Arsenal Audit : April 2017 - Part Two - A History Lesson

By Neil A. Fry

The current board could learn a thing or two from the club’s past

In last month’s Arsenal Audit we examined Monsieur Wenger’s claim that "I think I have built this club" and examined the three key - but unsuccessful - building projects over the last ten years of his reign - Project Youth, the British core and now the current mature phase or ‘Team of Men’, as he called it before the season unravelled. Having also noted an under-pressure Monsieur Wenger bemoaning today’s society’s need for news and inability to accept disappointment, and urging for a sense of perspective, Arsenal Audit also made a passing reference to Herbert Chapman and George Graham. Now we take up the story. First, we take a 90-plus-year perspective and examine the manager who, undoubtedly, did build the Club – but not without the crucial leadership of the then Arsenal Chairman. Having relocated Arsenal from Woolwich to Highbury in 1913, but having seen little substantive progress on the pitch, Henry Norris sacked the manager and took decisive action to secure the top managerial talent available in 1925. Much more recently, in 1986, the Club was floundering again. The Board identified two top managers but were unable to lure them to Arsenal. Instead they turned to a former player and up-and-coming managerial talent, George Graham, to restore its fortunes and he really did ‘build up’ the Club (as the translation of Monsieur Wenger’s original claim could also be understood). With Arsenal floundering once more, and a relocation again failing to offer the promised land alone, we finish April by bringing matters back to the current Board and the lessons they would do well to heed from their once-great Club’s history.

Herbert Chapman – Team he built won three titles in a row

Herbert Chapman
“The appointment of Herbert Chapman in the summer of 1925 arguably shaped Arsenal into the football club it remains today.” Arsenal.com

Herbert Chapman had quickly transformed Huddersfield Town and they became the dominant force in English football, winning the FA Cup for the first time, in his first full season, and their first Division One title two seasons later. A successive title followed, having finally regained top spot in February 1925, after beating Arsenal 5-0. For an ailing Arsenal, it was their second successive season where they had battled relegation. Nevertheless, having relocated Arsenal from Woolwich to Highbury in 1913, controversial Chairman Sir Henry Norris persuaded Herbert Chapman to join the better-supported London club in May 1925, not least by doubling his salary. Mr Chapman said it would take five years to transform Arsenal into a winning team and they duly went from also-rans to dominate English football and become the richest and most successful club in the world. In his first season at Highbury, Arsenal finished in second place in the First Division; the highest league placing in their history. The following season, Arsenal reached their first FA Cup Final but had to wait three more years to lift the trophy, against favourites Huddersfield in April 1930. In the following 1930-31 season, Arsenal romped to its first-ever league title, the first by a team south of Birmingham, racking up a record-breaking 66 points and scoring a Club-record 127 league goals in a single season, the front three alone scoring 97 goals between them. The following season Arsenal finished two points behind the winners and lost the FA Cup final 1-0. They made amends the following season and won the title back – wearing red shirts with white sleeves for the first time, for Mr Chapman believed white sleeves allowed players to identify each other more easily. Innovative tactics and shrewd transfer-signings transformed Arsenal into one of the most feared sides in the country. Tactically, his great invention was the 3-2-2-3 ‘W-M’ formation that he used at Huddersfield, with wing-halves and inside-forwards. Mr Chapman ensured Arsenal did it even better and the tactic completely changed the face of the domestic game. Tragically, after watching an Arsenal Third Team match nursing a cold, pneumonia set in and Mr Chapman died 6 January 1934, aged just 55. Nevertheless, he had laid all the right foundations and the side he had moulded lifted three back-to-back titles. In November 1934, Arsenal provided a still-record seven of England's starting XI in beating world champions Italy at Highbury. The FA Cup was won, for the second time in Arsenal’s history, in 1936, and - in the penultimate season before the outbreak of World War II - Arsenal won their fifth League title in eight seasons. In Mr Chapman’s era, Arsenal won seven trophies in 13 seasons, the first five of which were his stated building-process.

