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Arsenal’s journey to their first ever cup final, and the unwarranted “favourites” label

By Tony Attwood

Two changes happened to English football in general at the start of the 1925/6 season.

The most famous of these was the change in the offside rule which led to Arsenal’s invention of the WM approach and tactical innovation.

The second was a move by the FA which meant that instead of entering in round 1 of the FA Cup, first and second division clubs entered in round three – a change that meant Third Division (north and south) clubs had to battle it out with the survivors of the qualifying rounds to get through to the chance to play the big boys.

Quite remarkably both changes have survived 89 years (thus far).

The third change of 1925 was the introduction to Arsenal of Herbert Chapman.

In his first year in charge Chapman took the club to an unprescedented second in the first division.

In his second season Chapman took Arsenal further than ever before in the FA Cup, for in 1926/7 Arsenal made it to their first ever final.   Interestingly the programme of games included two matches against Port Vale (against whom Mr Wenger to have a battle over two games in his second season).

Here’s the story of the journey to the final

Round Date Venue Against Result Score Crowd
3 Jan 8 A Sheffield U W 3-2 28,137
4 Jan 29 A Port Vale D 2-2 18,000
4 Rep. Feb 2 H Port Vale W 1-0 35,781
5 Feb 19 H Liverpool W 2-0 43,000
6 Mar 5 H Wolverhampton W 2-1 52,821
SF Mar 26 Chelsea Southampton W 2-1 52,133
F April 23 Wembley Cardiff C L 0-1 91,206

Crowd figures taken from “Arsenal a complete record” by Fred Ollier.

It was in the semi-final that the “lucky Arsenal” tag was wheeled out with a vengeance but the press, who claimed that Southampton were denied two obvious penalties as a result of “fouls” by Horace Cope.  There was of obviously no evidence to present.

Arsenal, as of course we know, lost their first cup final, and 1927 was also the only time the FA Cup was won by a non-English club.  ar only time the FA Cup has not been won by an English club.

It is often said that Arsenal were “by far and away the favourites”, but it is hard to see why.  True Arsenal had come second in the league the previous season but they had been knocked out of the cup in the sixth round by, of all teams, Swansea.  Swansea Town really were a small team at the time, having had just five league seasons in Division Three (South) and reaching the second division for the first time in 1925.  Their defeat of Arsenal in the quarter final of 1926 meant that they then reached the semis for the first time.  Arsenal had reached the semis twice before – as Woolwich Arsenal in 1906 and 1907.

As for the league form, the 1927 cup final was played not at the end of the season, but with a few weeks to go before the end.  On the morning of the cup final the league table looked like this

 

 

P

W

D

L

F

A

GA

Pts

1

Newcastle United

39

24

5

10

92

54

1.70

53

2

Huddersfield Town

39

17

15

7

76

56

1.36

49

3

Sunderland

40

21

6

13

97

68

1.43

48

4

Burnley

40

19

8

13

89

77

1.16

46

5

West Ham United

39

19

6

14

79

60

1.32

44

6

Bolton Wanderers

40

17

10

13

77

62

1.24

44

7

Leicester City

40

16

11

13

82

68

1.21

43

8

Aston Villa

40

18

5

17

79

81

0.97

41

9

Liverpool

39

17

6

16

65

55

1.18

40

10

Sheffield United

39

15

10

14

69

83

0.83

40

11

Tottenham Hotspur

39

15

9

15

72

72

1.00

39

12

Cardiff City

39

14

9

16

52

63

0.82

37

13

Manchester United

39

13

11

15

50

62

0.81

37

14

Arsenal

38

14

9

15

66

82

0.81

37

15

Birmingham City

38

16

4

18

58

65

0.89

36

16

Blackburn Rovers

39

14

8

17

75

91

0.82

36

17

Derby County

39

14

7

18

80

70

1.14

35

18

Sheffield Wednesday

39

13

9

17

71

89

0.80

35

19

Bury

39

11

12

16

64

71

0.90

34

20

Everton

40

12

9

19

62

87

0.71

33

21

Leeds United

39

10

8

21

62

80

0.78

28

22

West Bromwich Albion

39

10

7

22

61

82

0.74

27

Arsenal and Cardiff were on the same points with just a sliver of goal average between them, Arsenal having one extra game to play.

So if there really was a feeling that Arsenal would win by a mile, it had no real justification in terms of league form, or cup history.

As it was the Cardiff goal that won the cup was a fluke.  Ferguson took a half-hearted shot at goal, the ball bobbled on the uneven turf.  Lewis in goal seemed to have it covered, but somehow the ball bobbled again and slipped beyond him.   Lewis blamed his shirt.

Chapman was rarely forgiving of his keepers, but in this case he kept Lewis as his number one until 1930, but then having used him all season, dropped him for the FA Cup final that year preferring Preedy, who was then immediately set aside for Keyser at the start of 1930/1, who was replaced by Harper, who was replaced by Preedy all in the one season.   With Chapman and goalkeepers, that is how it went.

Arsenal finished the league in 10th position in their first cup final season in 1928, and made 9th and the sixth round in 1929, and then finally in 1930 won the cup for the first time.

Here’s the first ever Arsenal cup final team…

  •  Dan Lewis
  •  Tom Parker (c)
  •  Andy Kennedy
  •  Alf Baker
  •  Jack Butler
  •  Bob John
  •  Joe Hulme
  •  Charles Buchan
  •  Jimmy Brain
  •  Billy Blyth
  •  Sid Hoar

———————–

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