The Chapman era (1925–34)

Chapman reformed many of the club’s practices, including modernising the training and physiotherapy regimes, adding numbers to the players’ shirts in August 1928, and changing the team’s colours, adding white sleeves to the red shirt in March 1933. Chapman also insisted on journalists dropping the definite article from the club’s name, becoming just “Arsenal”, and he successfully campaigned for the renaming of the local Tube station, Gillespie Road, to Arsenal.[28] At the same time, Chapman had a large transfer budget by virtue of Arsenal’s improved revenue from their new stadium and a change of heart from Henry Norris; previously a highly prudent chairman, Norris now dictated that there was to be heavy spending on new players. This led to Arsenal becoming known as the Bank of England club.

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Herbert Chapman’s achievements are commemorated by a bronze bust inside the marble hall of Arsenal Stadium.

Chapman’s first signing was veteran Charlie Buchan from Sunderland; as well as his contributions on the pitch, Buchan would play an important part off it. After Arsenal were beaten 7–0 by Newcastle United in October 1925, Buchan suggested a change to the formation to adapt to a relaxation of the offside law, adjusting Arsenal’s formation to the “WM“, strengthening the defence by pushing the centre half back into defence and the full-backs out to the wings. Over time, Chapman developed the formation further, putting an emphasis on a pacey forward line, wingers cutting inside, and the role of a creative ball-playing midfielder.

Arsenal came second in Chapman’s first season, their best finish at that time, but this proved to be a false dawn; for the next few seasons they stayed in mid-table as Chapman took his time to assemble his side, slotting new signings such as winger Joe Hulme, forward Jack Lambert and defenders Tom Parker and Herbie Roberts into his new formation. In 1926–27, Arsenal reached their first FA Cup final, only to lose 1–0 to Cardiff City, after Arsenal’s goalkeeper Dan Lewis let a harmless-looking shot slip through his arms and into the net;  it was the only occasion in history that the FA Cup has been won by a club from outside England.

Chapman was not deterred, and continued to build his side, signing future captain Eddie Hapgood, as well as three of the club’s great attacking players, David JackAlex James and Cliff Bastin; it was especially Alex James, Arsenal’s playmaker in midfield, supplying the forward line and wingers, who became celebrated as the engine of the team. Three years after their first Cup final, in 1929–30, Arsenal reached Wembley again, this time up against Chapman’s old club Huddersfield Town. The match was notable for being “buzzed” by the enormous German airship Graf Zeppelin. Arsenal were not distracted from their task; they won 2–0 with goals from James and Lambert to bring home the club’s first major trophy.

On 30 August 1930, Arsenal helped create a new attendance record of 28,723 at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road ground. They helped set it again over the next two seasons with crowds of 29,576 and 30,218.

Their FA Cup success was the first in a decade in which Arsenal were the dominant club in England. They won the First Division for the first time in 1930–31; Arsenal performed strongly in a free-scoring title race with Aston Villa, recording several heavy wins (including 7–1 against Blackpool, 7–2 v Leicester City, and 9–1 v Grimsby Town, which remains a club record for the top flight). Arsenal won the title with two games to spare, and finished the season having scored 127 league goals (another club record), though Aston Villa managed to score 128, which is still a record for the most goals in an English top flight season.

The “Over The Line Final” – Newcastle United‘s Jimmy Richardson crosses the ball back into the Arsenal penalty area, setting up Jack Allen to score; the ball however was fully over the goal-line at the time and thus out of play. Newcastle went on to win 2–1.

The following season, 1931–32, Arsenal reached the FA Cup final again, losing controversially to Newcastle United. Arsenal had led 1–0 with a Bob John goal, but Newcastle’s equaliser came after a long ball had gone over the goal line, and out for a goal kick; Newcastle winger Jimmy Richardson nevertheless crossed the ball back into play and Jack Allen levelled the match for the Magpies; Allen scored again in the second half to win the match 2–1. Arsenal’s pain was compounded by the fact that Everton had pipped them to the League title; a poor start to the 1931–32 campaign meant Arsenal played catch-up for most of the season, finishing two points adrift.

Arsenal bounced back the following season, winning their second League title. Arsenal had started the season weakly, but then went on a long winning run to catch up and then overtake fellow title challengers Aston Villa, whom they beat 5–0 at Highbury in April to clinch the title. By this time Chapman’s first set of signings had started to show their age  so with an eye to the future Chapman promoted George Male to the first team to replace Tom Parker, and signed Ray Bowden to take over from David Jack. The only blot on the club’s record was an infamous loss to Walsall of the Third Division North in the FA Cup; five of the first team were out with injury or flu and had their place taken by reserves, but despite six first-team players Arsenal lost 2–0 in one of the greatest FA Cup upsets of all time. One of the stand-ins, Tommy Black, was particularly to blame (conceding a penalty for Walsall’s second), and was sold by an enraged Chapman to Plymouth Argylewithin a week of the result; another, striker Charlie Walsh, was transferred to Brentford a week later.

 

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