George Graham
“Going back to the George Graham era you think of Arsenal and you think you've got a right game on your hands. Now there's weakness there. The best description of the players was two years ago from Graeme Souness, who said they are a team of son-in-laws. But what father would want his daughter to bring one of them home? I'm serious. They bottle it, they're cowards, they duck out of challenges. Is that the type of man you want to bring your daughter home? I just think from top to bottom this club is not right; the talk of Wenger staying or going and the contracts of Sanchez and Ozil. They have been nothing short of embarrassing since the contract talk started.” Jamie Carragher, after the capitulation at Crystal Palace

Third choice after Terry Venables (Barcelona) and Alex Ferguson (Aberdeen & Scotland) rejected their overtures, George Graham was installed as Arsenal manager in May 1986 after a successful spell turning around an ailing Third Division Millwall. He inherited a centennial year Arsenal suffering a difficult period and they had not won the league title since he paraded the trophy himself in the 1970-71 Double season and stars Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton had left for Juventus and Manchester United. A strict disciplinarian on and off the pitch, George Graham built a back-four that would serve the Gunners for over a decade. Contrary to popular belief, Arsenal were also an attractive attacking proposition in his first six seasons, scoring 81 goals in the 1991–92 league season. A talented generation of young players such as David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and captain Tony Adams was complimented with a raft of astute signings including Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn and Steve Bould to complete his famed back-four, and then later David Seaman and Ian Wright. Within a year, George Graham had delivered the Club’s first silverware since the FA Cup in 1979. David Rocastle's late goal in the Semi-Final replay away to Tottenham left Arsenal huge under-dogs in the Final against the decade’s dominant team and reigning champions, Liverpool. Despite Ian Rush’s 23rd minute goal, he wasn’t to make it to 150 games for Liverpool scoring and never losing. Liverpool suffered a far worse fate in George Graham’s third season in charge, when George Graham led Arsenal to the most dramatic title-triumph in league history, in May 1989, as he again got the tactics spot on. He played a back three, allowing Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn to push forward and also push Liverpool's wingers back, kept it tight, and then Alan Smith scored early after the second-half team-talk and, on the counter-attack, Michael Thomas famously gave Arsenal the two-goal win they needed to leapfrog Liverpool to win the title with just 38 seconds left to play of the season.

Arsenal.com report that “The following season was blemished by inconsistency and a disappointing fourth-place finish was all Graham’s men could muster.” The Club now regard it as a trophy. George Graham wasn’t so easily pleased and sent for the notable reinforcements, Anders Limpar and (ruthlessly replacing John Lukic) David Seaman. In reclaiming the title, Arsenal conceded just 18 goals and kept 24 clean sheets, losing just once. Despite a two-point deduction for a mass brawl in a 1-0 win at Manchester United, and the eight-week prison sentence for captain Adams, Arsenal finished with 83 points, seven clear of runners-up Liverpool. That was the last league title under George Graham, but the tangible trophies continued to mount. He led Arsenal to a unique FA Cup and League Cup double in 1993 and the European Cup Winners Cup in 1994 – only Arsenal’s second European honour. It provided George with another great memory against all odds. Arsenal were a fading force and few gave them any chance of overcoming red-hot Italian favourites Parma awash with global talent, not least Tomas Brolin, Faustino Asprilla and domestic legend Gianfranco Zola, and with three key Arsenal players unavailable. Nevertheless, Alan Smith scored on the break in the 21st minute and Arsenal defended their lead with their lives to win, against all odds. Coming 24 years after George Graham lifted the Inter-City Fairs Cup as a player, it was the Club’s second European trophy. Except for 2006, Monsieur Wenger has never looked like masterminding Arsenal to a third. George Graham won six trophies (two league titles, the FA Cup, two League Cups and the EUFA Cup Winners Cup) in nine seasons.

In terms of trophies against length of tenure, George Graham (six from nine seasons) is by far the most successful Arsenal manager ever. Herbert Chapman and the team he built fared next best (seven from 14) and, like George Graham, he inherited a far inferior starting point to Monsieur Wenger (nine tangible trophies, so far, in 21 seasons).

The Board Today
"[Theo Walcott, match Captain] says this isn't Arsenal in this moment in time, it is! It's been Arsenal for the past 10, 15 years; year in, year out ... People will always talk about Arsène Wenger and I don't think the fans are split. I think more of them want change. It's now looking like the players want change. I have always been - and still am - a massive admirer of the class in the way he speaks after a game and before games, but I think - and I've felt it for a while - it's time for a change. The club is Arsène Wenger's from top to bottom because he's been there that long, and rightly so. But now the whole club looks a problem. On the pitch, you can see it and with the leadership from the top of the club. This acceptance of top four has spread throughout the club. When this man came in it was titles right away and competing against Manchester United. If they finished second it was a nightmare season. Now there's an acceptance of fourth. There's this thing of losing tonight and where it leaves you for top four. Forget top four. It's got nothing to do with it in my eyes in terms of Arsenal. It's been a nonsense for five or six years. Go for the trophies, not top four. That has affected the whole club. They've lost that something special they had.” Jamie Carragher continued.

