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The curious story of 1968/9; the first run of six wins in 13 years.

Tony Attwood

11 January 1969: Arsenal 2 Sheffield W 0.  6 consecutive wins, one goal conceded. First six in a row in the league since March/April 1956

Triumphs in football rarely, if ever, happen out of nothing.   When Arsenal won the league and cup double in 1971 it is true that they had not won a domestic trophy since winning the league in 1953, but that simple fact hides the build up that led to 1971.

In terms of cups and finals, that build up consisted of

  • 2 March 1968: Leeds 1 Arsenal 0 (League Cup final)
  • 15 March 1969: Swindon 3 Arsenal 1 (League Cup final)
  • 22 April 1970: Anderlecht 3 Arsenal 1 (Fairs cup final 1st leg)
  • 28 April 1970: Arsenal 3 Anderlecht 0 (Fairs cup final 2nd leg)

Curiously there was no similar build up in the First Division as this record of Arsenal under Bertie Mee shows:

League position FA Cup exit round League Cup exit round
1966/7 7 5 (Birmingham) 3 (WHU)
1967/8 9 5 (Birmingham) Final
1968/9 4 5 (WBA) Final
1969/70 12 3 (Blackpool) 3 (Everton)

But what this hides is one other small fact.  Nothing that would give us a trophy, but a sign of the changing times.

For what the figures above show us is that Mee could focus.  1969/70 was a terrible season in the league (12th) the FA Cup (exit in first round played) and League Cup (exit in second round played) but we won a European Trophy.

And it was this ability to focus that led to this other achievement, for on 11 January 1969 we had the result Arsenal 2 Sheffield W 0.  That made it six consecutive wins, one goal conceded. First six in a row in the league since March/April 1956.

The six wins came after a very poor run, which in turn came after a very good opening run.  Here’s how it went:

September 14 1968: Arsenal 1 Stoke 0 completes seven wins and two draws in the opening nine games.  The table made encouraging reading…

Pld W D L F A GA Pts
1 Arsenal 9 7 2 0 17 6 2.83 16
2 Leeds United 8 6 2 0 17 7 2.43 14
3 Chelsea 9 5 3 1 19 8 2.38 13
4 West Ham United 9 5 3 1 19 9 2.11 13
5 Liverpool 9 5 2 2 13 7 1.86 12
6 Everton 9 4 3 2 14 7 2.00 11
7 Sheffield Wednesday 9 4 3 2 13 11 1.18 11
8 Sunderland 9 3 4 2 13 11 1.18 10
9 Manchester United 9 3 2 4 12 16 0.75 8
10 West Bromwich Albion 9 3 2 4 15 22 0.68 8

23 November 1968 Arsenal 0 Chelsea 1.  That made it two wins, five draws, three defeats in games 10 to 19.  A less satisfactory table, but still not that bad…

Pld W D L F A GA Pts
1 Liverpool 20 13 4 3 39 13 3.00 30
2 Leeds United 19 12 5 2 28 16 1.75 29
3 Everton 20 11 6 3 41 18 2.28 28
4 Arsenal 19 9 7 3 22 12 1.83 25
5 West Ham United 20 8 8 4 40 23 1.74 24
6 Chelsea 20 9 6 5 35 21 1.67 24
7 Tottenham Hotspur 20 8 7 5 38 29 1.31 23
8 Burnley 20 10 3 7 29 34 0.85 23
9 West Bromwich Albion 20 8 5 7 30 36 0.83 21
10 Sheffield Wednesday 19 6 8 5 23 23 1.00 20

11 January 1969 Arsenal 2 Sheffield Wednesday 0 made games 20 to 25 a run of six consecutive wins

Pld W D L F A GA Pts
1 Liverpool 27 18 5 4 46 15 3.07 41
2 Leeds United 25 16 7 2 42 21 2.00 39
3 Arsenal 25 15 7 3 34 13 2.62 37
4 Everton 26 15 7 4 56 24 2.33 37
5 Chelsea 26 11 8 7 47 32 1.47 30
6 West Ham United 26 9 11 6 47 32 1.47 29
7 Sheffield Wednesday 26 9 10 7 32 28 1.14 28
8 Southampton 28 9 9 10 34 38 0.90 27
9 Burnley 27 11 5 11 34 53 0.64 27
10 West Bromwich Albion 26 10 6 10 39 44 0.89 26

 18 February 1969: Arsenal 0 Ipswich 2 made it two defeats, one draw, one win in the last four games, as Arsenal slipped to fourth.   Worse on 15 March 1969 Arsenal lost in the league cup final to Swindon.

8 April 1969.  Arsenal played three games in four days over Easter, the last of which (Leicester 0 Arsenal 0) resulted in games 30 to 37 of the season giving: four wins, three draws.  We pulled back a little

Pld W D L F A GA Pts
1 Leeds United 36 24 10 2 60 24 2.50 58
2 Liverpool 36 23 8 5 56 21 2.67 54
3 Arsenal 37 20 12 5 49 20 2.45 52
4 Everton 35 19 11 5 69 31 2.23 49
5 Chelsea 39 18 9 12 69 51 1.35 45
6 West Ham United 37 13 16 8 63 43 1.47 42
7 Southampton 39 15 12 12 53 46 1.15 42
8 Tottenham Hotspur 37 11 16 10 56 49 1.14 38
9 Manchester United 39 13 12 14 52 49 1.06 38
10 Burnley 39 14 9 16 52 78 0.67 37

Although Arsenal were six points behind the leaders in an era of two points for a win and one for a draw, Arsenal might still have harboured thoughts of a runners’ up spot.   But games 38 to 42 delivered three defeats and two wins.  A disappointing end to the season gave us Everton 1 Arsenal 0 on 29 April 1969.

The season drifted on for another couple of weeks with clubs playing catch up through matches postponed for the weather and cup requirements, but when it was finally produced in mid-May the final table showed

Pld W D L F A GA Pts
1 Leeds United 42 27 13 2 66 26 2.54 67
2 Liverpool 42 25 11 6 63 24 2.62 61
3 Everton 42 21 15 6 77 36 2.14 57
4 Arsenal 42 22 12 8 56 27 2.07 56
5 Chelsea 42 20 10 12 73 53 1.38 50
6 Tottenham Hotspur 42 14 17 11 61 51 1.20 45
7 Southampton 42 16 13 13 57 48 1.19 45
8 West Ham United 42 13 18 11 66 50 1.32 44
9 Newcastle United 42 15 14 13 61 55 1.11 44
10 West Bromwich Albion 42 16 11 15 64 67 0.95 43

It was indeed a most curious season – but it was showing that Mee was building a team that could put sequences together.  However when the team was disrupted or lost its self-belief, it floundered, and indeed I believe this season held the secret of what happened to Arsenal with their decline after the double, with the club coming 16th and 17th in the league in Mee’s last two seasons.

There’s one other factor.  The double season was built on a settle team, and Mee was already finding that.  Wilson, Storey and McNab all played 42 laegue games while David Court played 40.  Top scorer was John Radford with 15, second was Bobby Gould with ten.

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