With Arsenal’s triumph over Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup on Sunday, passed a fixture of significance few failed to note. The name of Herbert Chapman dominates both clubs, a revolutionary manager who engineered periods of success for each in turn, and pioneered the counter-attacking W-M formation at Arsenal which culminated in back to back title wins in the 1930s, a feat never achieved since.
The great Herbert Chapman. Image courtesy of Adam Bowie under Creative Commons licence.
Not only did Chapman win an FA Cup and two titles for Huddersfield Town, but won Arsenal’s first trophy within five years, the FA Cup in 1930, oddly enough against his previous employers, Huddersfield. Although he suffered a premature death in 1934, Chapman set the side up to continue in winning ways until 1938, after which wartime interruption broke the momentum of the Arsenal.
Only one manager has exceeded Chapman’s reputation at Arsenal, and that is the current incumbent, Arsène Wenger. The first decade of Wenger’s reign was one of success, doubles and Invincibles. Since 2005 however, pundits are quick to remind Arsène that the trophy tally is zero.
In light of this I’ve developed a graphic timeline combining the competitive trophies won by Arsenal since Herbert Chapman joined the club in 1925. The achievements of the first great Arsenal manager are clear, including the first in 1930; Arsenal won five league titles and two FA Cups in eight years.
The graph of Arsenal trophy wins since 1925. Prior to 1930 the club had no recognisable titles. Since election to the First Division in 1919 Arsenal have never been relegated, though there have been barren periods in the club’s history. Arsenal’s 13 league titles is second only to Manchester Utd and Liverpool, joint on 18, whilst the 10 FA Cup wins is second best to United’s 11.
Simple tallies of trophy wins never tell the whole story, and the idea of playing football only to win competitions does not sit well with a wider perspective of the game as an item of cultural significance, and aesthetic pursuits. In the modern game there is always the argument that financial gain without trophies is the epitome of success. Nevertheless, visual stimulation is always appreciated, and the creation of this timeline does put the achievements of the club in the modern era in perspective.
Any Arsenal supporter watching the club in the 1960s as famously catalogued by Nick Hornsby in Fever Pitch will agree that the current Arsenal team play football in a style fantastically inconceivable before 1996. Not only that but over the last few years the club has been through an economic transformation, which should work to Arsenal’s benefit over the coming seasons, certainly the club’s financial state is the most robust in the UK.
Fans baying for the heads of Wenger or Fabregas, or even Andrey Arshavin would do well to remember that between 1953 and 1989 Arsenal won just a sole league title, in the original Double winning season 1970-71. Of course other trophies came in between, but if footballing enjoyment is based purely on silverware then that one league title in forty-six years represents a huge contrast in understanding of the game by fans today.
Of course every supporter and every player wants success, and this season the possibility of a maturing Arsenal side, one built from the ashes of the Invincibles, winning a trophy is higher than of late.
On the back of the 2-1 FA Cup win, no matter how closely Arsenal scraped the margins, the team is challenging on four fronts. In the knock-outs they face Leyton Orient in the last 16 of the FA Cup and Birmingham City in the final of the Carling Cup, only Wenger’s second final in that competition. Meanwhile in the Premier League Arsenal are second only to Manchester United, although their unbeaten run is beginning to look more ominous than previously, in addition Barcelona block the path forward in the Champions League second round this February.
The result remains in the balance, what is agreed, to use a cliché, is that this excellent side under Fabregas needs a trophy to be recognised as a ‘great team’. The consistency of results, given a New Year fixture list which has seen the side play on average every three days, is promising. Wenger has used squad rotation effectively, with players such as Bendtner and Denilson playing their part, and Arshavin too, no matter the current opinion concerning his form.
One stumbling block in seasons past has been a lack of depth within the squad exacerbated by injuries, and a tendency to fade in the final months of the season. The hamstring problems Nasri encountered against Huddersfield have sidelined one of the most crucial players of the season for one of the most crucial games, against Barcelona.
The worrying pattern continues in central defence which, though well-strengthened in the summer, is still missing Thomas Vermaelen, and now Squillaci with suspension from his red against Huddersfield. The fitness of Fabregas, and maturity of squad players are now key, with these secured Arsenal have the chance to make some headway in the quest for a title.
Whatever the case, the historical context is deeper than one diagram, but a picture does say a thousand words. The real question is what would Herbert think?
Read more in Data Analysis or review all the trophies, titles and cups won for Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal, with some in-depth discussion.