By Tony Attwood
This article revised 28 March 2017
In the last episode of this series I suggested that overall we can see that Chapman had got his ideal team more or less ready by the time of the Cup Final, and eight of those finalists played in the opening of the glorious 1930/1 season, against Blackpool.
But I think we can take this analysis a stage further in order to see exactly how Chapman planned his drive to Arsenal’s first ever championship.
Chapman used 24 players in 1929/30, the season Arsenal finished 14th in the league and 12 of those players played 20 games or more. Here I’ll look at those 12 players and what happened to them in 1930/1, as well as looking at the opening game of the season.
This table shows the remarkable continuity of the 1930/1 season, in that Arsenal employed the same key players as the season before (with the exception of Lewis, mentioned in the last article). No new player came in to play 20+ games, and none of the previous season’s 20+ game heroes dropped out.
So it was the same core team. But what happened was that three players shot up in their goal scoring ability:
For one player to be able to do this is one thing – we might then comment on the sign of a good manager. To have three of them do it at once is beyond belief.
So who were these three?
- Bastin was born in 1912, and this was his second season at Arsenal – he was 18.
- Jack was born in 1899 and this was his third season at Arsenal – he was 30
- Lambert was born in 1902 and this was his fifth season at Arsenal – he was 27.
I think that combination of ages and experience all coming together was what made the team break all the records and take football by storm.
But of course it wasn’t just the attack – indeed Aston Villa actually scored one more goal than Arsenal in 1930/1 – it was the counter attacking style that had emerged from the sophistication of the WM system.
While today that is often portrayed as a simple dropping of the centre half further back down the pitch, what Chapman did, as I have noted elsewhere, was choose a centre half who could immediately pass the ball to a deep lying inside forward who could instantly pass the ball to one of the three upfield forwards.
Bastin, Jack and Lambert playing at numbers 11, 8 and 9 respectively, took defences apart; the defence simply didn’t know who to mark. But there was another twist – and one that is often missed.
In 1924/5, Chapman’s last year at Huddersfield, his team won the league by getting more points away from home than at home. It was a remarkable turn of events. The following season with Chapman at Arsenal, Huddersfield won the league again, but this time in the conventional way with a stronger performance at home than away.
So it continued, and sometimes to extremes. In 1928/29 for example, champions Sheffield Wednesday won 18 games at home but only three away. In 1929/30 Arsenal followed this pattern with ten home wins and four aways – and that was the norm.
But in the season we are about to look at 1931/2 – Arsenal’s record was extraordinary. Home and away results were identical. And that figure tells us what Chapman was doing – he was playing the counter attacking game home and away. It was something that had only been done previously at Huddersfield, and even then the new manager dropped the approach as soon as Chapman left.
As an approach it required a certain type of player – and this is something we have explored here before in relation to the 3-2-2-3 system that became known as WM. The defensive midfield had to move the ball quickly to the attacking midfield (the inside forwards) who in turn had to move the ball quickly to one of the three goal scorers (outside left, centre forward, outside right).
Plus the fans didn’t like it, and often didn’t grasp it. At home, the team was supposed to attack, not drop back and wait for the break away and Chapman not only needed players who could play this way, he also needed players who would not be influenced by the crowd’s frustration at seeing the home side let the opposition attack them.
Remember the last season ended like this…
|7||West Ham United||42||19||5||18||86||79||1.09||43|
Cup winners yes, but hardly a top form league club. And a club with 10 of the 14 wins gained at home. A typical figure for the league. But this was about to change.
