Arsenal in December 1934: two steps forward, two steps back.

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal started December in second place

But behind the numbers was a total reversal of Arsenal’s home/away division of recent years, wherein Chapman’s most successful teams always had a balance between home and away performances.  By the end of 1934 Arsenal had won seven and lost one at home but won just one, drawn five and lost two away from Highbury.  The notion that by the end of the season Arsenal could significantly improve on this record seemed to be highly unlikely.

The opening game of the month was against Wolverhampton whose away record thus far was even worse than Arsenal’s with one win, two draws and eight defeats.  Against Arsenal’s home record they stood no chance.

Quite amazingly for the second successive league match Ted Drake got four (making it three foursomes in the season to date), Birkett got two and Bowden the other.  Stoke also won, but Sunderland only drew – results which left Arsenal back at the top on goal average.

Next was Huddersfield away on 8 December.  Highlight of the day was Derby’s 9-3 victory over 5th placed West Brom while Sunderland also seemed to realise that they needed to up their goal average, beating Birmingham 5-1.  However Stoke’s decline continued by losing to 16th placed Tottenham 3-2 – the Stanley Matthews effect was not infinite it seemed.

Arsenal’s opponents Huddersfield were starting their long climb away from the foot of the table, and were now 19th, although only above the two relegation slots on goal difference.  Still a huge shock after last season’s exploits, but still the signs of recovery were there.

Once again Arsenal faced the problem that they had been facing for the last couple of months – playing away to a team in the lower reaches of the table who had a decent home record.   Huddersfield had thus far won five, drawn 1 and lost 1 at home.  Arsenal had (as the press were now starting to make the point with glee) won 1, drawn 5 and lost 2 away.  A 1-1 draw seemed the most likely result and that is what we got, courtesy of a Huddersfield own goal.

But at home Arsenal seemed to adopt a view that “anything we can do we can do better” taking the amended lyrics of Irving Berlin’s song.  For having destroyed Wolverhampton 7-0 they now beat Leicester 8-0 on 15 December.  Drake got another hattrick, and Hulme (back in the team after two games out) did the same.  Bastin got two.

As we approached Christmas the league title looked to be between Sunderland, Stoke, Arsenal and Manchester City.  While Arsenal were knocking in all the goals Stoke lost once again making their challenge look ever less likely, but Man City and Sunderland won to keep Arsenal’s situation under close scrutiny.

However Arsenal had won three and drawn one of their last four, scoring 21 goals along the way, so being top of the league seemed something that could be achieved over Christmas.  Here’s the top of the table after the 8-0 thumping of Leicester

The week running up to the Christmas saw Arsenal play four games in seven days, and although it started with high hopes these were immediately dashed by defeat in an away match at Derby on 22 December.  After a run of five without a win (including four defeats) Derby had recovered to win two in a row, in which they scored 14 goals.  They were now ninth, and over one third of their goals had just been scored in those last two games.  They had won five of their ten home games, Arsenal (as the papers now reminded everyone)  won just one away.  There were nerves, especially as Hulme once again had to drop out and be replaced by Birkett.

And the nerves played into Derby’s hands as they won 3-1 to go up to 8th in the league.  Bowden scored Arsenal’s consolation goal.

The day of the Derby match was the saturday before Christmas – the traditional shopping day for the festivity (which in the 1930s only last two days, rather than two weeks as happened later in the century).

For Christmas presents that year books were very much the order of the day for the more literate members of society for this really had been a classic year for the English novel.   Titles published through the year and now exchanged among the reading classes included

  • Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot classic, Murder on the Orient Express
  • Robert Graves’ novel I, Claudius.
  • James Hilton’s novel Goodbye, Mr. Chips
  • Dorothy L. Sayers’, Lord Peter Wimsey novel The Nine Tailors.
  • Dylan Thomas’ first collection 18 Poems, including “The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower”
  • Evelyn Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust.
  • P. G. Wodehouse’s Thank You, Jeeves and Right Ho, Jeeves, the first two Jeeves stories written as full-length novels.  They caused an utter sensation.

