Chapman’s problems with the number 4

By Tony Attwood

In writing this article about the right halves (ie players wearing number 4) during Chapman’s era I came across this comment on Wikipedia, referring to one of the players who did play at that position for Chapman:

“Although Arsenal were spoilt for choice for wing-halves…”

“Spoilt for choice” is one way of looking at it.   “Unable to find the right man” is another way.  The chart below shows all the players who played number 4 during the era.   We’ve seen that Chapman found it hard to get the right goalkeeper, but found it easy to select and keep fit the two full backs.

But when it comes to the number 4 one look at this chart and a comparison with the earlier charts of the full backs shows that Chapman really did have a problem:

25/6 26/7 27/8 28/9 29/30 30/31 31/2 32/3 33/4
Baker 31 18 36 31 17
Blyth 1 11
Young 4 5
Seddon 8 2 12 18 5
Milne 6
Roberts 2 1
Clark 1
Haynes 10 1
H’pish 3
Jones 24 34 12 29
Male 4 2
Hill 27 10
Parkin 3
Sidey 1

It is self-evident that Chapman could not find and keep the man he wanted.  Baker had played right back under Knighton, while Milne was the regular number four under the previous administration.  Young had played both centre forward and right half.  All the others were introduced by Chapman.

So Chapman used the players he inherited – but whereas with the full backs he went out and found the man he needed, while using the players already at the club, with the right half he completely failed to do this and went through this array of players.  Here are the brief details of just a few of the men who filled the position:

William Milne joined the club under Knighton, and although not retained as a player by Chapman, did become an integral part of the club as a trainer.   In fact he stayed with the club until the Swindin era.

Alf Baker played 310 league games for Arsenal, generally as a right half.  He joined Arsenal after the war and was playing 20 or more games a season right up to 1930/1 when he clocked up his one game of the season as a right back.  After this season he retired from football, Arsenal being his only senior club.

Andrew Young was never a favourite of the previous regime but having joined in 1921 from Aston Villa he totalled 68 games for the club up to 1926/7 when he moved on to Bournemouth.  His best season was 1923/4 when he played 25 league games.

Billy Blyth joined Arsenal in the final pre-war season as a left half and inside left and played 314 league games for the club.  He played 132 league games under Chapman and scored 45 goals.  Right half was certainly not his “real” position.

William Seddon also came from Villa and played as both a right half and centre half, but had a very up and down time at Arsenal.  One game in 1925/6, 17 in 1926/7, then four the 27/8, then zero, before 24 in 1929/30, and 18 in 1930/31.  He left in 1932 for Grimsby.

Charlie Jones was signed in May 1928, and often played as one of the forwards  He missed only three league games in 1929/30, and then moved to right half.  He won three First Division winners’ medals (in 1930-31, 1932-33 and 1933-34), and played in the 1931-32 FA Cup final . After the 1933/34 season he retired from football having played 195 games for Arsenal.

Frank “Tiger” Hill made his debut in October 1932 and played through the hattrick seasons from 1932 to 1935.  He played right half, left half and on the wing.

By 1936 he was losing his place regularly, playing only 10 games all season and was sold to Blackpool in 1936 having played 81 games for Arsenal.

So there we see it – not one player managed to settle into the number 4 shirt once the men of the previous management had gone – the nearest we get being Charlie Jones.  It almost looks as if Chapman picked the rest of his team, and then thought, “Who have we got left?” and then slotted that man in at number 4.


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4 Replies to “Chapman’s problems with the number 4”

  1. Good post, Tony. Very interesting, though I can’t wholly agree on the “problem”.

    “…shows that Chapman really did have a problem.”
    “not one player managed to settle into the number 4 shirt… the nearest we get being Charlie Jones.”

    And BAKER, Tony.
    He played more games than Jones in the 4 seasons: 1925-26, 1926-27, 1927-28, 1928-29 ( = 116 games ), than Jones did in the 4 seasons 1930-31, 1931-32, 1932-33, 1933-34 ( = 99 ). He figured rather consistently in 3 of the 5 seasons shown above.

    I’m not so sure it was actually a ‘problem’, as such. Both Jones and Hill were Internationals. Both featured in 3 title-winning seasons. Both competing, to a degree, for the same no.4 shirt.
    1930-31 Jones played 24 games. Then 34 games.
    Then, Jones and Hill competing in 1932-33: 39 games between them. Then same again 1933-34: 39 games between them.
    That looks to me to be healthy competition, rather than a problem.

    In fact, the only two seasons that could be a problem (of irregularity) are 1926-27, and 1929-30 when more than 2 players were used on more than a few occasions.

    A greater degree of regularity occurs of course in 1934 onwards: Jack Crayston at right half (and Wilf Copping left-half).

    ps: Milne erroneously features TWICE in your chart for 1926-27. He played 6 times.

  2. Big Al, I agree about injuries but my point is mostly one of contrast between that one position and what happened in other positions. I have the advantage of knowing the numbers for other positions (although I have not done every analysis yet and I agree my analysis doesnt include reference to injury) but that number 4 slot really stands out as different from everything else.

  3. Hi Tony. Thanks for reply.
    I didn’t know you were working through the entire Chapman era in the way that you are.
    I don’t surf as much as some, and I must admit I hadn’t seen the previous Chapman ‘problem’ posts (I wrongly assumed this “Number 4” was a one-off stand-alone post).

    It certainly is interesting, for sure, how he was striving for his ‘perfect’ team.

    I’ll check on all your previous “numbers” (positions), and I look forward to the rest that will follow.
    Big thanks.

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