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Arsenal: 100 Years in the First Division – but what about more titles

This article continues from the piece, “No Champs League again, but how are Arsenal going to turn this around?” published earlier today.

It is 100 years since Arsenal were elected to the first division upon its expansion.  Take out 11 years when football was not played, and we have been in the first division for 89 years during which time we have won it 13 times, just as we have won the FA Cup 13 times.

So 26 domestic trophies in 89 years – one every three or four years.  13 league titles – one in every seven years.

Except that is a bit misleading because we tend to win things in bunches, not neatly spread out.  Five league titles in the 1930s, two in three years under Graham, three in six years under Wenger.   True the FA Cup is a bit more spread out, but this century we have had two runs of three wins in four years.

The fact is that Tottenham finished one point above us last season – just one point.  And they don’t even have history to look back at with just two league titles, the last in 1961, over 50 years ago.  Even in the FA Cup they are behind us with just eight wins – although to be fair they have won the League cup four times to our two, and the Uefa Cup twice to our once.

So the question remains, where does that leave us today?

Yes we’re going through a bit of a down period but we haven’t slipped down to mid-table horrors as used to happen.  After winning the league in 1953 we entered a 17 year dead period, often ending up 12th or 13th in the league.

Three years after winning the double in 1971 we had a six year spell which included two narrow escapes from relegation and nothing remotely like a trophy challenge in sight.

Four years after winning the league in 1991 we were finishing in 12th position before Wenger pulled it back together with eight years of finishing first or second.

The point is that this is how Arsenal has been – periods of success and periods of lean years.   And the upside of this current lean period (if two seasons without winning a trophy really is a lean spell) is that we have stayed in the top six.  In all the other lean spells we have slipped way down the league and as I say, under Mee, nearly got ourselves relegated.

But there seems to be a thought among some people that Arsenal, being Arsenal, should be challenging for trophies all the time, and two years without a trophy is a disaster.

But the fact is that 10 trophies between 1998 and 2019 is Arsenal’s best ever run.  It is the first time in Arsenal’s history that the club has won since the second world war.  It is only beaten by seven trophies in nine years starting in 1929: the Chapman / Shaw / Allison era.

So what some people seem to be demanding is a return to one of the two great, great, great periods of Arsenal’s history: 1998/2005 under Wenger and 1929/38 under Chapman et al.   And yes I’d love that too.  But let us not demand it as of right.  Those eras were exceptional and rare.  In the first one the giants of the era (Huddersfield Town) were fading and the supposed new big boys (Sheffield Wednesday) did not fulfil their promise.  In neither era did we have to face clubs with the sort of financial advantage Manchester City, Chelsea and others have.

Yes in the Wenger era, we took on Manchester United head to head – in five of the seven years of our dominance the top two were Manchester United and Arsenal.  But that was a rare thing in Arsenal’s history.

So let us be realistic.   We are up against four clubs who have access to far more money than Arsenal have, not just one club as it generally was in the old days.  And the fifth club is (I hate to admit it) managed by a very astute manager who is holding together an excellent team without spending any more.

I am not saying that therefore we should give up – far from it.  Rather that we should not be impatient, and not demand a managerial sacking if in one year’s time we are where we are now.   If we can get a trophy next season great – but we should not be overthrowing the entire managerial structure if not.

In the 1930s Arsenal were called the Bank of England club because we had a bigger income than other teams.  This was managed by the fact that we got bigger average gates than most teams (thanks to the foresight of Henry Norris in building the Highbury ground) and we charged more for entrance than, if not all the other teams, almost all of them (sorry I can’t find the complete records on this, but such information as I have suggests this is so).

Things will change, because they always do.  Manchester City might have overreached themselves in terms of taking on Uefa.   Tottenham’s good run without finance has to end some time, and they now have to service a huge debt.  Chelsea’s owner seems to be far less interested that he was before his visa application was turned down.  Given his past behaviour it is hard to know which way Liverpool might jump next or what the owner might reveal during a press briefing in the future.  And Manchester United might pull themselves back together from their dismal sixth place finish, but they might not – at least for a year or two.

We need to support the club, have patience, and just see how things shake out, and not assume that because we are Arsenal we have an absolute right to win things.  We don’t and besides, there isn’t much else we can do.

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