For regular fans at Highbury1926/7 the season must have started as a time of 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 delivered unto Huddersfield Town two league titles. The immediate repayment of Sir Henry Norris’ belief in the man who had once been banned from football for life was the highest ever league finish of Arsenal – second in the first division achieved in his first season. It was even more notable because the previous season Arsenal had been very close to being relegated.
Surely, therefore, 1926/27 would be Arsenal’s year. Huddersfield didn’t have Chapman, Arsenal did. Arsenal had clearly sorted out the new offside rule, with the second-best defence in the league. Most importantly they had moved from one place from relegation to one place from the championship in one season. Was this man a genius or what?
Mr Chapman, having taken Arsenal to second in the league continued into the next season using the same players as were available to him at the end of the previous season. He had created his team, and he was happy with it, that was be the general view.
And yet in league terms, the season did not deliver. After two initial victories Arsenal won only two out of the next 14 games, and the growth of the club, in terms of building on that wonderful second place was gone.
Arsenal did recover in the league, and ended 11th, thanks not least to a run of five consecutive wins in April. But there was a counter-balance for it was in the cup that matters progressed:
- Round 3 Sheffield United
- Round 4 Port Vale (division 2) (after a 2-2 draw)
- Round 5: Liverpool
- Round 6: Wolverhampton (division 2)
- SF: Southampton (division 2)
- Final: Cardiff
Arsenal’s progress was helped by having to play three out of the eighth matches against lower league teams and never having to play a top seven club from the first division. But Arsenal lost its first FA cup final 0-1, and so the first trophy was not to be.
In the league, if we look at our goal scoring it was 77 for, 86 against which gave a fairly clear view of what was going on.
77 goals scored that season was an average figure. Derby a place below Arsenal got 86, although Huddersfield in second place in the league got 76. Indeed 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.
But it is worth noting just some of those defeats:
- March 7th: West Ham United 7 Arsenal 0
- April 6th: Newcastle United 6 Arsenal 1
- April 9th: Sunderland 5 Arsenal 1
These three results were part of a series of six consecutive defeats, starting with the West Ham match and ending in the Sunderland game. So what caused the problem?
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. 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 media’s answer was that a London team would never win the league because there were too many distractions for the players in terms of London life. It was more austere in the north, and so the players were “real men”.
Herbert Chapman probably knew that he had to deliver next season, or else surely Mr Norris might not put up with this 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.
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.