From 2006 to 2015, Arsenal had 10 years of coming third or fourth every season, with the six fourth-place finishes leading to the oft-repeated phrase “fourth is not a trophy”. The two FA Cups won during this period were of course trophies, and kept Arsenal as the most successful FA Cup team in history, but this was largely set aside by commentators, as the focus was on Mr Wenger’s “failure” to take the team back to the top.
And yet even though the league trophies didn’t arrive, this decade was still the third most successful decade of Arsenal’s 100 consecutive years in the top division, beaten only by the Chapman / Shaw / Allison decade of the 1930s of five league titles and two FA Cup wins, and just one season when the club slipped to sixth, and 1997 to 2007, again under Mr Wenger, with three league titles, four FA Cup victories, and a solitary season in fourth.
Just how hard it is to maintain this standard can be seen by the league positions in the years since Mr Wenger left, and indeed the early part of the Chapman era (1926-1930) in which the club got one FA Cup victory, and came 2nd, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 14th in the league.
4th might not be a trophy, but as it turned out, it is quite an achievement in the era of the mega-rich clubs. Although on this day in 2011, for those of us watching the club at Bolton, things really didn’t look that bright.
Here are the anniversaries.
24 April 1897: Millwall Athletic 3 Arsenal 1. A crowd of 8000 was very high for the United League match on the Isle of Dogs, although the game between the local rivals in February in Plumstead had attracted nearly twice this number.
24 April 1900: Arsenal 2 Tottenham 1. Southern District Combination; match abandoned due to abusive behaviour by the crowd. Arsenal were ordered to post notices instructing the crowd to behave properly, and the referee was also criticised for his handling of the game. The game was not replayed.
24 April 1907: Jack Humble’s wife was presented with an item of furniture (a tradition in England at this time) to thank Jack for his years of work as he stepped down as director. He was a founder of the club, had played for the club, and had been Woolwich Arsenal’s first chairman. He returned at Henry Norris’ request in 1910 and remained until 1927.
24 April 1915: Arsenal 7-0 Nottingham Forest. Arsenal’s last game in the second division and the last league game under Punch McEwen. Arsenal finished 5th but were wrongly given 6th place in the league table. It was the last game for Joseph Lievesley, and Percy Sands. Harry King scored four goals to make it four hat tricks in the season – a record. He got 26 goals in 37 league games – at the time also a record for the club.
24 April 1916: Arsenal played the return match against Chelsea at Highbury in the wartime league. Arsenal lost again – but at least this time it was only by 1-3, with 13,000 in the crowd.
24 April 1918: Local council meetings in Fulham (where Sir Henry Norris was mayor) aren’t usually listed here, but this one discussed the need for air-raid shelters for the first time, marking a new turn in the war.
24 April 1920: A 0-0 draw with relegation-threatened Preston drew 35,000 to Highbury , at the same time as the cup final was played at Stamford Bridge ending Aston Villa 1 Huddersfield Town 0. The reporter for the Times was not particularly impressed by the Final stating that the ball had gone out of play “just over 100 times.”
24 April 1928: Tommy Docherty born. After his National Service he joined Celtic, and two years later Preston, who were runners up to Arsenal on goal average in 1953. In 1958 he left to play for Arsenal.
24 April 1937: No matter what happened Arsenal were almost certain to finish third, so a little tinkering with the team was to be expected. Bernard Joy was dropped and Sidey came back into the team for this and the final game at centre half. 53,325 turned up at Chelsea despite this being a meaningless game. Chelsea won 2-0.
24 April 1943: Arsenal 4 QPR 1 in the semi-final of the Football League Cup (South). The game was played at Stamford Bridge and 50,048 turned up. The final was played one week later at Wembley.
24 April 1971: WBA 2 Arsenal 2. Last game for Jon Sammels. Having just defeated Leeds, West Brom held Arsenal in the 29th league game of the first Double season. The result left Arsenal one point above Leeds with one game in hand, but knowing that the next match was Leeds away.
24 April 1974: First game for Jimmy Rimmer. Liverpool 0 Arsenal 1. It was his only game of the season, but after that he took over from Bob Wilson as Arsenal’s first-choice keeper.
24 April 1976: Final game for Terry Mancini. Man City 3 Arsenal 1, Arsenal ended the season in 17th position – the worst position since 1925, the final year of Knighton’s reign, after which Herbert Chapman took over. The game made it just two wins in 10 as Arsenal ended the season in 17th; the lowest since 1925 and just six points off relegation.
24 April 1988: Arsenal were the holders of the League Cup going into the 1988 final and utterly firm favourites but lost: Arsenal 2 Luton 3. Hayes and Smith scored but Arsenal’s defence lost the plot once Arsenal were 2-1 up.
24 April 1999: Middlesbrough 1 Arsenal 6. Arsenal went top of the league for the first time in the season, with their 17th unbeaten game. Arsenal had been 0-6 up and with much of the home crowd drifting out, the away support cheered the Boro goal on their behalf as much as the Arsenal goals had been scored. Overmars, Anelka (2), Kanu (2) and Vieira got the goals.
24 April 2002: Arsenal 2 WHU 0. Part of the 13-game consecutive winning streak. This was League match 35 of the 3rd Double season. Ljungberg and Kanu scored in the last 13 minutes.
24 April 2011: Bolton 2 Arsenal 1. The result was part of a dreadful end of season run in which Arsenal won just two of the final 13 games of the season – although still ending up fourth, six points ahead of Tottenham in fifth. The run continued at the start of 2011/12 with just two wins in the first eight games. This was the era of “fourth is not a trophy”.
24 April 2016: Sunderland 0 Arsenal 0. Sunderland were desperate to avoid relegation while Arsenal came into this game on a run of five unbeaten, in which they had scored 12. Arsenal’s run continued to the end of the season to give them the runner’s up spot. Sunderland avoided relegation by two points, sending Newcastle down in their place.