I love a good debate about who is Arsenal’s best ever manager. We all have an opinion on it, and of course ‘greatest’ is often very subjective, but I’ve pulled out a few statistics to look at. You can prove anything with statistics, as you know.
Let’s start with a list of all Arsenal managers, how long they were in position and how many competitive matches they were in charge for, because longevity is certainly a contributor to greatness, after all.A couple of notes:
Stewart Houston is the only man to do two separate stints as Arsenal manager. I’ve listed them separately above, but for the purposes of comparison I’ve added all his figures into one total from here on.
The asterisked years are adjusted figures for managership, to take account of the war years when no official competitive football took place.
Right, on with the show.
So: longevity. That makes Arsène the greatest, as he has far outlasted all the competition, and some – unkind people – would say, his usefulness.
(In some of these tables, by the way, I’ve disregarded anyone who was in the post for fewer than 20 matches. It’s an arbitrary figure, but go much higher and you lose Joe Shaw from the list, and he won a trophy, so he needs to be included.)
Joe Shaw takes the title here. Joe took over as ‘team manager’ in January 1934 after the death of Herbert Chapman. Arsenal were current champions and went on to win the League in both 1934 and 1935. Now you might say Joe had a bit of an easy job, given that Herb left things in a pretty good state, and all the players were no doubt keen as mustard to win the title in honour of their recently deceased boss. And you’d probably be right.
Joe was then officially replaced as manager by George Allison for the following season, leaving him with a record of half a season and one League Championship. Arsène is second though, which ain’t bad.
Arsène is the only Arsenal manager to lose less than a fifth of games, though he’s sailing a bit close to the wind lately. There’s a year by year table of loss percentages here going back to 1992 if you’re interested.
James McEwen was in charge for one competitive game at the end of the 1914-15 season, the last game before football was abandoned until the end of World War I, where Arsenal beat Notts Forest 7-0. Arsène Wenger is surprisingly far down the table, below such unsuccessful managers as Billy Wright and Jack Crayston, as well as Chapman, Allison and Whittaker. Strange when you consider that the football produced for several years was world-beating for entertainment value. The less said about Steve Burtenshaw the better.
If you look at goal average, though, Arsène does rather better, indicating that his teams tend to win by bigger margins (I’ve removed the most short term from this table). Harry Bradshaw in second place was manager during the period that Arsenal were quite successful in the old Second Division (which at the time was the new Second Division) between 1899 and 1904.
Amazingly three managers have a goal average of exactly one. What are the chances?
Is winning most matches good enough, though? What’s the point of getting to the semi-finals of everything if you never win a pot? Here’s the trophy totaliser – major trophies only, none of your Charity Shield nonsense.
Joe Shaw walks it of course, but Arsène is a lowly fourth. If he’s still there in May 2017 and still hasn’t won anything else, Herb will also overtake him in this table.
Other than Shaw and Allison, the others all lost cup finals, in some cases several, so this table could be vastly different with just a bit more luck.
Up until the late 1950s there were only two per season of course, then by 1961 a possible four. So Arsène has had far more goes than anyone else. Somewhat surprisingly, even if you stopped counting in 2005, at the point Arsène last lifted a cup, he’d only be on 20 per cent, marginally ahead of George Graham and a long way behind George Allison.
Note that it’s not always a straightforward multiplication of number of seasons times trophies, because if you take over at the start of a season you can’t win a European trophy if your predecessor hasn’t qualified. Similarly, you might take over mid-season, when you’re already out of some competitions, or be in such a hopeless place that you couldn’t realistically be expected to win the league. So I think these figures are accurate allowing for those things, but correct me if I’m wrong.
There is only one ‘winner’ here, but I’ll leave you to make your mind up on the importance of that one. Before I end, I must point out that:
- I’m always slagging off people who try and prove things with statistics
- I’m not really trying to use the stats to prove anything, so chill.
Also I said at the beginning that I love a debate about who is Arsenal’s greatest ever manager. The fact is, there’s no debate. It was Herbert Chapman, because he is probably – what am I talking about, DEFINITELY – the most brilliant and revolutionary manager in the history of football. If he’d lived longer and if the FA weren’t stuck in a timewarp whereby they are always at least 50 years behind current thinking, then that would be even more obvious, but poor old Herb passed away on January 6, 1934, just before his 56th birthday. A tragedy for his family, for Arsenal and for English football. Herbert Chapman is the man who built the first great incarnation of Arsenal, and without him there would have been no rock solid foundations for Arsène Wenger to rebuild on. Credit to Wenger for all his achievements, but more credit to Chapman.
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