Arsenal win the league for the very first time


Our Woolwich Arsenal book nominated for an award


In his early years Herbert Chapman was a far better manager than his predecessor at Arsenal, taking Arsenal to their first major trophy in 1930 and their first league championship in 1931.  But, although as the chart below shows he was much more successful than Leslie Knighton who, in his last two seasons with the club almost had Arsenal relegated again, Chapman did take five years to get the first trophy and six years to get Arsenal’s first championship.

Here’s the last four years of Knighton’s reign and the first five of Chapman’s.  The instant improvement in both league and cup is obvious.

Season Manager League Position Cup exit round*
1921/2 Knighton 17 4 (6)
1922/3 Knighton 11 2 (4)
1923/4 Knighton 19 2 (4)
1924/5 Knighton 20 2 (4)
1925/6 Chapman 2 6
1926/7 Chapman 11 Beaten finalist
1927/8 Chapman 10 Semi-final
1928/9 Chapman 9 6
1929/30 Chapman 14 Winners

What happened next, in 1930/1, is of course the year engraved on the hearts of every Arsenal supporter interested in history.  In 1929/30 as you can see above Arsenal came 14th in the league and won the cup.  The following season we won the League and went out of the cup early on.

What is interesting here is how the League and Cup were connected.  Clubs had no thought of winning both – rather the notion was that if you were doing well in one, you eased off in the other.

To get a full view of what Chapman was up to, consider this table covering the first six years…

Season Pos. Played Won Drawn Lost For Against Points Cup
1925/6 2nd 42 22 8 12 87 63 52 6
1926/7 11th 42 17 9 16 77 86 43 F
1927/8 10th 42 13 15 14 82 86 41 S-F
1928/9 9th 42 16 13 13 77 72 45 6
1929/30 14th 42 14 11 17 78 66 39 W
1930/1 1st 42 28 10 4 127 59 66 4

In 1930 we won the cup but had the worst performance in the league for Chapman coming 14th out of 22, with 17 defeats in the league.  The only thing that could be said to be progress in terms of the league was the defence which tightened up considerably.

In the 1930/1 season the defence was even tighter – the best so far in Chapman’s era, letting in only 59 goals – but the attack went beserk, not only scoring more goals than in any previous season under his management but actually scoring 40 more than his previous best season and 49 more than the year before.

Our first clue to what happened is that Arsenal went out of the cup in the 4th round, losing 2-1 away to Chelsea, after beating Villa away 3-1 in a replay.  The crowds in these games were sensational – over 73,000 for the Villa replay and almost 63,000 at Chelsea.

In the league Arsenal won their first five games and having inevitably hit top position they stayed there, dropping momentarily to second on just five occasions during the rest of the campaign.

In fact after seven matches Arsenal had six wins and a draw, and Aston Villa had six wins and a draw, and the two teams battled for the league throughout the season.

On 14 March came the crunch game: Aston Villa against Arsenal.  A win for Villa would have taken them to within two points of Arsenal, although Arsenal had a game in hand.   In fact Villa did win the match 5-1, but from that point on Arsenal did not lose another game – winning 7 and drawing 2.  That was Villa’s 7th win in a row – a run which included scoring 33 goals – an average of just under 5 a game!!!

But while Arsenal re-doubled their efforts through the rest of the season, Villa, having beaten Arsenal lost two and drew 1 of their remaining games, and so could not catch Arsenal.

The only other team to challenge Arsenal’s position was Sheffield Wednesday, who themselves went top on four occasions in December and January, in a run that included a 9-1 home win over Birmingham City.

So let’s turn to the players and see who actually made a difference that season in terms of league matches.  In what follows I count players as “joining” the club in the season when they made their first league appearance.  So  I don’t count earlier times when the player may have been at the club but was just playing reserve or youth games.

This table shows all the players who played 10 games or more in the Championship season of 1930/1

Player 1st league season No of games in 1930/1 Most games in one season Year of most appearances
Bob John* 1922/3 40 41 1926/7
Jimmy Brain 1924/5 16 41 1925/6
William Harper 1925/6 19 23 1926/7
Joseph Hulme* 1925/6 32 41 1928/9
Tom Parker * 1925/6 41 42 1926/7, 1927/8, 1928/9
William Seddon* 1925/6 18 24 1929/30
Jack Lambert* 1926/7 34 36 1931/2
Herbie Roberts 1926/7 40 40 1930/1
Eddie Hapgood 1927/8 38 40 1933/4
Charlie Jones 1928/9 24 39 1928/9
David Jack* 1928/9 34 35 1930/31
Alex James* 1929/30 40 40 1930/31, 1932/3
Charles Preedy* 1929/30 11 13 1931/2
Cliff Bastin 1929/30 42 42 1929/30, 1931/2,
Gerald Keyser 1930/1 12 12 1930/1

* Also won the Cup in 1930

What the table shows is with exception of Garald Keyser (a keeper who needs a whole article to himself, so strange was his career) everyone involved in the first championship win was player at Arsenal before the 1930/1 season.   What Chapman had done was in fact gradually built his team, year by year.  Of these players…

  • Three players had played from 1929/30
  • Two players had played from 1928/9
  • One player had played from 1927/8
  • Two players had played from 1926/7
  • Four players had played from 1925/6
  • One player had played from 1924/5
  • One player had played from 1922/3

Thus two players had been inherited from the previous management (Bob John and Jimmy Brain) – all the rest were Chapman men, in a team built up slowly over time.

And here we have the clue as to what Chapman did.  Slowly, year by year he added players to his squad until he had a Cup, and then a League, winning team.

We’ll look at the heroes of 1930/31 next time.


3 Replies to “Arsenal win the league for the very first time”

  1. Arsenal played total of 45 games in 1930-31 Season [42 in league + 3 in FA Cup including REPLAY]. Its unbelievable how forward players like Cliff Bastin and Alex James managed to play 42 and 40 games respectively out of those and that too at the time when subs werent allowed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *