Arsenal champions 1932/3: Chapman’s ultimate secret tactic revealed plus the players and statistics.

By Tony Attwood


I will come to the summary of games played, goals scored and the goal ratio in a moment but first I want to share the key insight into the way Chapman set out his teams that I have gained through writing these articles.

To begin, the key change between 1931/2 (coming second) and 1932/3 (winning the league) was the comparison of away form.

1931/2 final table

1932/3 final table

Arsenal’s home form actually declined a little in 1932/3 – the championship winning season, but not only was their away form much improved (27 away points compared with 20 the previous season) it was quite different from the other clubs around them.

This one statistical insight reveals the difference in Arsenal’s style of play with the effective use of the counter attacking model away from home.  Arsenal’s 27 away points compares for example with 20 for Villa, 16 for Wednesday.

If we now go back to the first league winning season of Arsenal we can see the same pattern

Arsenal with 33 away points, Villa with just 22.

Thus the secret is clear – Arsenal managed to win home and away in the two seasons they won the league.

This was certainly an innovation, for not only did clubs not work on this model normally, but they had generally won the league with the traditional “strength at home” approach.  For example in 1928/9 Sheffield Wednesday won the league with 18 wins and 3 draws at home but only 3 wins and 7 draws away.

Indeed in 1925/6 when Arsenal came second (under Chapman in his first season at the club), the home figures were 16 wins 2 draws, while away it was six wins, six draws.

But Chapman did not invent this approach at Arsenal, for we can see, when we go back to Chapman’s last season at Huddersfield Town, (1924/5 where he won the league) it was 10 wins 8 draws at home, and 11 wins 8 draws away.  He used the same tactic.

Chapman’s methodology becomes clear from these figures – it was not just about setting up a successful team, but a team that could win away as much as at home – something that even league champions did not normally aim for or achieve.

He did this by changing the tactics – and it was an approach that needed a certain type of player.  And this tactical switch not just to the counter attacking team, but to playing counter attacking football at home and away, was what he couldn’t replicate in the early years at Arsenal up to the cup winning season of 1930 when Arsenal came 14th in the league.

In brief, when Chapman won – be it at Huddersfield or at Arsenal, he won by getting the away wins up, even if it meant doing so at the expense of dropping some home points.

But why did it work?   As far as I can see it worked because no team was willing or able to change its home form to play against Arsenal’s counter attacking style.   Teams played to the crowd at home, and the crowd demanded that.  Chapman was willing to have a slightly worse home record in order to perfect the counter attacking style by playing it week in and week out.  No one else had the nerve to follow this approach.

Moving on, and now having covered the 1932/3 season in the previous articles, it is time to look at who the players were who delivered the second Arsenal league title.

League FA Cup Friendlies
Player Games Goals Games Goals Games Goals
CS Bastin 42 33 1 5 5
A Beasley 1
T Black 1
ER Bowden 7 2 1 1
E Coleman 27 24 2 5
LH Compton 4 2
HW Cope 4
EA Hapgood 38 4
AE Haynes 6 4
FR Hill 26 1 1 5
JHA Hulme 40 20 5 2
DBN Jack 34 18 1 3 1
AW James 40 3 1 2
RF John 37 2 1
C Jones 16 1
J Lambert 12 14 2 1
CG Male 35 1 4
F Moss 41   1 2 5 4
TR Parker 5
R Parkin 5 4 3
CJF Preedy 1 1
H Roberts 36 1 1
NW Sidey 2 1 1
RR Stockill 4 3 1 2
CH Walsh 1
WH Warnes 1

To make reading the table a little easier, here it is with only the top performers listed

League FA Cup Friendlies
Player Games Goals Games Goals Games Goals
CS Bastin 42 33 1 5 5
E Coleman 27 24 2 5
EA Hapgood 38 4
FR Hill 26 1 1 5
JHA Hulme 40 20 5 2
DBN Jack 34 18 1 3 1
AW James 40 3 1 2
RF John 37 2 1
CG Male 35 1 4
F Moss 41   1 2 5 4
H Roberts 36 1 1

Arsenal had 11 players who played in over 25 league games in the season, and nine who played over 34 games.  Also worth noting that Frank Moss was the only keeper other than Lewis that Chapman ever seemed to trust.  Nothing would make him drop the Moss – which was a very different story from the other keepers he brought in and then removed.

Next the highlights table, looking at the goal ratio.

 Highlights table League matches only
Player Games Goals Games/Goal ratio
CS Bastin 42 33 0.79
E Coleman 27 24 0.89
JHA Hulme 40 20 0.50
DBN Jack 34 18 0.53
J Lambert 12 14 1.16

The Boy Bastin was now indispensable, not just as an amazing winger but also the club’s leading scorer.  Last season he had played 40 and scored 15, the season before it was 42 games and 28 goals.  He had now had three and a half seasons with Arsenal.

If we compare the highlights with elements of last season’s Highlights table we notice the difference when considering goal ratio

 Highlights table League Div 1
Games Goals Games/Goal ratio
CS Bastin 40 15 0.33
JHA Hulme 40 14 0.35
DBN Jack 34 21 0.62
J Lambert 36 22 0.61
R Parkin 9 7 0.77

We can see the improvements that 1932/3 brought in terms of players who could deliver the goals all the time.  The club had become utterly triumphant, and dominant.

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

2 Replies to “Arsenal champions 1932/3: Chapman’s ultimate secret tactic revealed plus the players and statistics.”

  1. Thanks Tony, really enjoying this series. It is interesting noting the centre forward position where Ernie Coleman for most of the season seemed to be the answer to Herbert Chapman’s eternal search for his ideal leader of the attack (he even played in an England trial match) but then quickly faded with ever reliable Jack Lambert returning to score the goals leading to the title. Unfortunately for Lambert two games short to get a medal.
    Next season after little success Coleman moved on but his replacement Jimmy Dunne also suffered the same fate with the newly signed Ted Drake (after the tragic death of Chapman) leading us to the title but with not enough games to earn a medal either. An odd coincidence.

    However, as you point out Chapman had at last found his top goalkeeper in Frank Moss and as he was already scouting Drake would have had the answer to his centre forward problem solved as well.

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