Blackpool on the other hand were newly promoted from the second division with their final table looking like this.
|4||Bradford Park Avenue||42||19||12||11||91||70||1.30||50|
The fact that they had knocked in 98 goals was noted, although their defence had let them down. Their end of season run had been strong, easing up only in the last two games when promotion was assured
Figures from Statto.com
So Blackpool v Arsenal was no certainty for the Cup holders. But in the end the results were interesting on the first day of the season. I have marked the top four from last season in bold – three of them won, and only Man City was held.
|Birmingham City||3-1||Sheffield United|
|Leicester City||1-1||Derby County|
|Manchester United||3-4||Aston Villa|
|Sheffield Wednesday||2-1||Newcastle United|
|West Ham United||2-1||Huddersfield Town|
As for Blackpool, it turned out that Blackpool were not as strong as people imagined, as they lost two and won one of their four opening games, and that defence was indeed rather dubious. as was suspected. But in their opening sequence they did manage to beat one of the previous season’s top sides, Man City, away, in between two defeats in which they conceded nine.
But back to the Arsenal game. The goals came from two players – David Jack got two, Cliff Bastin got a penalty, and then scored a goal of his own – remarkably from about 20 yards out with his right foot. It was reported as hitting the stanchion and shooting straight back into the field of play so that many present did not realise a goal had been scored. Yes, Chapman was letting the teenager take the penalties and enjoying him show everyone what else he could do.
So, that was the one game in August, the season was underway, and no one in those days was crass enough to publish a league table after one game, although had they done, they would have seen that actually, Arsenal were top.
In the next article we look at September 1930, as suddenly the season starts to take shape.
The Arsenal History Society website is dedicated to publishing series of articles covering parts of Arsenal’s history that have not been recorded in the level of depth we can offer.
Recent series include:
- The First League Season, including a review of each player who played in that season
- Arsenal in the 70s, covering every transfer, and every single match.
- Arsenal in the summer, transfers, friendlies and preparations
- Tom Whittaker, player, coach, manager
- Arsenal Anniversaries – over 4500 important events in the history of the club.
- Arsenal managers – each manager compared and his work analysed.
You can find a full list of series on the lower part of the left side of the page.
Arsenal in the 30s
- 1: Life in 1930 and winning the first major trophy.
- 2: The cup winners who dropped out and the players who came in
- 3: How Chapman put his triumphant 1931 team together.
- 4: September 1930; played 8 won 7 drawn 1.
- 5: October 1930: A stumble, Villa are close behind, Man U have 12 defeats in a row.
- 6: November 1930: Scoring 5 in three games in one month.
- 7: December 1930: 3 games in 3 days and 14 goals scored.
- 8: January 1931: the biggest league win ever at Highbury
- 9: February 1931: the goals just won’t stop coming.
- 10: March 1931: hope, defeat, hope
- 11: April 1931: Arsenal win the league for the very first time.
- 12: Arsenal in the summer of 1931, the records and the Scandinavian tour
- 13: Arsenal in shock – July and August 1931
- 14: September 1931; the champions recover from a poor start.
- 15: October 1931: Arsenal lose to Grimsby
- 16: November 1931: Chapman’s exasperation with goal keepers
- 17: December 1931: A scoring sensation but a dreadful month
- 18: January 1932: A return to form and a record score
- 19: February 1932: From a faltering start to nine wins in a row
- 20: March 1932: Huge crowds, an emergency signing, better results, another semi-final
- 21: April 1932: Film of Arsenal in the Cup Final, and attempts to win the league.
- 22: Arsenal in the summer of 1932. Arsenal runners up in league and cup, Man U’s average gate drops below Plymouth’s, Stanley Matthews first game, and the greatest run in Arsenal’s entire history is about to begin.
- 23: August 1932 – preparing for the ultimate greatness.
- 24: September 1932: Arsenal’s first steps into immortality
- 25: October 1932: The rise to the stars
- 26: November 1932: Records fall, greatness beckons.
- 27: December 1932: Greatness and supremacy
- 28: January 1933: Top of the league and defeated by Walsall.
- 29: February 1933: New shirts, awful weather, a record score
- 30: March 1933: Top of the league but a month to forget
- 31: April/May 1933: Champions for the second time
- 32: 1929/33: All the men who played in the League for Arsenal.
- 33: Arsenal in the summer 1933: Champions and water shortages
- 34: August/September 1933 – the start of the new season.