Children were catered for too with the incredibly popular Bows against the Barons.

But footballers didn’t have a holiday, and on Christmas Day Arsenal played 16th placed Preston at Highbury.  Preston, like Arsenal, had only won one away game all season and so Arsenal dutifully won 5-3.    Hulme got two, Bowden and Bastin one each and the last was an own goal.   Male missed his first match of the season which meant a rare outing for Leslie Compton.

Elsewhere Derby, who had beaten Arsenal the previous weekend, now lost 5-1.  Tottenham suffered yet another defeat, Sunderland lost 6-2 to Everton but Man City won 2-1 away at Leeds.   As a result of this topsy turvy set of results Arsenal were now one point clear of both Man City and Sunderland with that far superior goal average.  Tottenham were in 15th, three points above the relegation places, having won just five of their last 15 games.

As was the habit at these times, the Christmas Day fixture was played in reverse on Boxing Day, and so the roles for Arsenal were utterly reversed, and their poor away form continued with a 1-2 defeat to lowly Preston.  Both Man City and Sheffield Wednesday won to knock out the gains of the previous day.

For this match Allison tried a bit of a tactical change.   Bastin, who had been back in his outside left position all season, now moved to inside left (a change Chapman had experimented with just before his death), with Hill nominally given the number 11 shirt, but playing in a much deeper role.  Roberts who had been injured in the Christmas Day game was replaced by Sidey while Marshall came in for Bowden.

With that experiment not exactly working Allison now changed back to a line up that was much closer to the one he started the season with.  In fact 10 of the opening day’s XI lined up for the match against Portsmouth at Highbury, with Bastin back in his normal position.  Only Alex James was missing, Bob John taking the number 10 shirt in an attempt to bolster the defence.  Ted Drake scored for Arsenal, but against Portsmouth who had won two, and drawn two of their away games thus far more was expected.  It had looked like another home banker, but ended up as a 1-1 draw.

So having had such run through the end of November into early December, Arsenal had now won only one game of the last four.  Not championship form.  Worse, both Man City and Sunderland won yet again.  The only solace was that Tottenham lost again – this time 5-2 to Everton.

Here is, as always, the summary of the games of the month.  As always, for every ground Arsenal visited, they attracted a far bigger than normal crowd, with over double the norm in attendance for the Huddersfield game.

Date Opponent Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
01.12.1934 Wolverhampton Wndrs 14 home W7-0 1 23 39,532  46,252
08.12.1934 Huddersfield Town 19 away D1-1 2 24 36,113  15,024
15.12.1934 Leicester City 22 home W8-0 2 26 23,689 46,252
22.12.1934 Derby County 9 away L1-3 2 26 26,091  19,251
25.12.1934 Preston North End 16 home W5-3 1 28 40,201 46,252
26.12.1934 Preston North End 17 away L1-2 3 28 39,411 21,472
29.12.1934 Portsmouth 11 home D1-1 3 29 36,054 46,252

The abbreviations, as always mean…

  • Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game
  • Pos is Arsenal’s position after the game
  • AC is the average crowd for the home team through the season, providing a comparison between the crowd on that day (in the previous column) and the norm expected by the home side.

Here is how the table looked at the end of the year.

The solution was of course simple.  To sort out the away form and get a solid run of results in the new year.   We’ll see what happened in the next episode.

ARSENAL: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 by John Sowman; foreword by Bob Wilson.

The Long Sleep recalls a time when professional footballers in England were inextricably tied by contract to their club and not allowed to earn more than the statutory maximum wage.  It traces Arsenal’s fortunes through that era, as well as the stand taken by one man who went on a 141 day strike against his club – a strike which led to the creation of football as we know it today.

Now available to purchase on line as book or Kindle version at

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