7 March 1927: with the cup final pending – West Ham United 7 Arsenal 0

For the regulars at Highbury,1926/7 must have started as a season as a stupendous promise.   Having never won a single thing of consequence (not the second division, not the first division, not the FA cup) Arsenal had hired the man who had just delivered unto Huddersfield Town two league titles.   The repayment of Henry Norris’ belief in the man who had once been banned from football for life, was the highest ever position for Arsenal thus far in their history – second in the first division.

Surely 1926/27 would be Arsenal’s year.  Huddersfield didn’t have Chapman, Arsenal did.  Arsenal had clearly sorted out the new offside rule, and had the second-best defence in the league.  Most importantly they had moved from one place above relegation two seasons before, to one place off the championship in one season.  Was this man a genius or what?

Well, what?

By Chapman’s second season (1926/7) he had his feet under the table and was been lauded as a god having taken Arsenal from being regularly relegation-threatened to championship chasers.

But then something went wrong.  After two opening victories in 1926/27 Arsenal won only two out of the next 14, and the season, in terms of building on that wonderful second place achievement of Chapman’s first season was gone.

Arsenal did recover in the league, and ended 11th, thanks to a run of five consecutive wins in April.  But he was forgiven the poor league form for it was in the cup that matters progressed:

  • Round 3 beat Sheffield United
  • Round 4 beat Port Vale (division 2) (after a 2-2 draw)
  • Round 5: beat Liverpool
  • Round 6: beat Wolverhampton Wanderers (division 2)
  • SF: beat Southampton (division 2)
  • Final: lost to Cardiff

So Arsenal’s progress was helped by having to play three out of the eight matches against lower league teams and never having to play a top seven club from the first division.  And yes we lost the final 0-1, and so the first trophy was not to be.  But Arsenal had got to the Cup Final for the first time.

Thus there was still hope, despite the return to mid-table for the league.  And it was all done by using the same resources used by his predecessor plus one new high profile player (Charlie Buchan) who was at the end of his career.   So it wasn’t player transfers that made this happen but tactical changes that worked.

However, there was something odd, for if we look at our goal scoring it was 77 for, 86 against.

77 goals that season was an average figure.  Derby a place below us got 86, but Huddersfield in second place in the league got 76.  Yet 86 against was poor, the fifth worse in the league for Leeds and West Bromwich were relegated with 88 and 86 goals against.  Arsenal avoided relegation by 13 points, which shows how important the six wins in the last seven games were.  Without that run, we would have been in real trouble.

And the worst of those defeats was on March 7th: West Ham United 7 Arsenal 0, part of a series of the run of six consecutive defeats, a run of terrible results in the league which coincided with our final push into the FA Cup semifinal and then final.

So why was the cup form and league form so different?   Well, what Chapman did was to start trying out fringe players in the league while keeping his best possible team for the FA Cup.  The reverse of what we see these days!

What, I wonder, would the blogger of the 1920s have made of all this?   Certainly, there would have been cries for the removal of Mr Chapman, and demands for new blood.  Two seasons, and one new regular player – and he, at the very end of his career and due to leave after Chapman’s second season.  No trophies, and a defence that was among the worst in the league.  Yes a cup final, but an easy run to the final by any standard and only one of the cup run games was won by more than one goal (2-0 against Liverpool).

The feeling was that Chapman had to deliver next season, or else surely Mr Norris (the power behind the club) would put up with no more.  The crowds were right down (only 22,000 for the last home game), and they would fall further if something were not done.  The papers were very critical, not least because after the defeat on this day in 1927, we also had on April 6th: Newcastle United 6 Arsenal 1, and then on April 9th: Sunderland 5 Arsenal 1.

I wonder if anyone held up a placard saying “Chapman out”.

The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.

100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.

Details of other series can be found on our home page and on the column on the right side of this page.   In particular, you might like to note…

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

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