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GCR Books

Arsenal in December 1937; a settled team and a revival

by Tony Attwood

This is part of a series of articles covering every aspect of Arsenal FC throughout the 1930s.  Details of all the other articles in the series are given below.

At the end of November 1937 Arsenal were in 6th place in the league – just four points off the top of the table with one game in hand, and a better goal average than any of the teams above them. If  the league remained this tight, that goal average could be crucial by the end of the season and Arsenal had taken steps to keep the goals rolling on by rearranging the forward line to maximise the effect.

Last season’s champions Manchester City were in 10th, five points off the top.  Here is the table for the start of the month.

December as always in the 1930s was the cruellest month as the clubs sought to cope with multiple games (generally five or even six) and often two games on successive days and grounds that were already in a dreadful state.

This year the demands on players were slightly less than normal as Christmas Day was on a Saturday and thus no games could be arranged for Boxing Day.  Therefore the games total was reduced to more manageable proportions.

The first game was away to Birmingham who were in 15th and who despite that position were still undefeated at home (but had yet to win away).  To achieve this home feat they were regularly scoring two or more goals at home and so Arsenal needed not only to keep its new scoring approach with the deep-lying Jones feeding Bastin and Drake, but also have the defence in full working order.

Taking a 2-0 lead at half time Arsenal let one slip in the second half but otherwise were secure and took the points – taking them up to second in the league.  There had however been a worry about the defence.  Joy had settled in as centre half now that Roberts had gone, but now the regular half back partnership of Crayston and Copping was disrupted as Cartwright and Collett (who had played together in Paris) took over.  Neither player went on to make more than 20 appearances for Arsenal, and they took over temporarily from a very solid long term partnership.

Ernie Collett had signed in May 1933 and had made his debut in the match against Stoke in October.  Sid Cartwright had played seven games before this season since joining in 1931.

But the forward line was now solid and established: Kirchen, Hunt, Drake, Jones and Bastin.   Kirchen and Cartwright got the goals.  It was one of only two first team goals that Syd scored in his Arsenal career.

However the next test was harder: Preston who were second in the league and who had only lost one of their last nine league games.  Copping returned to replace Collett, and Milne replaced Kirchen, but otherwise the team was the same as for the Birmingham game, and once more Arsenal won.   Milne and Bastin got the goals.

Onto the last game before Christmas, and life was looking so much better for Arsenal, second in the league, and new forward line and a settled team.  What could possible go wrong against Liverpool who had just won three of their last 12?  Liverpool were 19th with four home wins and six defeats.  Hulme replaced Milne, but otherwise it was the regular line up… but of course football can throw anything at you, and often does.

On this occasion Arsenal lost 0-2 but much of this could be put down to the fact that Boulton who had taken over in goal from Wilson with Arsenal 10th in the league back in November, was injured during the match.  He struggled on, but after the goals went in he came off and Hapgood went into goal.   The result was a shock after four successive wins, but at least the word was that Crayston would be back on Christmas Day and Swindin was ready to step into the goalkeeping breach.

So we came to the traditional double header – the same team being played in successive matches.   This year it started with lowly placed Blackpool on Christmas Day on the west coast.  Crayston came back, but it looked like a foolish decision, and he did not complete the match.  Arsenal surrendered a 1-0 lead and lost 2-1, Bastin scoring a penalty.  Brentford and Leeds at the top both won. It was not good news for Arsenal.

Then the return game which was a total reversal of the score – Arsenal winning 2-1 at Highbury.  Cartright came back into the side instead of Crayston and got one goal, Bastin the other.

Thus over the all-important three Christmas games Arsenal had lost two and only won one.  Of the clubs above, Brentford had drawn one, but then beaten champions Man City twice, Leeds had also beaten Man City, won the second game but then lost to Middlesbrough, while Wolverhampton had beaten early pacemakers Chelsea, and drawn with WBA, their third game being postponed.

Arsenal’s results were not of the best, but others had a bit of slippage too.  There was however one oddity in Arsenal’s results.  Drake, the master goalscorer, had not scored in six games.

And you will have noticed the oddity elsewhere: Man City, the champions lost all three of their Christmas games.

Here’s the Arsenal summary for the month…

Date Opposition Op pos Venue Result Pos Pts Crowd Av crowd
04.12.1937 Birmingham City 15 away W2-1 4 21 18440  24,544
11.12.1937 Preston North End 2 home W2-0 2 23 35,679 44,045
18.12.1937 Liverpool 19 away L0-2 4 23 32,093  27,682
25.12.1937 Blackpool 21 away L1-2 4 23 23,229  21,264
27.12.1937 Blackpool 21 home W2-1 3 25 54,163 44,045

The abbreviations, as always…

  • Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game.  Chesterfield’s position is obviously in relation to Division 2.
  • Pos is Arsenal’s position after the game
  • AC is the average crowd in league matches for the home team through the season, providing a comparison between the crowd on that day (in the previous column) and the norm expected by the home side.

Looking at the last six games at the end of the year, Arsenal were still the form team with four wins and two defeats.  No one else in the top ten had won more than two of their last six, which explains why Arsenal had now climbed up to third in the league.  Last season’s champions are in bold.

Chelsea and Charlton, who had pushed Arsenal down into the unknown position of being fourth London club early on, themselves now were having a poor run.  But quite a lot of eyesbrows were raised over the decline of last year’s champions Man City, now two points above relegation having won just one of the last seven.

Arsenal were three points off Brentford with a game in hand, although the position of Wolverhampton below with three games in hand over Brentford looked ominous.

Arsenal History on Kindle

The novel “Making the Arsenal” by Tony Attwood which describes the events of 1910, which created the modern Arsenal FC, is now available for the first time on Kindle.  Full details are here.

Also available: Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football (Kindle Edition)   For full details please see here.

For an index of the various series on this site please see the home page.

Here is the 1930s series to date…

1930s: the players, the crowds, the tactics

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