March 1938: Arsenal at the top and a fifth title looks possible

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal and Wolverhampton had now become the form teams with four wins and two draws for Arsenal, five wins and one defeat for Wolverhampton, in the last six.   Wolverhampton however had the games in hand.  The table at the end of February looked like this.

Arsenal, now being out of the FA Cup had four league games to focus on, in the classic alternating home/away pattern.

The opening game of the month was against Stoke at home on 5 March but before this there was another signing announced – 20 year old Gordon Bremmer from Cartha Athletic – who went on to make his debut (and score his first goal) on 9 April.   Arsenal approached the match with four wins and a draw in the last five, Stoke having had a more middle of the road run of two wins, two defeats and a draw – the last game being a 3-0 away defeat to Charlton.

They were in 10th with an away record that read three wins, two draws and nine defeats.  Arsenal had a home record of 11 wins, two draws and one defeat.  Copping for once missed a game and Collett took his place.  Drury returned at number 10 having missed the last match.

The omens for Stoke were on the cards and so it turned out with a thumping 4-0 victory for Arsenal.  Carr, Griffiths (2) and Drake scored.

Wolverhampton had a much tougher game against Leeds to kick off the month, and could only draw.  Elsewhere in the sixth round of the cup Tottenham lost at home to Sunderland while Manchester City’s one chance of keeping their hands on some silverware vanished with their cup defeat to Villa.

Arsenal were back on top of the league, but the more nervous followers of the club still looked at those two Wolverhampton games in hand

Meanwhile Manchester City had slipped to one place above relegation.

The midweek matches saw Brentford draw at home with Chelsea while ex-champions Manchester City slipped deeper into the mire with a 6-1 home defeat to Middlesbrough – to whom Arsenal paid a visit the following Saturday.

On 10 March Arsenal completed another transfer with George Drury signing from Sheffield Wednesday.  He went on to play 11 games in the remainder of the season, for the most part at inside left, with Jones playing inside right.

Middlesbrough were now sitting in 8th with a positive 10 home wins this season – a record that was only bettered by Arsenal.   Everyone knew that with Arsenal having only won four away games all season this could be tough, and matters were made tougher by the need to change the team.  Copping came back, but Joy who was becoming a solid centre half was replaced by Sidey for only his second match of the season. Drury came straight into the team replacing Carr.

But it was too many changes especially as Drury had hardly had a chance to get to know his colleagues, with Middlesbrough winning 2-1, Bastin getting Arsenal’s goal.   As with every game from here on, attention turned to the Wolverhampton result, and unbelievably it was revealed that they had lost away to 19th placed Grimsby 1-0!  It was only Town’s third win in 14 games in the league.

Third placed Brentford had gone down to bottom club Portsmouth while Leeds had lost at home to Leicester.   The football writers in the press spoke of no one wanting to win the league.

Now the fixtures played another trick, for next up for Arsenal was… Grimsby, proud conquers of Wolverhampton.  But there was a difference because Grimsby had beaten Wolverhampton at their own ground on the edge of the North Sea where players were known to get frostbite waiting for kick off.  Away from home they only had one victory (although they had also notched up an impressive seven draws).   But at Highbury Arsenal were feeling invincible  and had not suffered a home defeat since October.

True Drake had to drop out but he was replaced by Carr, and the omens turned out to be good: Arsenal won 5-1 meaning they were certain to stay top.  Bastin got two (one of them a penalty) Griffiths 2 and Jones the other.

But what of Wolverhampton?

Again they slipped up, this time with a 2-2 home draw with Stoke.  What should have been an easy run of games through the month was turning into a disaster.  Charlton lost and Middlesbrough drew and at last there was a tiny chink of light between Arsenal and the pack behind them with only Preston (2-1 at Man City, who were now seriously in trouble) getting a win.  With Preston still in the cup there was talk of them repeating their last cup triumph by winning the league at the same time!

Thus Arsenal were still top, had the best goal average and at last Wolverhampton were no longer in that position of knowing they would be top if they won their game in hand.

In fact Wolverhampton now had to play their game in hand on the Wednesday 23rd – it was the only first division game of the day, and was against one of the form teams of the moment who seemed to be cropping up in all the key matches: Middlesbrough.  As the table above showed they were now fourth, but were playing at Molineux.  But they showed no inclination to be overwhelmed by the occasion, and won 2-0, taking them to second place behind Arsenal on goal average.

And so to the last round of matches for March.  Preston were engaged in a cup semi-final which left…

Charlton Athletic v Wolverhampton Wndrs
Middlesbrough v Brentford
West Bromwich Albion v Arsenal

Charlton had recently slipped out of the leading positions, and were sixth before the game, but although five points behind leaders Arsenal they now had two games in hand, and seeing how volatile the league had become they clearly expected a victory.    Middlesbrough seemed to have a hand in all the important matches while Brentford were on the same number of points as Charlton but without the games in hand.

West Brom were 16th before the game but with a solid home record, which they aimed to preserve as they were still only two places above relegation.   This they did with a defensive performance worthy of any away team, leaving Arsenal no way through no matter what, despite the return of Drake.  With Joy back in position Arsenal too were firm and it ended 0-0.   Jones missed his first game since signing in November.

And once again all the excitement came from the Wolverhampton match where Charlton thrashed them 4-1.   Brentford won 0-1 at Middlesbrough.

Here are Arsenal’s results for the month.

Date Opposition Op pos Venue Result Pos Pts Crowd Av crowd
05.03.1938 Stoke City 10 home W4-0 1 30 25,296 44,045
12.03.1938 Middlesbrough  8 away L1-2 1 39  46,747  24,260
19.03.1938 Grimsby Town  17 home W5-1 1 41 40,701  44,045
26.03.1938 West Bromwich Albion  16 away D0-0 1 42 33,954  23,207

The abbreviations, as always…

  • Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game.  Chesterfield’s position is obviously in relation to Division 2.
  • Pos is Arsenal’s position after the game
  • AC is the average crowd in league matches 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.

Middlesbrough had now become the team in form over their last six league games, winning four, drawing one, losing one.   Also on the up were Preston winning three drawing three.  Arsenal had won three, drawn two and lost one while Wolverhampton had just one win in the last six , plus two draws and three defeats.

Bottom of the league, strange though it may seem, were last season’s surprise champions, Manchester City.  It really did look as if the champions might go down.

There were some notable names mixing it with Manchester City.  Everton had been Arsenal’s main challengers to the league title in the early years of the season, while Huddersfield had been the team of the previous decade.   All such clubs were in danger.

Recent News

The novel “Making the Arsenal” by Tony Attwood which describes the events of 1910, which created the modern Arsenal FC, is now available for the first time on Kindle.  Full details are here.

Also available: Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football (Kindle Edition)   For full details please see here.

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Arsenal in the 30s

1930s: the players, the crowds, the tactics

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