Arsenal in November 1938: facing relegation, avoiding collisions

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal ended October 1938 in a rather unappealing 10th position, eight points behind the leaders, with a game in hand.

Here is the league table at the end of that month.

Arsenal went into the first game of November – a home game against Leeds on Guy Fawkes Day –  with a record that showed just two wins in the last six – but both at home, so there was a feeling that things could pick up.  Leeds themselves were seventh, having just had a 4-0 defeat to Everton and a 2-2 draw with Portsmouth, but prior to this they had been showing some serious form including an 8-2 thrashing of Leicester City.

Arsenal took the lead through Drake and Bastin (just like the old days) and went in at half time 2-1 up, but after the interval Leeds piled on the pressure to win 3-2 and take Arsenal down to 12th.  It was the last league game of the season for Walsh at outside right, although he did accompany Arsenal on their end of season Scandinavian tour.  However he left Arsenal in June for Derby – the three games he played this autumn were all he got with the club.

But most of all Arsenal missed Hapgood.  Leslie Compton was a good backup, but still not as fine a player as Hapgood and with every injury he was ever more missed.

Arsenal were now looking at a set of results that showed just two wins in the last eight league games, and 12th position in the league.  Not where the Champions expected to be.

In midweek on 9 November 1938: Les Jones scored his only goal for Wales in his 11th and last appearance for the principality.

For the next Arsenal game, away to Liverpool on 12 November, Bastin moved to inside left, allowing Cumner to come in at outside left, while Walsh was replaced by Kirchen.  The good news was that Drake scored for the second game running, for the first time this season that he had scored in consecutive matches.   The bad news was that Liverpool got two, to make it a 2-2 draw.  It was the fourth draw in a row, for the club who came into the game in 3rd place.   After the game Arsenal were now 13th.

The third game of the month was another home match – this with 11th placed Leicester who had just beaten Portsmouth 5-0.  For once the Arsenal team was the same for two games running, and in fact the result was the same: another draw, this time 0-0.  Arsenal’s position also remained the same: 13th.

The last league match of what had been an uninspiring month so far was against Middlesbrough away.  Sixth in the league and with just one defeat in the last seven games (and that to Everton) Middlesbrough were looking to continue developing their reputation as the top club in the north east, and they were probably happier than Arsenal with the 1-1 draw.

Leslie Compton crossed sides at full back taking over from Male, while Les Jones and Drury replaced Bryn Jones and Bastin, but it was still to little avail. Drury got the goal and Arsenal got their third draw in a row staying once more at the same point in the league and now boasting a set of results that showed no wins in the last five games.

That left the table looking like this… only Portsmouth in 17th had had a worse month than Arsenal, winning no games at all.  Arsenal were now just three points above the relegation zone, and there were a lot of commentators around who remembered that last season the champions had been relegated from just such a position.  Only Manchester United, bottom of the league, had won fewer games.

The next morning the team took to the skies for the flight to Paris for the annual match against Racing Club.  This was the occasion of the worst journey ever as on 27 November 1938 the landing of the planes going to France for the Remembrance match was affected by fog and the two planes carrying the Arsenal players missed each other and one went on to miss a hanger by a matter of feet.

30,000 turned up to watch the match – more than the crowd for the game at Middlesbrough, and in keeping with Arsenal’s current run of form it was, of course, a draw. Details of all the series of games against Racing can be found in “Too dearly loved to be forgotten,”  and full details of this remarkable book and details of how to obtain it are included in the Untold-Arsenal review here.

There was only one new comer for the game – Curtis who came in at outside left.   Drury playing at outside right scored the goal.

So what was going wrong with the champions?  Most obviously Drake was not scoring – he had got three goals in 15.  Previously three goals in a game seemed to be his norm.  Likewise Bastin was back on the wing, from whence he had scored so many goals in the past, but again he wasn’t scoring.  Only one from him so far.

All told the club had used 19 players in 16 league games, but the level of chopping and changing showed that Allison was not really sure how to make the team tick.  He had invested heavily in Bryn Jones but without a superb centre forward ahead of him, he could not deliver the killer passes.  Drake had been that superb number nine, but the injuries had taken their toll.    What Arsenal needed at the very least was a centre forward who would at least score one goal every couple of games, and a winger who could knock in a few as well.

Also mumblings could be heard about Swindin in goal.  Chapman had always had no hesitation in changing his keeper in midstream.  Sometimes even twice in one season.   Maybe Allison should do the same.

Here is the chart of the November fixtures…

Date Opponents Venue Op pos  Result Pos Pts Crowd Av crowd
05.11.1938 Leeds United home  7 L2-3 12 12 39,092 39,102
12.11.1938 Liverpool away  3 D2-2 13 13 42,540 31,422
19.11.1938 Leicester City home  11 D0-0 13 14 36,407 39,102
26.11.1938 Middlesbrough away  6 D1-1 13 15 29,147 21,184
27.11.1938 Racing Club away D1-1 30,000

Here are the abbreviations as always…

  • 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 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.

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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