by Tony Attwood
Arsenal had finished February in ninth still 11 points off the pacemakers, and being out of the Cup as well, all that could be hoped for was an improvement to keep up the Arsenal legend of success in the 30s.
March now brought four matches in a classic home-away alternating pattern with only one of the four teams to be played being above Arsenal in the league. Having gone out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle there were no distractions for Arsenal and no chance of having too many games piling up for the end of the season.
In short, it was in Arsenal’s hands if they were going to pull themselves up the league table to a more Arsenal-like position.
The month opened with a transfer as on 3 March 1939 Wilf Copping returned to Leeds after 166 games for Arsenal. He had arrived from Leeds om 1930 but not made his debut until the start of the 1934 season, winning championship medals in 1935 and 1938 and the cup in 1936. He also played 20 times for England.
Wilf was the ultimate exponent of the “vigorous” shoulder charge and the (now illegal) two footed tackle and had been a highly significant part in the club’s triumphs especially in his partnership with Jack Crayston.
Wilf left however while still a regular member of the first team, playing his last game on 25 February and it is clear that there was no ready-made replacement for him. It looks like the player wanted to move back to his old club, and Arsenal granted his wish now, rather than at the end of the season, when Leeds’ offer might well have been lower.
Collett played the next five games at left half, then Cartwright and Pugh were given games in that position and finally Leslie Jones had three games in the shirt at the end of the season.
Allison’s thinking ultimately seemed to be that Leslie Jones did the job best, because he continued to play in the position at the start of the 1939/40 season, and in most of the friendlies that followed after the outbreak of war.
But back to 1939. Bolton had won five of the last six games they had played in the league – their only defeat being to table topping Everton. They were thus currently sitting in sixth having won four and drawn six of their 15 away games thus far in the league. It seemed a tough call for Arsenal but their home strength won through, beating Bolton 3-1.
Compton came in for the injured Male, Crayton and Collet made up the defensive midfield, Kirchen and Cumner were the wingers, with Drury and Jones the inside forwards and Drake back at centre forward – from which position he scored two. The third goal was an o.g.
It was obviously a line up that Allison liked as he kept it for the next game, even though away matches had been a considerably tougher proposition throughout most of Allison’s reign, especially this season. And so it proved again with a trip to Leeds even though Leeds had just lost five games in a row, scoring just two goals in those five (another reason why they wanted the Copping transfer at that moment, rather than wait. Worse for Leeds, they had only won one game in 15 – a run that went back to last November and had left them languishing in 15th. But despite all that they won 4-2. Arsenal’s only consolation was that Leslie Compton scored a penalty (in Bastin’s absence) and Drake got another.
That defeat was undoubtedly a severe blow to Arsenal, and they had a week to recover before a home game against Liverpool who had earlier in the season looked as if they themselves might challenge for the league title. Liverpool had not won in eight, but had just had three draws in a row and were still holding on to 10th position.
Bastin returned instead of Cumner and it seemed to make the difference, for although goalless at half time Kirchen and Drake got the goals in the second half to run out 2-0 winners and to rise back to seventh. What was needed now was for the dreaded away form to be broken.
There was of course a chance to resolve matters in the final game of March – an away match to Leicester. Arsenal had not got a point away from home since the end of January – but this time managed it against a team who, although they had just won their last match (against Portsmouth), had not won any of their previous six and were looking primed for relegation. A defeat here would surely have challenged Allison’s whole rebuilding project and asked questions of the manager even in these times of the utmost solidarity with the manager. Bremner came in for Drury otherwise the team was unchanged. Arsenal won 2-0 with goals from Kirchen and Drake (again!)
In fact Drake was the big news – after being shunted out to the wing and watching the teenage Reg Lewis take over and get the accolades he had come back to centre forward and scored five goals in four successive games.
That was the end of Arsenal’s football for the month, but there was ominous news on the political front as on 31 March Britain signed an agreement to support Poland in the event of an invasion.
|Date||Opponent||Venue||Op pos||Result||Pos||Pts||Crowd||Av crowd|
The crowds in the above are of interest. In both Arsenal’s home games the crowd that turned up for the game was below the average of the season (39102) as the local support recognised the obvious – that Arsenal was not going to win anything this season. But away from home Arsenal were still an attraction. Not was big an attraction as in the past when they had often doubled the local side’s home crowd, but still an above average attraction.
Here are the abbreviations as always…
- Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game.
- 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.
The end of month league table looked like this… and with this home/away analysis we can see just how the away form of Arsenal had let the side down this season.
Arsenal were 6th after their last game of the month, but the following Wednesday (29 March) Charlton had beaten Grimsby to take them above Arsenal .
As for the form, Arsenal had won three and lost three of the last six, Everton Wolverhampton and Middlesbrough had won four. Derby however were fading ever faster with one win and four defeats in the last six.
Arsenal’s problem however was not just the away form – it had been goal scoring – Drake had only scored nine so far in the season, Kirchen seven, and Lewis seven.
The problem had been there last season to, but in the end Drake had managed 17 and Bastin 15 – and this decline had been going on for years. (I will return to this topic when we come to sum of the season).
It is not surprising however to see that overall Arsenal had scored 44 goals this season compared with 73, 75 and 79 for Everton, Wolverhampton and Middlesbrough respectively. Only Blackpool, Leicester and Blackpool had scored fewer goals. Another good reason why the crowds were down.
Arsenal in the 30s
- 1: Life in 1930 and winning the first major trophy.
- 2: The cup winners who dropped out and the players who came in
- 3: How Chapman put his triumphant 1931 team together.