With ‘continuity’ ditched after a disappointing previous season, three major summer signings (one because of injury), and a net transfer spend of around £85m, this season,
• The Europa League beckons after Arsenal’s eighth defeat since 13 December
• Just six points have been gained from nine matches against big-six rivals this season
• St. Totteringham’s day was cancelled with Arsenal trailing Tottenham Hotspur by 17 points
• Tottenham - much less expensively assembled and less financially rewarded – mounted their second successive sustained title-challenge
• Arsenal have not made any sustained title-challenges in the last 13 years
• Arsenal have managed just two wins in 25 away matches against big-six rivals
• The Champions League was exited at R16 for the seventh successive season, 2-10 on aggregate
• The dressing room has been lost and yet more star players are likely to head for the exit
• There are growing and global fan protests against the manager’s contract being renewed with mass season ticket-holder absence from home matches growing ever greater.

Formerly a director of Hambros Bank, Sir John Chippendale ‘Chips’ Lindley Keswick, then 73, succeeded his merchant banking colleague Peter Hill-Wood, then 77 and having suffered a heart-attack, to become Chairman of Arsenal football club in June 2013. At the following year’s AGM, in October, he was happy to clarify the role of the Arsenal Board. “If Arsène has a plan, we back it; if he doesn’t have a plan, we keep quiet… so don’t let’s be in a muddle about who calls the shots about football at Arsenal. It is not the chairman, it is not the fans, it is Mr Arsène Wenger.” With the shots from his master’s cannon firing ever more blanks, Keswick exited after Crystal Palace scored their 63rd-minute second goal but did have the decency finally to make a Club statement on 9 March, after the lame defeat at Liverpool was bookended by the 10–2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich. It really should have been the Chief Executive, who having pocketed a £1m bonus - for football commercial successes that are not clear - oversaw the operational running of the Club. After the opening April match, the home draw against Manchester City, which left them seven points adrift (with a game in hand) of the top-four and in sixth place, Monsieur Wenger was asked if the board had set a clear aim for the remainder of the campaign. He said: “No, I tell myself to finish as high as possible.” Nevertheless, Gazidis’s surprising claim that he was “acting as a catalyst for change” at the Fans’ Forum on 2 April suggested that perhaps he was ready to call a few shots about football himself, not least installing a Director of Football, a position Monsieur Wenger has made clear he is completely opposed to. He treated his Chief Executive’s comment and Arsenal supporters, with total derision two days later “What is important is a good football team, who play good football – all the rest is literature and we can debate, speak and organise forums … My battle in my whole life is to improve and to be better. That is evolution, not change. Change is the heart of who you are. That’s difficult. Evolution? Yes.” Nothing has been heard of the Chief Executive or Chairman since. Stan Kroenke’s long silence continues. After the first 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich, Monsieur Wenger said he would make his mind up about his new contract in March or April, but ahead of the Manchester United match on 7 May said "That means I was wrong" and no decision was forthcoming or appears to have been demanded.

In the February Arsenal Audit, an alleged rumoured shortlist of four managers to replace Monsieur Wenger , should he decide to leave, was examined in some detail. Here we update it with recent developments. Arsenal Audit’s preferred choice remains Max Allegri. The appointment of supporters’ then-favourite Diego Simeone (absent from the Arsenal list) or Leonardo Jardin remains also very welcome. The annual Deloitte Football Money League rankings were published in January. Arsenal remain seventh with a 2016 revenue of £350m.

Diego Simeone, 47, has worked miracles at Atlético Madrid (13th ranked - £171m 2016 revenue) whom he joined in December 2011, in overcoming the financial might of Barcelona and Real Madrid (second & third both £464m) to win La Liga in 2013-14; and he has also won the Europa League and Spanish cup. In four seasons in the Champions League he has reached the final twice, the quarter-final, and it looks like he will exit at the semi-final stage this season (losing the home leg 0–3 to Real Madrid). He has finished in the La Liga top-three in all his full seasons and, finishing strongly, looks likely to see off the spirited challenge of Sevilla and finish third again. Given the financial might of the big-two clubs, it would be understandable if he thought he had taken the club as far as he can and might welcome a fresh challenge.

