arsenal slipped further, coming 20th – although not seriously in danger of going down by the end of the season due to the awful form of Preston and Nottingham Forest, and a minor upturn in Arsenal’s form in April. Knighton was sacked.
1925/6: Chapman’s first season as manager, and amazingly the club that had been in the bottom four for the last two years, into runners’ up.
1926/7: Arsenal slipped back to 11th, but reached their first ever FA Cup final, losing 0-1 to Cardiff. These days when people write about this match they suggest that Arsenal were the odds on favourite, but this was far from the case. Arsenal had never won a major trophy by this stage.
So we come to look at Arsenal 6 Burnley 2 on 26 February 1927.
Arsenal were 11th in the league at the kick off (exactly where they were at the end of the season), and were in a moderate run of form having won four, drawn one and lost two of the last seven. Arsenal had a real goalscorer in Jimmy Brain, who had been with the club since 1923 and who went on to score 125 goals in 204 league games. Indeed in this middle of the table season he notched up 31 goals in 37 league games!
But the defence was not right, and Arsenal had already let in four goals in three games thus far. Burnley meanwhile were third, and joint top scorers in the league at the start of this match, having scored 22 goals more than Arsenal in the 28 games thus far.
However it was Burnley’s home form that was keeping them going – 11 wins and 3 draws at home with no defeats. Away however they had already lost seven.
Arsenal had already won 8 games at home as opposed to 2 away. So they had a chance.
But it was worse than that for Burnley because up to mid February they were being tipped as being the first club since the 19th century to win the Double, but following a defeat in the Cup fifth round to Chelsea and in their last league match they had lost 4-1 away to Derby. The fact that back in October they had also lost 7-1 to Sunderland away showed that things were not as they might be.
As is the way of such games, it started out with Burnley dominant – the press report speaking of it looking like it was “merely a matter of time” before they took the lead.
But then, speaking of Arsenal, the report says everything changed. In what follows I have reprinted the press report word for word, but have added paragraph breaks. The 1920s style, continued from the 19th century, was for newspapers not to use paragraphs.
“With the forward line playing such splendid football, less responsibility was thrown on Buchan, and, instead of spending his time making opening for other people, he was able to show that mastery over dribbling which all know him to have, but which he keeps well subordinated to the severe design of constructive forward play.
His second goal will stay long in the memory of those who saw it. Receiing the ball a long way out, he made straight for goal, keeping the ball glued to his toes. The defence drew back and covered Somerville, and Hulme, racing up on the wing, was unmarked and in a perfect position for a pass.
Buchan, however, instead of giving it to him, swered inwards, went through the defence as though he were some intangible spirit, and pushed the ball quite slowly into the net out of Somerville’s reach.
Brain scored three goals and spent an altogether enjoyable afternoon, and both Hoar and Hulme had a whip hand of the men opposed to them. Of a spelndid half back line John was perhaps the outstanding figure and in the second half, when he played at left back, he was just as impressive. He is indeed a natural footballer who would probably be worth his place in a First League team in any of the eleven positions on the field except that of goalkeeper.”
Baker, Seddon John
Hulme Buchan Brain Blyth Hoar
So, Arsenal moved up to 10th and Burnley slipped to fourth. But then on 7 March 1927 Arsenal went away to West Ham and lost 0-7. Mind you they were probably distracted by the fact that two days earlier they had beaten Wolverhampton 2-1 and made it to their first cup semi final for 20 years.
The FA Cup of course was much more important in those days and Arsenal were truly distracted, for the 0-7 was the start of a six match run of defeats which included a 1-6 and and 1-5, to Newcastle and Sunderland respectfully.
The club did pick up after that and had five straight wins. Additionally in the last match of the season Arsenal beat Tottenham 4-0 away, Chapman’s first victory over Tottenham at his fourth attempt.