What Is Arsenal’s Longest Title Drought?

Many pundits (and even Arsenal fans) are writing off the club’s chances of landing the Premier League crown in 2023/24. We would suggest that is a little premature given that there is every chance they will be two points off top spot at the end of their 21st game of the season.

The Gunners have stumbled a little of late for sure. In fact, they have won just one of their last seven games across all competitions at the time of writing, although that run does include a league draw at Anfield and a win over Brighton in the same competition. But all clubs have a bad spell at some stage and that is even more likely to be the case in a campaign where we could see four, or even five, teams slugging it out for the title.

In one sense, it is better for the Gunners to have their poor run now, if that means they end the campaign strongly. However, the nerves and worry of the fans are understandable because the fact remains that Arsenal have not won the league title since their incredible Invincible campaign of 2003/04. That was 20 long years ago and everyone connected with the club will be desperate to end the Gunners’ long wait for glory. But what is Arsenal’s longest title drought? And when else in their history have they gone an extended period without claiming the top-flight championship?

Arsenal Slow Starters But Good Things Come to Those That Wait

Well, Arsenal’s longest title drought was the one they endured whilst seeking to claim their first top-tier championship crown. The club was founded in 1886, initially going by the name of Dial Square. Many name changes followed before they settled on Arsenal around the time of the First World War (the exact date is uncertain as there was a gradual shift from “The Arsenal”. However, their wait for the title would go on rather longer, their first victory not coming until the 1930/31 campaign.

That wait of approximately 44 years rather dwarfs the current drought, and we have every faith that Mikel Arteta and his team will end it, if not this season then soon. In truth, it is perhaps a little unfair to view the initial drought as 44 years given the Football League was not founded until 1888. Moreover, the club only entered the FA Cup and local competitions, such as the London Senior Cup, Kent Senior Cup and London Charity Cup in its earliest years.

They only entered the Football League, named Woolwich Arsenal at the time, in 1893 and did not ascend to the top flight, then known as Division 1, until 1904/05. However, whether we view their wait for the league title as starting when they were founded, when they were admitted to the Football League, or when they gained promotion to the top tier, that first drought remains the longest in the club’s history.

1930s Golden Spell

Herbert Chapman
Herbert Chapman (Wikipedia)

The season before claiming the title for the first time, Arsenal also landed their first FA Cup. That sparked perhaps the club’s greatest golden era, as they won the Division 1 title in 1930/31, 1932/33, 1933/34, 1934/35 and 1937/38, adding two FA Cups and five Community Shields in the 1930s too.

The legendary Herbert Chapman was the architect of much of that success. The Yorkshireman had enjoyed huge success with Huddersfield, guiding them to an FA Cup victory and two league titles and did even better at Arsenal, where he was boss from 1925 until 1934 before he tragically died. However, he had sown the seeds and Arsenal continued to thrive after his untimely death at the age of just 55.

Next Mini-Drought

Arsenal’s next significant wait for a title came between them lifting the league in 1938 and then doing so again at the end of the 1947/48 campaign. By current standards that is more of a blip though, especially if we consider that there was no football for around six years due to the Second World War.

1950s & 1960s See Arsenal Suffer

A more significant wait for the title occurred later in the century. In the same way that the current drought came after a period of great success, this earlier poor run would have been hard to predict given the Gunners landed the title in 1948 as said, and then again in 1952/53. However, they would not win another major trophy in either the rest of the 1950s or the 1960s.

The trophyless decade of the 1960s has to go down as Arsenal’s worst ever as they did not win a single thing of note. Whilst the rest of the country was swinging, the Gunners were crying, and indeed the 1960s is the only decade since their first title win in the 1930s where they have gone the whole 10 years without getting their hands on any silverware at all.

1970s & 1980s Not Much Better for Arsenal

This period started well for Arsenal, as they ended their wait for another league title in 1970/71. They claimed their first double that year too, adding the FA Cup to their trophy cabinet but whilst they won the FA Cup again in 1979, they would have to wait until 1988/89 and the George Graham era to add their next league success to their honours list. That wait, from 1971 until 1989, is their joint-third longest and was undoubtedly a tough time for Arsenal fans.

Spare a Thought – or Not – for Spurs

Waiting almost 20 years for a title is unquestionably tough for Arsenal fans who have been fortunate enough to have been raised on a diet of very regular success. 13 top-flight championships, 14 FA Cups, two League Cups and two European trophies means that rarely do Gunners have to endure a long spell without something to cheer.

Spurs fans, however, are rather more used to it. Their last league success came back in 1961! That’s more than 60 years ago! Their most recent FA Cup victory was in 1990/91, well over 30 years ago, whilst their only silverware in the current millennium came in 2008 when they covered themselves in League Cup glory! So whilst Gunners may feel they are suffering an inhumane wait for the Premier League title, it could be worse… you could be a Spurs fan!