AS Monaco (unlisted) manager Leonardo Jardim, 42, put paid to Arsenal in their 2015 customary R16 exit and, this season, Tottenham twice and, spectacularly, Manchester City, to reach this season’s semi-finals – having scored three goals in four successive knockout matches. He also eliminated alleged Arsenal Board favourite’s Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund (11th - £212m) 6-3 on aggregate having won the away leg 3-2 in the quarter-final. Having won eight successive league matches Monaco remain top of the French League, three points ahead of PSG with a vastly superior goal difference and a game in hand over the wealthy French club (sixth-ranked - £390m.) who have just three left to play.

Max Allegri’s, 49, improvement of Juventus (tenth - £255m) over the now Chelsea’s Double-chasing excellent manager Antonio Conte was well documented in the February Audit. Since then, as widely expected, Allegri halted Monaco’s free-scoring exploits in the Champions semi-final and Juventus won the first leg 2-0 away. Having masterminded Barcelona being put to the sword 3-0 in Italy and closed out a second incredible comeback with a traditional defensive Italian masterclass 0–0, it was hardly a surprise. Juventus need just four points from four games to seal his third successive Serie A title and, also in the Italian cup final, could also oversee his second Double. Unfortunately, as Arsenal’s Board prefer to indulge Monsieur Wenger, Allegri is rumoured to have agreed a new contract.

Whether that is true or not, Arsenal’s ineffective and impotent Board should take heed of its predecessors’ leadership, thank Monsieur Wenger for his long service, and make the best candidate available an offer he can’t refuse so they can rescue an again-ailing Arsenal from its current malaise and make Arsenal great again.


Carragher’s 10 year view:


Herbert Chapman & George Graham:


Who calls the shots:

No target:

No decision:

No Allegri:

7th May 2017 08:04:35


Comments and Reaction

User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.

jjetplane  12:42pm 7th May 2017

Nicely put together Neil and bar the Chapman years I experienced first hand the GG and early Wenger successes. Still cannot wrap my head around the fact that Wenger is still at the club and his record over a decade and more puts him as an outsider to the whole ethic of football as a competing, winning sport. Never really liked him from the word go and still say it was GG's back four that provided the springboard for his early success. Without them I doubt if he would have even won a PL. Should have gone after the Viera penalty and by now we would have won a CL at least. The present squad are the worst I have ever seen at Arsenal and like the manager they have no real ties to the club and no culture is instilled in them. I am so bored with Arsenal it has given me time and space to appreciate other teams in the PL. Well done to the Hammers and tough luck to the Totts though they have themselves to blame. Hope the Hammers have a strong ending and come back good for next season. same goes for Palace and the way things are shaping up it will be these two latter clubs who will be fighting with Wenger for a London stake. Totts are now twenty points a better team than Arsenal and that will not be rectified for a while. Find it easier to steer clear of the odious Wenger and his useless creation and thankfully now that I follow more County football I really do not miss it. I barely even catch MOTD on the lap top and Wenger to me represents everything sterile about the whole promotion. Awful man in what is now an awful club. Cheers Neil. - Post No. 106978

mbg  15:14pm 7th May 2017

Do you really think we need a drawn out history lesson, some certainly do but i'd safely say this is one of the few sites that doesn't. Any resignation yet. - Post No. 106979

Roy  15:19pm 7th May 2017

Yes Neil, yet another missed opportunity with Allegri from this spineless excuse for a Board who are quite clearly prepared to let Wenger carry on as long as he wants. The damage could be terminal by then. @NoNewContract #wengerout - Post No. 106980

mbg  15:25pm 7th May 2017

jj, without them TOF would just be another also ran, long gone and long forgotten. Wenger out tonight. - Post No. 106981

mbg  20:57pm 7th May 2017

Whatever the outcome whatever the score it changes nothing the weasel wenger out the door. We want wenger out we want wenger out. - Post No. 106982

MAF  10:17am 8th May 2017

i dont care abt the Man U result. Wenger out and a complete Change of DNA is needed. Alegri or Simeone would bring some much needed fire + steel. i pray that we stay in 6th and that then gives owners board clear evidence of the Need for complete Change. Monreal ? that god for the Young Boy from Bolton. - Post No. 106983

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