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100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.
7 November 1896: Notts C 7 Arsenal 4. Only 3000 witnessed Arsenal’s biggest league aggregate game thus far.
The game was part of an amazing 11 league game sequence in which 76 goals were scored – fractionally under 7 per game. The run included the 0-8 defeat to Loughboro and two games in which Arsenal scored six.
What makes the match even more interesting is that this game came in a sequence of 12 games in the League and the FA Cup in which there were at least five goals scored in every game. And in fact in the game immediate after the sequence Arsenal only let the scoring slip a little: they won 4-0.
The run started on 17 October with a 5-3 away defeat to Walsall. The next game was a 6-1 home win against Gainsborough Trinity. Then came the 7-4 defeat, followed by a 5-2 defeat.
Out of the 12 games Arsenal did however win seven including a 6-2 win on Christmas Day over Lincoln City in the league.
But at this point despite having three successive wins in which the club scored a total of 15 goals and conceded just four (“just” being an appropriate term during this run), Arsenal then lost successive league games 4-1 against Gainsborough Trinity and Darwen, before beating Chatham 4-0 in the cup.
What makes all this scoring even more extraordinary than it might already sound is the fact that at this time, the offside rule required three defensive players to be between the attacking player and the goalline at all times – even if the attacking player was nowhere near the ball.
Mind you the rules also allowed the goalkeeper to handle the ball anywhere in his own half, rather than just within the penalty area, and while most keepers tended to stay behind the posts, there are reports of some keepers occasionally running the length of their half with the ball to release it to their forwards who were making a quick dash to the opposition goal.
The only problem with this approach however was that play could be so rough at times that the keeper could readily be tripped, the ball released and then booted towards the unguarded goal.
Woolwich Arsenal came 10th out of 16 in the second division this season – their fourth in the football league division 2. In 30 games they scored 68 and conceded 70. An average of 4.6 goals being scored per game.