- 4: September 1930; played 8 won 7 drawn 1.
- 5: October 1930: A stumble, Villa are close behind, Man U have 12 defeats in a row.
- 6: November 1930: Scoring 5 in three games in one month.
- 7: December 1930: 3 games in 3 days and 14 goals scored.
- 8: January 1931: the biggest league win ever at Highbury
- 9: February 1931: the goals just won’t stop coming.
- 10: March 1931: hope, defeat, hope
- 11: April 1931: Arsenal win the league for the very first time.
- 12: Arsenal in the summer of 1931, the records and the Scandinavian tour
- 13: Arsenal in shock – July and August 1931
- 14: September 1931; the champions recover from a poor start.
- 15: October 1931: Arsenal lose to Grimsby
- 16: November 1931: Chapman’s exasperation with goal keepers
- 17: December 1931: A scoring sensation but a dreadful month
- 18: January 1932: A return to form and a record score
- 19: February 1932: From a faltering start to nine wins in a row
- 20: March 1932: Huge crowds, an emergency signing, better results, another semi-final
- 21: April 1932: Film of Arsenal in the Cup Final, and attempts to win the league.
- 22: Arsenal in the summer of 1932. Arsenal runners up in league and cup, Man U’s average gate drops below Plymouth’s, Stanley Matthews first game, and the greatest run in Arsenal’s entire history is about to begin.
- 23: August 1932 – preparing for the ultimate greatness.
- 24: September 1932: Arsenal’s first steps into immortality
- 25: October 1932: The rise to the stars
- 26: November 1932: Records fall, greatness beckons.
- 27: December 1932: Greatness and supremacy
- 28: January 1933: Top of the league and defeated by Walsall.
- 29: February 1933: New shirts, awful weather, a record score
- 30: March 1933: Top of the league but a month to forget
- 31: April/May 1933: Champions for the second time
- 32: 1929/33: All the men who played in the League for Arsenal.
- 33: Arsenal in the summer 1933: Champions and water shortages
- 34: August/September 1933 – the start of the new season.
- 35: October 1933 – a return to progress
- 36: November 1933 – displacing Tottenham.
- 37: December 1933: Chapman’s last month; Arsenal triumphant
- 38: January 1934: The death of Chapman
- 39: February 1934. Chapman is gone, but the club moves on.
- 40: March 1934. Chapman’s two teams fight for the title
- 41: April 1934. Joe Shaw wins the league for Chapman
- 42: 1933/34 League players, and how the goals declined but the crowds went up.
- 43: Arsenal in the summer 1934: Allison takes over from Shaw and Chapman.
- 44: August/Sep 1934: Allison starts with a bang
- 45: October 1934 – Arsenal finally blow away the north London curse
- 46: November 1934: vying for the top of the league, and the Battle of Highbury
- 47: Arsenal in December 1934: two steps forward, two steps back.
- 48: January 1935: Suddenly Arsenal’s form turns upside down
- 49: February 1935. Despite one slip, Arsenal remain top.
- 50: March 1935: Beating Tottenham by a record score
- 51: April/May 1935: Winning the league for the third time in succession.
- 52: Arsenal in the Summer 1935 after three championships in a row
- 53: September 1935: After three successive championships things get sticky
- 54: October 1935: Ok but not good enough
- 55: November 1935; Drake starts scoring again.
- 56: December 1935: beating the record, and record confusions. Ted Drake before and after the magnificent seven.
- 57: January 1936: the league won’t be won, but what about the FA Cup…
- 58: February 1936: an early example of rotational selection
- 59: March 1936: Wembley again but player rotation starts affecting the crowds
- 60: April/May 1936; Arsenal win the Cup. A match report and season’s end
- 61: Arsenal in the Summer of 1936
- 62: Arsenal players 1934/5 and 1935/36: the fundamental problem with the team
- 63: August / Sept 1936: 20 different players used in the first seven league games
- 64: October 1936: Arsenal in free fall
- 65: November 1936: Arsenal reborn, TV starts, the king demands, the palace burns down.
- 66: December 1936: Top of the league as the king steps down.
- 67: January 1937: Arsenal unbeaten as the goalkeepers change (again).
- 68: February 1937: Seven in the cup, and all to play for in the league
- 69: March 1937: Arsenal top but Man City close in
- 70: April / May 1937: Arsenal slip back and Man City triumph – for the moment
- 71: Arsenal players 1936/7, Arsenal crowds in the 30s, and comparisons with earlier years
- 72: Arsenal in the summer: the overseas tour of 1937
- 73: Arsenal in August and September 1937: a brilliant start and a TV first.
- 74: Arsenal in October 1937: Allison decides it is time for a total change.
- 75: Arsenal in Nov 1937; a tactical signing changes the game
- 76: Arsenal in December 1937; a settled team and a revival
- 77: Arsenal in January 1938: two steps backwards but a new genius emerges.
- 78: Arsenal in February 1938: a true resurgence takes us top of the league.
- 79: March 1938: Arsenal at the top and a fifth title looks possible
- 80: April/May 1938: from no titles to five in one decade – and the most amazing title of them all.
- 81: Arsenal in the summer: the Nazi salute, Bastin as the symbol, Whittaker for England, the world record signing.
- 82: August/September 1938. The start of the end.
- 83: Arsenal in October 1938: the champions stagnating in mid-table
- 84: November 1938: facing relegation?
- 85: December 1938: the manager makes changes and a new hero is found
- 86: Arsenal in January 1939: some signs of recovery.
- 87: February 1939: Arsenal struggle to make a continuing impact.