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GCR Books

7 March 1959: when Arsenal made a bid to be top (again)

By Tony Attwood.
AISA Arsenal History Society.
1958/59 was the first season in which ex-Arsenal goalkeeper George Swindin was manager, following the resignation of Jack Crayston at the end of the previous season.
When Swindin took over Arsenal had not won anything since taking the league championship on the final day of the 1952/3 season.  That six year gap was not particularly long given the complete history of the club, but was long when compared with the 1930s and the post-war successes.
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So it was certainly deemed to be high time for a resurgent Arsenal to emerge – especially since there had not even been a near miss since 1953.  Since that amazing moment, in the League Arsenal had had two 5th place seasons, but had never got beyond the sixth round of the FA Cup.
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In his first season however, Swindin failed to get Arsenal any further in the Cup (we went out in the 5th round to Sheffield Utd in a replay).  But he did take us to 3rd in the league.
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But it was not smiles all the way.  On December 26 1958 Arsenal lost 6-3 away to Luton Town.  It was not just a thumping defeat itself, it was the third defeat in a row, and the fourth in five games.
Pld W D L F A G.Av Pts
1 Wolverhampton Wndrs 23 14 2 7 47 28 1.68 30
2 Bolton Wanderers 23 11 7 5 44 32 1.38 29
3 Blackpool 24 9 10 5 36 26 1.39 28
4 Preston North End 25 12 4 9 44 41 1.07 28
5 West Bromwich Albion 22 10 7 5 53 34 1.56 27
6 Arsenal 24 12 3 9 57 41 1.39 27
7 Manchester United 24 11 5 8 55 44 1.25 27
8 Nottingham Forest 23 11 3 9 43 32 1.34 25
9 Blackburn Rovers 23 9 7 7 49 40 1.23 25
10 West Ham United 24 11 3 10 50 44 1.14 25
The result left Arsenal only three points off the top, although the top two had a game in hand, and this was of course still the era of two points for a win, not three.  The goal average was not the best of the top clubs, but not the worst either.
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But then on December 27 things changed.  Four consecutive wins and an unbeaten streak of eight matches changed the whole outlook of the club in the league, and the FA Cup was looking good too – at least until February 18.
  • December 27: Arsenal 1 Luton 0
  • January 3: Leicester 2 Arsenal 3
  • January 10: Bury 0 Arsenal 1 (FA Cup)
  • January 17: Arsenal 3 Everton 1
  • January 24: Colchester 2 Arsenal 2 (FA Cup)
  • January 28: Arsenal 4 Colchester 0 (FA Cup)
  • January 31: Tottenham 1 Arsenal 4
  • February 7: Man City 0 Arsenal 0
  • February 14: Arsenal 2 Sheffield U 2 (FA Cup)
  • February 18: Sheffield U 3 Arsenal 0
  • February 24: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
  • February 28: Arsenal 3 Man U 2
This left Arsenal in a very promising position in the league…
Pld W D L F A G,Av Pts
1 Arsenal 32 18 5 9 73 48 1.52 41
2 Wolverhampton Wndrs 30 19 2 9 75 38 1.97 40
3 Manchester United 31 16 6 9 75 55 1.36 38
4 Bolton Wanderers 28 14 7 7 52 42 1.24 35
5 West Bromwich Albion 28 12 10 6 65 44 1.48 34
6 Blackpool 29 12 10 7 42 32 1.31 34
7 West Ham United 30 15 3 12 62 55 1.13 33
8 Birmingham City 29 14 4 11 53 49 1.08 32
9 Preston North End 31 14 4 13 54 55 0.98 32
10 Nottingham Forest 28 14 3 11 53 38 1.40 31
Of course Wolverhampton had two games in hand and a superior goal difference, but the thinking was that if Arsenal could win the match against Wolverhampton away on March 7, then the league title could be a real possibility.
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Naturally there was talk of the pressure getting to Arsenal, but Arsenal were living with that.  The home crowds were sensational with over 60,000 recorded for the home matches with Tottenham and Newcastle, and an amazing 67,386 showing up for the Manchester Utd game noted above.  50,000+ had become commonplace.
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The smaller ground at Wolverhampton could squeeze in only 40,000, and the thinking was that now we would see what Arsenal were made of.
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The previous season Wolverhampton had won the league by five points with Arsenal 25 points behind in 12th.  Could this be the moment the old order changed?
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But sadly it was not,  for not only did Arsenal lose 6-1, it proved to be the start of a seven match run without a win.  Indeed Arsenal only won three more games that season in order to finish 3rd in the league.
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It was a grave disappointment, but then the thought was that third was still the best since 1953, and with some solid transfers in the summer, Arsenal surely could mount a further attack on Wolverhampton’s dominance in the next season.
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Sadly the answer to the suggestion was no, Arsenal couldn’t.  Third was easily the best of Swindin’s four years in charge.  The following three years Arsenal ended up 13th, 11th and 10th.  In the FA Cup the club was knocked out in the 3rd round twice and the fourth round once – with one of those 3rd round defeats being to Rotherham.
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Arsenal it seemed, were not yet ready to make a come back, and would not be for a few more years.

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