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Arsenal in the 30s part 3. How Chapman put his triumphant 1931 team together. Part 3.

 By Tony Attwood

In the last episode of this series I suggested that overall we can see that Chapman had got his ideal team more or less ready by the time of the Cup Final, and eight of those finalists played in the opening of the glorious 1930/1 season, against Blackpool.

But I think we can take this analysis a stage further in order to see exactly how Chapman planned his drive to Arsenal’s first ever championship.

Chapman used 24 players in 1929/30, the season Arsenal finished 14th in the league and 12 of those players played 20 games or more.  Here I’ll look at those 12 players and what happened to them in 1930/1, as well as looking at the opening game of the season.

Player 1929/30 Goals 1930/31 Goals
Bastin  21 7 42 28
Hapgood  38 0  38 0
Hulme  37 14  32 14
Jack  33 13  35 31
James  31 6  40 5
John  34 0  40 2
Jones  31 1  24 1
Lambert  20 18  34 38
Lewis  30 0
Parker  41 3  41 0
Roberts 26 0  40 1
Seddon  24 0  18 0

This table shows the remarkable reality of the 1930/1 season, in that Arsenal employed the same key players as the season before (with the exception of Lewis, mentioned in the last article).  No new player came in to play 20+ games, and none of the previous season’s 20+ game heroes dropped out.

So it was the same core team.  But what happened was that three players shot up in their goal scoring ability:

Player 1929/30 Goals 1930/31 Goals
Bastin  21 7 42 28
Jack  33 13  35 31
Lambert  20 18  34 38

For one player to be able to do this is one thing – we might then comment on the sign of a good manager.  To have three of them do it at once is beyond belief.

So who were these three?

  • Bastin was born in 1912, and this was his second season at Arsenal – he was 18.
  • Jack was born in 1899 and this was his third season at Arsenal – he was 30
  • Lambert was born in 1902 and this was his fifth season at Arsenal – he was 27.

I think that combination of ages and experience all coming together was what made the team break all the records and take football by storm.

But of course it wasn’t just the attack – indeed Aston Villa actually scored one more goal than Arsenal in 1930/1 – it was the counter attacking style that had emerged from the sophistication of the WM system.

While today that is often portrayed as a simple dropping of the centre half further back down the pitch, what Chapman did was choose a centre half who could immediately pass the ball to a deep lying inside forward who could instantly pass the ball to one of the three upfield forwards.

Bastin, Jack and Lambert playing 11, 8 or 9, and 9 respectively, took defences apart; the defence simply didn’t know who to mark.  But that was all to come. For the moment we need to look at what happened in the opening of the season.

Remember the last season ended like this…

Cup winners yes, but hardly a top form league club.

Blackpool on the other hand were newly promoted from the second division with their final table looking like this.

The fact that they had knocked in 98 goals was noted, although their defence had let them down.  Their end of season run had been strong, easing up only in the last two games when promotion was assured

Game Date Opposition Res Pos Pts
37 12.04.1930 Wolverhampton Wndrs away W2-1 2 51
38 18.04.1930 Oldham Athletic home W3-0 1 53
39 19.04.1930 Bradford City home W3-0 1 55
40 21.04.1930 Oldham Athletic away W2-1 1 57
41 26.04.1930 Swansea City away L0-3 1 57
42 03.05.1930 Nottingham Forest away D0-0 1 58

So Blackpool v Arsenal was no certainty for the Cup holders.  But in the end the results were interesting on the first day of the season.  I have marked the top four from last season in bold – three of them won, and only Man City was held.

Birmingham City 3-1 Sheffield United
Blackpool 1-4 Arsenal
Bolton Wanderers 3-0 Middlesbrough
Grimsby Town 0-1 Chelsea
Leeds United 2-2 Portsmouth
Leicester City 1-1 Derby County
Liverpool 2-1 Blackburn Rovers
Manchester United 3-4 Aston Villa
Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Newcastle United
Sunderland 3-3 Manchester City
West Ham United 2-1 Huddersfield Town

As for Blackpool, it turned out that Blackpool were not as strong as people imagined, as they lost two and won one of their four opening games, and that defence was indeed rather dubious. as was suspected.  But in their opening sequence they did manage to beat one of the previous season’s top sides, Man City, away, in between two defeats in which they conceded nine.

Date Opponents Venue Result Score
30.08.1930 Arsenal home Lost 1-4
03.09.1930 Manchester City away Won 4-2
06.09.1930 Blackburn Rovers away Lost 0-5
10.09.1930 Portsmouth home Drew 2-2

But back to the Arsenal game.  The goals came from two players – David Jack got two, Cliff Bastin got a penalty, and then scored a goal of his own.  Yes, Chapman was letting the teenager take the penalties.

So, that was the one game in August, the season was underway, and no one in those days was crass enough to publish a league table after one game, although had they done, they would have seen that actually, Arsenal were top.

In the next article we look at September 1930, as suddenly the season starts to take shape.

The Arsenal History Society website is dedicated to publishing series of articles covering parts of Arsenal’s history that have not been recorded in the level of depth we can offer.

Recent series include:

You can find a full list of series on the lower part of the left side of the page.


Arsenal History Society has published five books on Arsenal – all are available as paperback and three are now available on Kindle.  The books are

  • The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
  • Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace.  By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
  • Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football.  By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
  • Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.
  • The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.

You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page

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