Arsenal in the 30s part 3. How Chapman put his triumphant 1931 team together

 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.

Player 1929/30 Goals 1930/31 Goals
Bastin  21 7 42 28
Hapgood  38 0  38 0
Hulme  37 14  32 14
Jack  33 13  35 31
James  31 6  40 5
John  34 0  40 2
Jones  31 1  24 1
Lambert  20 18  34 38
Lewis  30 0
Parker  41 3  41 0
Roberts 26 0  40 1
Seddon  24 0  18 0

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:

Player 1929/30 Goals 1930/31 Goals
Bastin  21 7 42 28
Jack  33 13  35 31
Lambert  20 18  34 38

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…

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.

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

Game Date Opposition Res Pos Pts
37 12.04.1930 Wolverhampton Wndrs away W2-1 2 51
38 18.04.1930 Oldham Athletic home W3-0 1 53
39 19.04.1930 Bradford City home W3-0 1 55
40 21.04.1930 Oldham Athletic away W2-1 1 57
41 26.04.1930 Swansea City away L0-3 1 57
42 03.05.1930 Nottingham Forest away D0-0 1 58

Figures from

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
Blackpool 1-4 Arsenal
Bolton Wanderers 3-0 Middlesbrough
Grimsby Town 0-1 Chelsea
Leeds United 2-2 Portsmouth
Leicester City 1-1 Derby County
Liverpool 2-1 Blackburn Rovers
Manchester United 3-4 Aston Villa
Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Newcastle United
Sunderland 3-3 Manchester City
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

1930s: the players, the crowds, the tactics

Joseph Szabo, his visit to Arsenal, and the way it changed SC Braga’s history.


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