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Lucky Arsenal

Nickname of the great Arsenal team of the 1930s.  During that decade, Arsenal won no fewer than five championships and two FA Cups, and effectively ended the north’s domination of English football.

In 1925, Arsenal appointed Herbert Chapman as manager. Chapman had already won the league twice with Huddersfield Town, and, after a five year period spent mostly mid-table, he brought Arsenal their first period of major success.

Chapman exploited the change in the offside law to create a new playing formation. Under Chapman the centre-half, rather than the two full-backs, took responsibility for the offside trap. The full-backs played just in front of the centre-half whereas one of the forwards was brought back into midfield. The formation was therefore changed from 2-3-5 to 3-3-4, later known as the "WM" formation.

Their ability to grab goals on the break, even if Arsenal had been under pressure, led some observers to dub them lucky. The system developed what became known as the counter-attacking game. This relied on the passing ability of Alex James and goalscoring forwards like David Jack, Cliff Bastin, Jack Lambert and Ted Drake (pictured right).

Under his guidance Arsenal won their first major trophies — an FA Cup in 1929-30 and two League Championships, in 1930-31 and 1932-33. 

Chapman died suddenly of pneumonia in early 1934, but Joe Shaw and George Allison carried on his successful work. Under their guidance, Arsenal won three more titles (1933-34, 1934-35 and 1937-38) and an FA Cup (1935-36). However Arsenal had started to fade by the decade's end, when the intervention of  World War II meant competitive professional football in England was suspended.

Alex James leading Arsenal out in the 1936 FA Cup Final.

Looking back on the period Ted Drake recalled: ‘At Highbury we went for results.  Results meant getting goals so we cut the movements down from four passes to two.  Our great ball was the long one and that opened the game up’.