How do great seasons begin: the openings games of Arsenal’s 5 greatest campaigns

By Tony Attwood


Arsenal were FA Cup holders (for the first time) as they entered the 1930/31 campaign, having finished just 14th in the League the previous season.  They also added the new 45 minute clock to the stadium’s entertainment early in the season, although the League made them cover it up after just three games.

But even the League Management Committee could not stop Arsenal winning the league (for the first time) with a record number of points.

And the season started brightly with two very similar sounding away games.  A 4-1 victory at Blackpool (1-0 to the Arsenal at half time) and a 4-1 victory away to Bolton (1-0 to the Arsenal at half time).

What was perhaps the biggest clue as to what was to come was that Arsenal clearly had three great goalscorers in the team across these two games : Jack (who got two), Bastin (also two) and Lambert who got three.  By the end of the season Arsenal had scored 127.


Arsenal had just won the Fairs Cup, but finished 12th in the league the previous season, and opened the new campaign with a 2-2 draw at Everton, and a goalless draw at West Ham – which left them sitting 11th in the League.  It was only in the third match of the season that the team seemed to realise that having won the first bit of European silverware didn’t count for much, as Arsenal beat Manchester United 4-0.

The season ended with a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane and the 2-1 beating of Liverpool at Wembley.


Arsenal began their second double season with a 1-1 draw away against Leeds following by a 2-0 win against Coventry.  It was an ok start, but after five games Arsenal were sitting an OK fifth (but nothing more than OK) with just two wins from the first five games   What was noticeable was that of the nine goals scored, Bergkamp had got five.  He ended up as the top league scorer with 16.


The third double season started with a 4-0 away win against Middlesbrough and a 1-2 home defeat to Leeds.  Matters improved with a second 4-0 win (at home to Leicester), but what was particularly interesting was that after four games with ten goals scored, Arsenal already had six different goal scorers.


Obviously there were no league   defeats in the opening games and in fact there was the rarity of Arsenal winning all four of their opening League games, beating Everton, Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Manchester City.

As you may have noted, the away game to Manchester City was followed by a report in the Times to the effect that fans were saying this was the worst ever Arsenal team they had seen.  (Those newspaper reporters do like to have their fun).

The first defeat was 3-0 at home to Inter Milan on 17 September.  I’ve always wondered if Mr Wenger knew that it was the League that mattered this season.  Interestingly Arsenal were unbeaten in the first six league games of 1997/8 before losing to PAOK Salonika.

So, yes, by and large great seasons OK, but not always with a great rush of wins.

Here are the anniversaries.

17 August 1896: Andrew Young born.  He was signed by Knighton in 1921 from Aston Villa.  He played 68 games for the club up to 1926/7. 

17 August 1909.  Wilf Copping born.  He became a miner while playing for local teams and tried for a place with Barnsley in 1929, but failed to get in the team.  He kept on trying and later in the year he signed for Leeds United of the first division.

17 August 1911: A national railway workers strike started and in riots relating to this strike two men were shot dead by soldiers.   Magistrates’ homes were attacked and four more people were killed.

17 August 1917: One of the most extraordinary meetings of literary geniuses of all time occurred at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh when Wilfred Owen introduced himself to Siegfried Sassoon.

17 August 1922: The regular pre-season friendly between Arsenal reserves and the first team was almost certainly played on this date.  Meanwhile in Ireland Dublin Castle was handed over to the Irish Republican Army as the final British troops left Irish soil.  It was a momentous occasion especially as many senior politicians objected strongly to the policy and it was arranged by the Conservative and Unionist Party.

17 August 1956: John Kosmina born.  He played for Polonia and then West Adelaide, before signing for Arsenal in February 1978.  He only played once for Arsenal, but then had a successful career back in Australia first as a player, then as a coach.

17 August 1970: Match 2 from the first Double season.  WHU 0 Arsenal 0 thus making it played 2, drawn 2, showing that one should never draw too many conclusions from the opening games.

17 August 1971:  Huddersfield 0 Arsenal 1.  The  attendance was a paltry 21,279.  Arsenal took the route of efficiency rather than fine football to beat Huddersfield, dominating the game, but taking no risks.   They could have won by three or four but it looked as if the side were under orders to hold the back line and wait.

17 August 1974: Arsenal beat Leicester 0-1 away in what was the first of no less than seven matches against Leicester in League and FA Cup during the season. See also here.

17 August 1977: Thierry Henry born in Essonne, Paris and played for various local sides.  He was then spotted by AS Monaco in 1990 and signed immediately.  After retiring from playing he went into coaching and managed Monaco in 2018/19 although with very little success.  On 14 November 2019, he joined Montreal Impact, signing a two year deal 

17 August 1977: Pat Howard transferred to Birmingham City for £40,000.  He had made 15 starts and 1 sub appearance for Arsenal during his one year in the club but had slipped down the order after the arrival of Willie Young.  See also here

17 August 1984: Brighton and Hove Albion 1 Arsenal 1 (Allinson).  The last game of a poor pre-season in which Arsenal won two games, lost two more and drew this one.

17 August 1990: Steve Gatting’s testimonial match.  Brighton 2 Arsenal 2.  He had played 58 games for Arsenal and by the time he left Brighton had played 316 games for them.

17 August 1991: Arsenal 1 QPR 1 (Merson scoring in the 90th minute) in the first game of the season.  This was most disappointing as Arsenal were champions having won the league the previous season despite the ludicrous removal of two points for some argybargy at Old Trafford.

17 August 2009: Jay Emmanuel-Thomas loaned to Blackpool.  He played 11 games for them before moving on to loan spells with Doncaster and Cardiff.  His longest spell was with Bristol City and most recently was playing in Thailand.

17 August 2012: Thomas Vermaelen promoted to club captain and Mikel Arteta to vice-captaincy.  Arteta took over as captain after Vermaelen’s departure, but both suffered significant injuries following their acceptance of the captaincy.

17 August 2013: Arsenal lost the first match of the season to Villa at home 1-3 amid referee decisions so odd that even the press started mentioning them.  Arsenal won the next five to go top of the league where they remained apart from one week until 8 February.

17 August 2016: Tafari Moore loaned to Jong FC Utrecht for the season.  He moved to Plymouth in 2018.

17 August 2018: Joel Campbell sold to Frosinone and Stephy Mavididi sold to Juventus. David Ospina was loaned to Napoli signing for them permanently in 2019.

17 August 2019: Arsenal beat Burnley 2-1 to make it two Premier League wins out of two at the start of the season.




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