Arsenal in January 1938: two steps backwards but a new genius emerges.

by Tony Attwood

This is part of a series of articles covering every aspect of Arsenal FC throughout the 1930s.  Details of all the other articles in the series are given below.

At the end of 1937 the league table looked a lot more promising from Arsenal’s point of view than it had before.

Over the Christmas games Arsenal had lost two and only won one, but although Arsenal’s results were not of the best, others had a bit of slippage too.  Looking at the last six games at the end of the year, Arsenal were still the form team with four wins and two defeats.  No one else in the top ten had won more than two of their last six, which explains why Arsenal had now climbed up to third in the league.

Arsenal began the new year at home to Everton who had been soundly beaten in the opening match of the season, and had having continued in the same vein of form and were now 19th and had only won one of the last five.  Their home form was modest – five wins, two draws, three defeats and they were two points above the relegation positions.

From a historical point of view we can see that the most important point about this game was that Reg Lewis came in for Ted Drake to play his first ever league game at the age of 17.  Reg Lewis had joined from the nursery club Margate on 9 May 1935, and went on to score 103 goals in 154 league games in a career cut short of course by the war.  Inevitably Reg scored.

Sidey also came in for Joy but the team was not disrupted by that change and secured a 2-1 win (Hunt getting the second goal) taking Arsenal up to second in the league. as Brentford were held with a 1-1 draw by Bolton while Leeds and Charlton also drew – 2-2 in that case.

There was then sad news as on 6 January 1938: Joe Hulme transferred to Huddersfield Town at the age of 33, after 12 wonderful years at Highbury in which he played 333 games, scoring 107 goals.  He won three championship medals, two Cup winners medals and was the only player to play in all of Arsenal’s pre-war Cup finals. 

Then as always there was the first pause for the FA Cup, this time a home game against Bolton who were now lying 7th in the league but with only one win in the last seven league games.

For this game the defensive unit was restored: Male, Joy and Hapgood at the back, Crayston and Copping in front of them, and the preferred forward line of Kirchen, Hunt, Drake, Jones, Bastin with Hunt and Jones dropping back to be the playmakers.  It was all over at half time with one from Kirchen and two from Bastin as another home win by 3-1 saw Arsenal safely through to the fourth round.  Tottenham, who were going nowhere fast in the second division and sitting comfortably in mid-table also got through with a win over Blackburn.

However there was then one of those surprises that FA Cup draws like to hand out.   Having had a third round tie against another first division club, Arsenal got the same again for the fourth round.  But not just against any club – it was against the increasingly impressive Wolverhampton – away from home.  And that wasn’t all, because a quick look at the league fixtures showed that the previous week Arsenal were also down to play… Wolverhampton, away, in the league.

Wolverhampton were now sitting fourth in the league, but with three games in hand over the league leaders, and were still unbeaten at home (although they had drawn four of the ten games.)

For the first of the matches against Arsenal it was noted that Wolverhampton had been slipping of late with just three wins in their last nine, but they had won their last league game beating Man City 4-2 away to take themselves up to second.   For this, the league game, Bastin was forced to step down and his regular substitute, Dennis Compton played on the wing.

And… Arsenal lost 1-3 and slipped down to third in the league.  The only good news was that for the first time in six appearances Drake got a goal.  Brentford, Charlton and Bolton all won to keep up the pressure at the top.

For the second game against Wolverhampton, this one being in the Cup, Arsenal returned with the same team save for Bastin on the wing, and this time won 2-1.  Arsenal were through to the fifth round.  Drake scored again (another good sign) and Kirchin got the other.

There was also some amusement when the news came through that Tottenham had played a goalless draw with New Brighton of Division III North.  They did manage to win the replay at WHL by winning 5-2 however.

Finally Arsenal had another away game – their third in a row, this against Sunderland, who had won just two of their last 12, but were still sitting within two points of Arsenal.   Once again the same team was maintained for the most part but Lewis was given a chance for his second game, having scored in his first, but this time Arsenal could only manage a 1-1 draw.  Hunt scored.

Here’s the Arsenal summary for the month…

Date Opponent Op pos Venue Result Pos Pt Crowd *Av crowd
01.01.1938 Everton  19 home W2-1 2 27  36953 44,045
08.01.1938 Bolton W FAC3  7 home W3-1  64016 44,045
15.01.1938 Wolverhampton  2 away L1-3 3 27  39383  31,032
22.o1.1938 Wolverhampton FAC4  2 away W2-1  61267  31,032
29.01.1938 Sunderland  9 away D1-1 6 28  42638  25,132

One interesting point is the difference between the crowds at Wolverhampton on FA Cup day and for the League match.  The Cup crowd was much bigger even though the league match could be seen as a potential league title decider, even this early in the season.

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.  *reminds us that the average crowds are only based on league games and for cup games are just provided by way of comparison.

Finally we come to the league table at the end of the month…   The team form was now Wolverhampton with five wins and a draw in the last six, followed by Brentford with four wins, a draw and a defeat.  Arsenal’s last six in the league had only yielded two wins, one draw and three defeats.

Wolverhampton were now four points above Arsenal with a game in hand – that defeat against Wolverhampton in the league was looking to be a possible death knell for a challenge on the title.  Maybe it would be another Cup year.

The full details of the 1930s series can be found below.

Arsenal History on Kindle

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.

For an index of the various series on this site please see the home page.


Here is the 1930s series to date…

1930s: the players, the crowds, the tactics


For an index of the various series on this site please see the home page.

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