By Tony Attwood, AISA Arsenal History Society
This article started out as a search for another season in which Arsenal won every pre-season game. It has ended up covering the history of pre-season matches – but yes, there has been one pre-season previously in which every game was won.
Of course, no one regulates pre-seasons, no one says you have to play this many games, nor indeed that a club has to play any pre-season games at all. And indeed until the 1950s few clubs played pre-season matches, for the most part restricting themselves to a couple of “first team v reserves” games, generally behind closed doors.
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 season, although I believe Arsenal did play Arsenal Reserves at Highbury on 11 August in private, with the season starting the following weekend. That game against Stuttgart can make a fair claim to being the start of Arsenal’s pre-season in the modern style.
In 1957 there was again just the one match away to Stockholm, but in 1958 the modern approach finally emerged with games against Schalke, Enschede and Young Fellows Zurich (the latter being a 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 to 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, beat 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.
End of season games were stopped in 1913 with the club more engaged in getting Highbury ready than in playing friendlies, but they recommenced in 1921, and incorporated tours of Sweden in 1922 and Austria in 1925. Such end of season affairs continued until the early 1970s.
But let’s now return to the pre-season games and my search for an unbeaten pre-season.
Excluding the early years of pre-season matches in which there was just one game, and of course excluding also the Arsenal v Arsenal Reserves games of earlier eras, many of which were not open to the public, and not formally recorded in terms of teams and scores, the only unbeaten pre-season run I can find, before 2015 was ten years ago. 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)
And, just to complete the record, here are the results from the second unbeaten pre-season, just concluded:
- 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)
It also appears that this is the first pre-season in which the club has played more than two games and in which it has only let in one goal – although I’d like to go through the records once again just to be sure on that one!
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 that having achieved it for just the second time, it is worth noting!
The index to our full review of all the pre-seasons from 1988 to 2014 is on the site’s home page. The series will continue with the aim of looking at all the matches since that first pre-season game in 1956.