7 March 1927

For the regulars at Highbury,1926/7 must have started as a season as stupendous promise.   Having never won a single thing of consequence (not the second division, not the first division, not the FA cup) Arsenal had hired the man who had just delivered unto Huddersfield Town two league titles.   The repayment of Henry Norris’ belief in the man who had once been banned from football for life was the highest ever position for Arsenal thus far in their history – second in the first division.

Surely 1926/27 would be Arsenal’s year.  Huddersfield didn’t have Chapman, Arsenal did.  Arsenal had clearly sorted out the new offside rule, with the second best defence in the league.  Most importantly they had moved from one place from relegation two seasons before, to one place for the championship in one season.  Was this man a genius or what?

Well, what?

By Chapman’s second season (1926/7) he had his feet under the table and was been lauded as a god having taken Arsenal from being regularly relegation threatened to championship chasers.  

But then something went wrong.  After two opening victories in 1926/27 Arsenal won only two out of the next 14, and the season, in terms of building on that wonderful second place achievement of Chapman’s first season was gone.

Arsenal did recover in the league, and ended 11th, thanks not least to a run of five consecutive wins in April.  But it was in the cup that matters progressed:

  • Round 3 Sheffield United
  • Round 4 Port Vale (division 2) (after a 2-2 draw)
  • Round 5: Liverpool
  • Round 6: Wolverhampton (division 2)
  • SF: Southampton (division 2)
  • Final: Cardiff

Arsenal’s progress was helped by having to play three out of the eighth matches against lower league teams and never having to play a top seven club from the first division.  But we lost the final 0-1, and so the first trophy was not to be.

But still Mr Chapman had delivered another unknown for Arsenal – a cup final – and there was still hope, despite the return to mid table for the league.  And it was all done by using the same resources used by his predecessor plus one new high profile player (Charlie Buchan) who was at the end of his career.   No, primarily it was tactical changes that worked.

But there is something odd, if we look at our goal scoring it was 77 for, 86 against.

77 goals that season was an average figure.  Derby a place below us got 86, but Huddersfield in second place in the league got 76.  Yet 86 against was poor, the fifth worse in the league.  Leeds and West Bromwich were relegated with 88 and 86 goals against.  Arsenal avoided relegation by 13 points, which shows how important the six wins in the last seven games were.  Without that run we would have been in real trouble.

And the worst of those defeats was on March 7th: West Ham United 7 Arsenal 0, part of a series of six consecutive defeats, a run of terrible results in the league coincided with our final push into the FA Cup semifinal and then final.  What Chapman did was to start trying out fringe players in the league while keeping his best possible team for the FA Cup.

What, I wonder, would the blogger of the 1920s have made of all this?   Certainly there would have been cries for the removal of Mr Chapman, and demands for new blood.  Two seasons, and one new regular player – and he at the very end of his career.  No trophies, and a defence that was among the worst in the league.  Yes a cup final, but an easy run to the final by any standard and only one of the cup run games was won by more than one goal (2-0 against Liverpool).

Really, he had to deliver next season, or else surely Mr Norris would put up with no more.  The crowds were right down (only 22,000 for the last home game), and they would fall further if something were not done.  If only there had been the fanatically anti-manager blogs then.  What a field day they would have had.  Not least because after the defeat on this day in 1927, we also had on April 6th: Newcastle United 6 Arsenal 1, and then on April 9th: Sunderland 5 Arsenal 1.

I wonder if anyone held up a placard saying “Chapman out”.