Derby 5 Arsenal 4 “Arsenal’s days as a power are numbered”

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By Tony Attwood.  Remembering 3 February 1937.

OK I cheated with that headline, as I don’t have a newspaper cutting for this game.  But I can imagine it being said.

Under George Allison Arsenal won the league in 1934/5, his first season in charge, and with Allison playing what was basically a Chapman built team.

In 1935/6 Arsenal slipped back to sixth, but won the FA Cup, and in those days, winning one (or at least getting to the final) was an excuse for slipping up in the other.

But in 1936/7 Allison’s team only came 3rd in the League  and went out of the cup to West Bromwich in the sixth round.

And not only were their no trophies that year, Arsenal had a second season in which they endured a defeat in which they let in five.  On 3 February 1937 it was Derby County 5 Arsenal 4, and on December 28 1935 it had been Sunderland 5 Arsenal 4.

(Just to complete the picture, Arsenal won the league in the 1937/8 season, although in October/November 1937 they endured a spell of two wins in 12 games.  I rather suspect the AAA of the day (known then as the boo-boys) would have been up in arms, demanding that they be given their Arsenal back).

That the result against Derby was something of a surprise can be seen from the table of Arsenal/Derby matches from the era.

1936/1937 Wed 03 Feb Derby County 5 – 4 Arsenal First Division
Sat 26 Sep Arsenal 2 – 2 Derby County First Division
1935/1936 Wed 04 Mar Derby County 0 – 4 Arsenal First Division
Sat 09 Nov Arsenal 1 – 1 Derby County First Division
1934/1935 Sat 04 May Arsenal 0 – 1 Derby County First Division
Sat 22 Dec Derby County 3 – 1 Arsenal First Division
1933/1934 Mon 02 Apr Derby County 2 – 4 Arsenal First Division

Arsenal quite regularly knocked in four against Derby (three times in four seasons in fact) but were not used to letting in five in response.

What makes the result in 1937 all the stranger is that it came on the back of an unbeaten run of nine match unbeaten run in which six of the games were won.  In four of those games Arsenal scored four or five goals.

And in fact after the 4-5 defeat to Derby, Arsenal then went on a further 11 match unbeaten run, although on this run seven of the games were draws, and one can see the extra emphasis on defence, with only one game clocking up four Arsenal goals and no games having more than that.

Indeed it was these drawn games, following a clear change of tactics that cost Arsenal another title, as they ended the season just five points behind the leaders Manchester City.   Arsenal came in third, and three points behind them in fourth were Derby County.

(One very strange fact from this era was that following Manchester City’s triumph in 1937, they ended the next season relegated to the second division.  I don’t know enough Man City history to explain this, but it was one hell of a turn around.  And they didn’t jump straight back to the First Division either, but ended the final season before the Second World War in sixth place in the Second Division.)

But back to Arsenal in 1936/7 – what was remarkable about that season was that it was the first time since 1928/9 that Arsenal had not either won the league or been in the FA Cup final.  After seven years of Cup Finals and League Championships, Arsenal were “just” third in the league and out of the cup in the 5th round.

Most of the big names of 1936/7 were still there in the following season although Alex James retired at the end of 1936/7.   The table below shows league games for the main players in each season:

  1936/7 1937/8
Male 37 34
Hapgood 32 41
Crayston 30 31
Roberts 30 13
Copping 38 36
Bowden 26 10
Drake 26 27
James 19 0
Bastin 33 38
Joy 6 26

So there was no major signing that came in to bring Arsenal back to glory in 1937/8.  If anything we might remember simply that the difference between winning and losing a match is often little more than hitting the post and having the ball bounce out, and hitting the post and having the ball bounce in.

George Allison’s record as a manager was remarkable, and his one poor year – the first year of football after the Second World War, should not be held against him.  If ever a season was a lottery it was that one, with clubs struggling to put their squads together again.

If you want to read more, the index to all the George Allison articles is here but you might particularly find these of interest:

37 years service – from Administration to Domination

George Allison: more than just a manager

To conclude here is his record as a manager:

Here is Allison’s record

Year League Position FA Cup
1934/5 1st 6th round
1935/6 6th Won
1936/7 3rd 6th round
1937/8 1st 5th round
1938/9 5th 3rd round
1946/7 13th 3rd round

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