The Second Coming
After the heady heights of winning their first trophy with the 1930 F.A. Cup win, Arsenal rode the crest of a wave to the title in 1930-31. But having exploded the trophy piñata, success would never come quite so easily to Herbert Chapman`s side again. For the first time in their history, the Gunners were wanted men, there to be shot at by a nation that cocked a sneer at them from below. The side of the 1930s were not popular until Chapman`s death. Labelled "Lucky Arsenal" by a contemptuous press due to their pioneering counter attack style and extra defender. Still seen as football`s gypsies due to their move from South to North London and despised for the lavish transfer fees they expended at a time when the North of England was in the grip of high unemployment and economic turmoil. The Gunners found life tougher going as Champions of England and having blazed a trail as the first league winners in Arsenal`s history, repeating the trick would require steel n adversity.
The 1931-32 season was not quite so kind to Arsenal. Runners up in the 1st Division and controversial losers to Newcastle United in the 1932 F.A. Cup Final, following one of Wembley`s more hotly discussed goals of the 20th century (until a man named Hurst intervened anyway) when Jimmy Richardson crossed the ball to Bob John for the Magpies equaliser despite the ball seeming to be a good yard out of play. It would have been simple for Arsenal to crumble at those signs of misfortune, safe in the knowledge that- having secured Arsenal`s first ever F.A. Cup and 1st Division titles- their place in Arsenal`s canon was well and truly secure. But Chapman`s Arsenal just did not operate that way. Having had the pang of success in their nostrils once, the adversity only redoubled their desire to recapture its sweet scent. Arsenal began the season with a hard fought 1-0 away win at Birmingham before succumbing to defeat in their first home match against West Brom. But thereafter Arsenal battled through with some narrow victories. The North London side had not lost their penchant for registering gargantuan amounts of goals, in November they followed up an 8-2 home win over Leicester City with a 7-1 away win at Wolves. 118 goals were registered in 42 games (including a 9-2 victory over Sheffield United and an 8-0 win at Blackburn), with Cliff Bastin contributing 33- a league record for a winger. From the right wing, Joe Hulme scored 20- his tally swollen by hat tricks against Sunderland and Middlesbrough.
Arsenal broke the mould because it was the wingers who tended to get the lion`s share of the goals, with Alex James whipping through those legendary long passes for Bastin or Hulme, the central striker was usually a decoy to steel away the attention of opposition defences. Bastin`s trademark was the incredible power he could generate in his shooting. In the 1930s, long range goals were not commonplace; the weight of the leather balls ensured that, particularly in wet weather. Yet for Bastin, it was habitual to him to let fly from range and, in truth, if a wet leather football is flying towards you at pace in those days it was proper better for the goalkeeper to stay beaten! Whilst Bastin began a fine tradition of Arsenal left wingers that like to cut inside and score goals with their right foot (Merson, Pires, Overmars spring instantly to mind), Hulme was much more your contemporary 1930s winger, he liked to draw full backs close to him, before nudging the ball forwards and tearing past them with his electric pace. In this sense, Arsenal were unstoppable on the counter attack, given the unerring accuracy of James` delivery, any defence that stood off afraid of Hulme`s pace would be exposed by Bastin`s shooting. Any defender that made avaricious moves to lurch forward and close Bastin down would leave space in behind for the wing heeled Hulme. In the unlikely event that a defence could keep out the irresistible force or the immovable object, David Jack would happily feed on any penalty area scraps.
Arsenal maintained the pace over nearest challengers Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday, but as they did in their maiden Championship season, Arsenal came a cropper in November when they met Villa and were beaten 5-3 at Villa Park. However, they followed up with six straight wins to stay in touch, but were to stumble through a terrible January. After successive league defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland, Arsenal met Fourth Division Walsall in the F.A. Cup. They lost 2-0 in what is considered the greatest Cup upset of all time (the modern day equivalent would be Barnet beating Manchester United`s full team). A nation rejoiced, fingers pointing at Highbury Nelson Muntz style as the ostentatious aristocrats were cut down to size by the minnows and the talk of the town was that Arsenal were a busted flush. Aston Villa might well have been the team that dominated the decade had Herbert Chapman not built his unstoppable juggernaut. But in January 1933, the month Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in the States and that Adolf Hitler was appointed German Chancellor, the soothsayers were predicting a shift in power that never materialised, the new order of Birmingham.
As we are all well aware, Chapman didn`t just transform Arsenal into a leviathan on the pitch, but he made us a world class institution off it too. His brain-children continued to hatch all over the game, the football association finally acquiesced to one of his many early ideas and in the 1933 F.A. Cup Final- only six years after Chapman had first floated the idea to the F.A- players wore numbers on their shirts for the first time in the game`s history. Though with a slight variant on Mr. Chapman`s original sentiment that the home team wear 1-11 and the away team sport 12-22. Success on the pitch meant Chapman had chairman Henry Norris` ear more and more and increasingly concerned that football was set to lose spectators to the up and coming new sport of Speedway, Chapman convinced Norris to renovate the ground stand by stand and plans were drawn up to completely replace the West Stand and turn the stadium into a palatial theatre. But Chapman did not only have the attentive ear of his chairman, for in December 1932, London Underground announced that Gillespie Road tube station was to change its name to Arsenal station at Chapman`s behest. We were now the only club in the world whose name could be seen on a train timetable, which was a beautifully subtle piece of corporate branding which is still very unique to this club some 80 years later. But the manager wasn`t only thinking of the supporters and the ensuing razzle dazzle of turnstiles clicking, in March 1933 the Gunners took to the pitch in a home match against Liverpool with a new design for their home shirt. Urban myth has it that Chapman`s eye was caught when observing the groundsmen on a non match day by a gentleman wearing a red sleeveless tank top over his white shirt. Chapman felt the design looked striking and would enable the players to pick one another out with greater ease whilst sporting this distinctive design. He also insisted on the players wearing hooped socks again to accentuate the players` appearance against the backdrop of cloth capped spectators. Arsenal were often a team that turned defensive situations into goals in less than 4 passes, so wearing highly visible attire was not just de rigueur, but practical too to execute those long passes.
In the trying time following the F.A. Cup exit to Walsall, Arsenal closed ranks and gritted teeth. A succession of narrow victories and hard fought draws kept them alive in the title race until Aston Villa came to Highbury on April 1st, leading Arsenal by a single point at the top. Sensing their opportunity, the Gunners ran out 5-0 winners and Villa`s season fell apart as a result, their belief crushed. Arsenal defeated Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and Portsmouth in a seven day spell, which left them needing just a point to seal the title at nearby Stamford Bridge. The Gunners won 3-1 to claw their title back from Everton, who had snatched it from them 12 months earlier. The talk of choking and the sounds of laughter following the Walsall defeat had dimmed to distant murmurs again, Arsenal may have tripped and fell down, but they picked themselves up and turned themselves round to the finishing line, winning the league with two games to spare, eventually finishing four points above Aston Villa- who were becoming accustomed to the chill of Arsenal`s shadow. The Gunners were coroneted in May, the same month that King Kong premiered to awed audiences and that the first alleged sighting of the Loch Ness monster was reported. But with Arsenal having secured the 1932-33 league title- the first of three in a row- there was only one mythical beast in England worth seeing.LD.