Arsenal in January 1939: some signs of recovery.

By Tony Attwood

On 2 January – postponed for one day since 1 January was a Sunday, Rangers and Celtic played their traditional year opener.   This time however the match was of particular significance since it is recorded as having the highest attendance for a U.K. football match ever at 118,730.

Back in England the league table at the end of 1938 had an unfamiliar ring to it, but it was certainly not the worst it had been during this season.

And at least it could be said that Arsenal had a break from what had been a most disappointing league programme thus far, for at the start of January 1939 we had the traditional third round of the FA Cup.   Arsenal were drawn against Chelsea – which was not too horrifying, as they were lying 18th in the league at the time.

Before the game could be played, on 5 January 1939  Ted Platt, the man who became our wartime keeper, signed for Arsenal, aged 17.  Arsenal had an obvious regular first choice goalkeeper in George Swindin, and an alternative between the posts in Alex Wilson who had joined the club in 1933 – and who at this time had taken over as number 1.  Ted Platt was spoken of as one for the future, but of course the future of football was postponed.

On 7 January the Cup tie was played at Chelsea who over Christmas had had two draws with Leeds and a defeat to Leicester.  Arsenal made only one change – bringing in Bryn Jones for Bremner.  It was 1-1 at half time thanks to a Bastin goal, but Chelsea got the winner, and Arsenal now only had the league to look forward to.

Worse Tottenham managed to beat Watford 7-1, to give themselves some cheer. However the biggest shock of the day was Chelmsford City in their first season as a semi-professional club in the Southern League beating Southampton of the 2nd division 4-1.  (The name “Chelmsford City” was incidentally a misnomer as the urban area was a town and remained so until 2012).

The away form thus continued to provide problems for Arsenal, and matters were not helped by the fact that the next league game was away to Everton.

Having had a brilliant start to the season with six straight wins, Everton had had a wobble in October, and an even greater problem post-Christmas when they failed to win any of their next three games, drawing one and losing two.

As a result they were now second, five points behind the leaders Derby, with a game in hand.  But their home form was awesome: ten wins, one draw and one defeat, while Arsenal’s away form was woeful (one win, six draws and four defeats) – although one should also note that woeful away form had become the style of the league.   Liverpool, currently fifth in the league had an even worse record than Arsenal, while three teams in the lower half of the league had yet to win a single away match.

For this game Carr dropped out and Bryn Jones returned, but it was to no avail.  Everton did as was expected, and won 2-0.  Arsenal sank to 14th.

On 21 January Arsenal had their one home game of the month – welcoming Charlton who were currently having a decent season, and were lying in sixth place.  The two teams had mirror images of each other’s record: Arsenal at home had won 6 drawn 2 lost 3, while Charlton away had won 3 drawn 2 lost 6.

The result went with the form book and Arsenal won 2-0 to bounce back to ninth.  Bastin was out with an injury meaning Kirchen came in, but on the left wing.  Crayston scored the first goal and Reg Lewis showed that Allison was right to stand by him, getting his third goal in six games for the club this season.

But now Arsenal were back away from home for the final match of the month this time facing Aston Villa.  Villa had been as high as third in late October, but then a run of five successive autumn defeats had left them languishing in 18th.  However a recovery including four wins in five during December had taken them back to 9th ahead of this game.

But unlike most teams in the upper half of the table Villa were vulnerable at home – despite them getting record crowds through the season – with six wins, one draw, and five defeats.  For once, Arsenal got the away tactics just right, as sticking with the same team as for the home game against Charlton, Arsenal ran out winners 3-1.  Two of the goals came from Lewis, the other from Kirchen.    This meant Lewis had five goals in seven starts.   True, Drake wasn’t scoring on the wing, but his ability to drag defenders with him, was giving Lewis all the space he needed.

Here’s the month’s table of results…

Date Opponent Venue Op pos Result Pos Pts Crowd Av crowd
07.01.1939 Chelsea FAC away 18 L1-2 10 58,095 30.999*
14.01.1939 Everton away 2 L0-2 14 22 47,178 35,040
21.01.1939 Charlton Ath home  6 W2-0 9 24 39,702 39,102
28.01.1939 Aston Villa away  9 W3-1 10 26 57.453 39,932

*League matches only

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 had now won three of their last four league games. Only Wolverhampton had matched them and only Stoke had won all four.  Arsenal were still 10th, but suddenly a more respectable higher league place looked possible if this form continued, and a few away wins popped up en route.

They also had two games in hand over the middle clutch of teams in the upper part of the table, which gave hope for February.

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