12 September: Arsenal bottom of the League


12 September 1953: Bottom of the league and a game against Norwich

Until it was interrupted by events, the current season has seen a particularly fine start to the campaign, but of course, it is not always like this, and we might perhaps look back to the start of the 1953/4 season – when the club lost six and drew two of its first eight games (including on this day with a 7-1 defeat away to Sunderland).

For what made this terrible start to the season so unexpected was the fact that Arsenal had finished the previous season in 1952/3 as champions!

So what happened?

Our ex-player Tom Whittaker who had taken over from George Allison after the second world war, was still at the helm, and his record from 1947/8 onwards was of the highest order with two championships, two FA Cup final appearances (winning one) and never finishing lower than 6th in the league. Equal to Allison and Chapman.

But that summer Tom was unable to stop the departure of one significant player: Ray Daniel.  Daniel had played 41 games at centre half in 1952/3  and yet was sold to Sunderland for a club record fee £30,000.   Why (everyone asked) would a player leave the league champions where he was first choice number 5, to join a team that had finished 9th  and which was not in the process of any serious rebuilding? (Perhaps the answer was that he wasn’t that good after all, as Sunderland finished 18th in 1953-54 – so maybe Daniel was not such a capture after all).

And it was later revealed that Sunderland offered Daniel payments far in excess of the maximum wage that was allowed.  Sadly Ray Daniel was tempted by a better (although illegal) offer – although of course Arsenal still had to agree to him going.

The squad also had some other problems.  Cliff Holton at centre forward simply lost his touch scoring only two goals in the first six games he played.  It was not until late October when he scored eight goals in six league games that things started to improve.

And so, by 12th September 1953 Arsenal were bottom of the league, two points adrift from the clubs above, having suffered the sort of defeat (that 1-7 to Sunderland) that Arsenal had become more used to dishing out to others than receiving.

Thereafter four changes were made, and away to Chelsea on September 15 we finally got a victory, 2-0, in front of 60,652 fans.  The win started the improvement and we won four and drew one of those next five games.

But even so there were still problems such as on October 17 with the 2-5 home defeat to Burnley and January 23, a 1-4 home defeat to Sunderland.

Although Arsenal climbed up the table and ended the season in 12th position, there was still more bad news, which is where the Norwich connection comes back to haunt us. For on 30 January 1954 we took on Norwich City of the Third Division South in front of 55,767 at Highbury in the fourth round of the cup.  And we lost 1-2.

At least on this day in history we beat Norwich to secure our first points of the season.

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