- 35: October 1933 – a return to progress
- 36: November 1933 – displacing Tottenham.
- 37: December 1933: Chapman’s last month; Arsenal triumphant
- 38: January 1934: The death of Chapman
- 39: February 1934. Chapman is gone, but the club moves on.
- 40: March 1934. Chapman’s two teams fight for the title
- 41: April 1934. Joe Shaw wins the league for Chapman
- 42: 1933/34 League players, and how the goals declined but the crowds went up.
- 43: Arsenal in the summer 1934: Allison takes over from Shaw and Chapman.
- 44: August/Sep 1934: Allison starts with a bang
- 45: October 1934 – Arsenal finally blow away the north London curse
- 46: November 1934: vying for the top of the league, and the Battle of Highbury
- 47: Arsenal in December 1934: two steps forward, two steps back.
- 48: January 1935: Suddenly Arsenal’s form turns upside down
- 49: February 1935. Despite one slip, Arsenal remain top.
- 50: March 1935: Beating Tottenham by a record score
- 51: April/May 1935: Winning the league for the third time in succession.
- 52: Arsenal in the Summer 1935 after three championships in a row
- 53: September 1935: After three successive championships things get sticky
- 54: October 1935: Ok but not good enough
- 55: November 1935; Drake starts scoring again.
- 56: December 1935: beating the record, and record confusions. Ted Drake before and after the magnificent seven.
- 57: January 1936: the league won’t be won, but what about the FA Cup…
- 58: February 1936: an early example of rotational selection
- 59: March 1936: Wembley again but player rotation starts affecting the crowds
- 60: April/May 1936; Arsenal win the Cup. A match report and season’s end
- 61: Arsenal in the Summer of 1936
- 62: Arsenal players 1934/5 and 1935/36: the fundamental problem with the team
- 63: August / Sept 1936: 20 different players used in the first seven league games
- 64: October 1936: Arsenal in free fall
- 65: November 1936: Arsenal reborn, TV starts, the king demands, the palace burns down.
- 66: December 1936: Top of the league as the king steps down.
- 67: January 1937: Arsenal unbeaten as the goalkeepers change (again).
- 68: February 1937: Seven in the cup, and all to play for in the league
- 69: March 1937: Arsenal top but Man City close in
- 70: April / May 1937: Arsenal slip back and Man City triumph – for the moment
- 71: Arsenal players 1936/7, Arsenal crowds in the 30s, and comparisons with earlier years
- 72: Arsenal in the summer: the overseas tour of 1937
- 73: Arsenal in August and September 1937: a brilliant start and a TV first.
- 74: Arsenal in October 1937: Allison decides it is time for a total change.
- 75: Arsenal in Nov 1937; a tactical signing changes the game
- 76: Arsenal in December 1937; a settled team and a revival
- 77: Arsenal in January 1938: two steps backwards but a new genius emerges.
- 78: Arsenal in February 1938: a true resurgence takes us top of the league.
- 79: March 1938: Arsenal at the top and a fifth title looks possible
- 80: April/May 1938: from no titles to five in one decade – and the most amazing title of them all.
- 81: Arsenal in the summer: the Nazi salute, Bastin as the symbol, Whittaker for England, the world record signing.
- 82: August/September 1938. The start of the end.
- 83: Arsenal in October 1938: the champions stagnating in mid-table
- 84: November 1938: facing relegation?
- 85: December 1938: the manager makes changes and a new hero is found
- 86: Arsenal in January 1939: some signs of recovery.
- 87: February 1939: Arsenal struggle to make a continuing impact.
- 88: March 1939: goalscoring and away form are the key problems
- 89: April / May 1939: Arsenal clamber back to 5th, and achieve film stardom
- 90: Arsenal in the summer 1939
- 91: The players and the crowds: Arsenal 1938/9 – and the players who returned
- 92: Arsenal in the 30s: Arsenal at the start of the 2nd world war (autumn 1939)