After the goal rush that had followed the 1925 amendment to the offside law, it was inevitable that somebody would plot a way to counteract the sudden increase in scoring. The offside trap which had been so expertly laid by McCracken and Hudspeth of Newcastle, was no longer the effective tool it had been. With just two full-backs facing five forwards, the balance of power had shifted firmly in favour of the attack, now someone needed to swing it back.
Herbert Chapman was the greatest manager of his day. At
Huddersfield he had created a team which would win 3 league titles in a row, with a system which seemed to run counter to all footballing orthodoxies. In the past the league’s best teams had been those who enjoyed the majority of possession and made this pressure count by converting it into goals. Chapman turned this thinking on its head and became the first manager to use counter-attacking as a genuine strategy rather than a mere response. Chapman’s Huddersfield would defend deep and then launch quick counter attacks, before their opponents could reorganise their own defence.
In 1925 Chapman accepted the chance to move south and manage an Arsenal team who were less than successful at the time. In exchange for leaving the best team in the country Chapman requested full control of the team and warned chairman Henry Norris that he would not win anything for 5 years. Chapman’s pedigree forced the normally overbearing Norris to agree, and there began the beginnings of Arsenal’s success.
Chapman’s first signing at Arsenal was the great
Sunderland inside-forward Charlie Buchan, a man who himself had a definite opinion on the impact of the new offside Law. What Buchan realised was that to combat the new Law it would be necessary to move the centre-half into defence and slot him between the two fullbacks. This new centre-back would provide much greater cover for the full-backs and give the team a stronger base from which to build. If Chapman was to continue his counter attacking policy it would be necessary to have a strong defence on which to base it.
The WM system (named after the pattern that the players took on the pitch) though did not see just one radical change, but two. In order to make up for the loss of creativity suffered by the withdrawal of the centre-half, it was necessary to force one of the inside-forwards deeper to link the play between defence and attack. Buchan himself was too valuable a goalscorer to allow to play in such a deep position, so at first Chapman tried Andy Neil in the role with significant success. It was in 1928 though and with the arrival of Alex James from
Preston that the withdrawn inside-forward really came alive.
By 1930 the system was fully evolved, and it marked some radical changes for each position. With the arrival of the centre-back he was now charged with marking the opposing centre-forward, the full-backs now marked the opposing wingers, while the wing-halves would mark the inside forwards. For Arsenal, both inside-forwards were now playing in deep positions as David Jack arrived to play alongside Alex James.
|Arsenal (below) v. Huddersfield|
In the 1930 FA Cup final Chapman’s Arsenal faced his old club Huddersfield, looking to lift the FA Cup for the first time. Having travelled to Wembley for the 1927 final, only to lose 1-0 to Cardiff City, the Arsenal players were determined to make amends for past failures. Their route to the final had been a gruelling one, with replays required to overcome both Birmingham and Hull, but they arrived at Wembley fresh and ready for battle. Neither team had enjoyed a vintage league season, with Huddersfield finishing tenth and Arsenal fourteenth. As such Huddersfield were a far cry from the dominant force of the early 20s, who had won three titles in such style.
For the first time in a Cup final the two sides entered the pitch side by side, with Tom Parker and Tom Wilson leading out their respective teams. Parity between the two teams did not last long in the match though as Arsenal took an early lead. In the sixteenth minute Arsenal won a free-kick which Alex James took quickly by passing the ball to winger Cliff Bastin, the ball was played back to James who hit a fierce drive into the corner of the net from the edge of the area. It was a pre-planned move that James had thought out with Bastin prior to the match, and the quick thinking left Huddersfield standing still.
It was shortly after this in the first-half that the final had a surprise visitor. The German Graf Zeppelin, the world’s largest airship, emerged over Wembley and drew the crowd’s attention from the match. Huddersfield’s manager, Clem Stephenson, had been aware of the planned appearance prior to the match and had protested but been ignored. It could at least be said that the distraction applied equally to both teams.
|The Graf Zeppelin looms over Wembley|
Having taken the lead Arsenal found themselves primarily focused on defence in the remainder of the first half. Attacking mainly down the flanks Huddersfield enjoyed plenty of the ball and used the pace of their wide players to frighten the Arsenal full-backs. However, this good work from Alex Jackson and Billy Smith was not matched by the inside-forwards and so attacks broke down with little threat to the Arsenal goal.
In the second-half Huddersfield again pressed and looked by far the likelier side to score. They lacked though some of the control they had enjoyed in the first-half and the game was far more frantic with an ebb and flow which stopped either side enjoying long spells with the ball. Charlie Preedy, for Arsenal, was by far the busier of the two keepers and he rode his luck at times as he split the ball, only for a team mate to hack it away.
In the dying minutes of the game James sprayed a long pass out of his own half to find Jack Lambert, Arsenal’s centre-forward. Lambert eluded Goodall and Spence before firing a powerful shot past a static Turner in the Huddersfield goal. At 2-0 Huddersfield lost their momentum and lacked the urgency they had shown throughout the second-half. Arsenal had finally brought home some silverware and Chapman’s prediction of winning a trophy after 5 years had come true.