February 1939: Arsenal struggle to make a continuing impact.

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal ended January in 10th but as noted before 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.

Arsenal’s first match of three consecutive home games (in which Arsenal were catching up on their games in hand) was a midweek match against last season’s runners’ up, who had fought Arsenal for the title right up to the last match of the season.

They were now having a significantly more successful season than Arsenal, for having had only two wins in the first 12 league games, from 5 November they had gone on a 10 game unbeaten run, of which eight matches were victories.  Indeed since a slip up on New Years Eve to Blackpool they had returned to form winning both their two league games and their two cup games in January.

Collett came in for Copping, amidst rumours that the long serving half back was soon to move away from Arsenal, but otherwise the team remained that which ended January.  A goalless draw satisfied Arsenal more than Wolverhampton.

The games in London on 4 February were however utterly overwhelmed by the news that came in through the day that the Irish Republican Army had bombed the London Underground stations at Tottenham Court Road and Leicester Square.  As Britain was contemplating war against Germany, it seemed there was another enemy on the doorstep.

Nevertheless Arsenal’s game against Sunderland went ahead with 45,875 present.  Sunderland had three draws and two victories in the last five games, and were now sitting 11th,

Three players came in for the game: Bastin, Bremner and Pryde.  Neither Copping nor Crayston were playing, nor were Drake or Bryn Jones.

David Pryde had signed in May 1935, and was now making his first appearance in the first team.  He played four games this season and probably did enough to have secured himself a long term relationship with the club were it not for the fact that football was suspended very soon after the start of the next season.

Bastin and Lewis got the goals in the rearranged team and Arsenal moved up to 7th.  Lewis’ goal tally was now at six.

Arsenal now had a blank weekend, following their defeat by Chelsea in the FA Cup 3rd round. Chelsea had got through to the 5th round and there they drew 1-1 with Sheffield Wednesday, drew again in the replay and finally won through on 20 February.  However their league form had suffered of late as they seemed more interested in the FA Cup; they had lost their last match 6-1 to Stoke.

Two days before their FA Cup  victory however they faced Arsenal at Highbury, where Arsenal won 1-0 in front of 54,510.  Bastin was out of the team again, but Bremner kept his place at inside right, and it was he who scored the goal.

Arsenal now had another catch up game – this against Grimsby Town who had won two and lost six of their last eight, and were sitting 15th in the league.  Hardly the strongest opposition either historically or at this moment.

After all the changes in previous games it was a relief to see George Allison put the same team out for two games running, but the ploy didn’t work and Arsenal lost 2-1.  Kirchen got the Arsenal goal in front of just 10,845 – below the club’s average attendance for the season.

On the same day the fear of war was brought a little closer as the government announced that the first Anderson air raid shelter had been built and put on display in London.

This left one game in the month on 25 February and it was a sad moment as it was the last match for Wilf Copping as after this game he returned to Leeds from whom Arsenal had bought him.  He played the last 12 league games of the season for them.  

He had made 166 league appearances for Arsenal, won the league twice and the FA Cup with Arsenal all under Allison and with Crayston had made an utterly formidable half back pairing, protecting the defence at all times.  

Reg Lewis scored but it was a sad occasion all round as Preston beat Arsenal 2-1 and Arsenal sank back to 9th.

In his run Lewis had now played 12 games and scored seven.  A remarkable achievement for a young lad playing in a team where the crowd had such high expectations.

Date Opponent Venue Op pos Result Pos Pts Crowd Av crowd
01.02.1939 Wolverhampton home 3 D0-0 8 27  33,103 39,102
04.02.1939 Sunderland home 11 W2-0 7 29 45,875 39,102
18.02.1939 Chelsea home 19 W1-0 7 31 54,510 39,102
21.02.1939 Grimsby Town away 15 L1-2 7 31 10,845 12,064
25.02.1939 Preston NE away 13 L1-2 9 31 29,678 21,534

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.

The end of month league table looked like this…

Everton, Wolverhampton and surprisingly Bolton, were now very much the teams in form, each with five wins in the last six games.  Derby (just one win in six) were fading fast, as were Liverpool who had in January looked as if they might put in a serious challenge.

Arsenal’s goal average was slightly better than a couple of teams above them and they had one game in hand on three of the teams above, but they were 11 points off the lead.  Clearly no one imagined Arsenal would reach the top of the table, and true, to sink from champions one season to 9th the next, was not as bad as Manchester City last season going from champions to division 2, but even so, this was not what the crowd had come to expect.

As for Man City they were now fifth in the second division, although they had won none of their games in February, while Tottenham, having won one but lost two in the month, were two points behind them in 8th.  Both clubs had gone out of the cup in round four.

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