EVEN IN THIS age of “presentism”, it is hard to claim that the current Arsenal team ranks favourably against some of the club’s great teams. With such a glorious history, it is equally difficult to select a handful of teams to determine the Gunners’ greatest. Founded in 1886 in south London, Arsenal had an assortment of identities before they became the capital city’s most successful club. The current team is currently in the longest run without a league title since they won their first trophies – if they fail to win the Premier League in 2022-23, it will be 19 years. Arsenal’s first prize came in 1930 under Herbert Chapman, heralding the start of a golden period for the club. Here’s some of the Gunners’ best, a list that is by no means definitive.
1929-1931: Dan Lewis, Charlie Preddy, Tom Parker, Alf Baker, Eddie Hapgood, Bob John, Bill Seddon, Herbie Roberts, Joe Hulme, Alex James, Jack Lambert, David Jack, Cliff Bastin, Charlie Jones, David Halliday
Manager: Herbert Chapman
Achievements: 1929-30 FA Cup winners; 1930-31 Football League champions.
Five year league record: 9, 14, 1, 2, 1
Key men: Herbie Roberts, the first “stopper” centre half; Alex James, gifted inside forward renowned for his baggy shorts and his ability to control a game; David Jack, £11,500 inside forward, one of the stars of the 1920s.
Perception: The first London team to win the league, this was Herbert Chapman’s first great Arsenal line-up. Set a record for points won in 1930-31 and scored 127 goals in 42 games.
1932-1935: Frank Moss, George Male, Eddie Hapgood, Bob John, Jack Crayston, Frank Hill, Wilf Copping, Herbie Roberts, Joe Hulme, Jack Lambert, Ted Drake, Tim Coleman, David Jack, Alex James, Ray Bowden, Jimmy Dunne, Ralph Birkett, Charlie Jones, Cliff Bastin, Pat Beasley.
Manager: Herbert Chapman, Joe Shaw (caretaker), George Allison.
Achievement: Football League champions 1932-33, 1933-34, 1934-35.
Five-year league record: 1- 2 – 1 -1 – 1
Key men: Eddie Hapgood, an elegant and cool defender, signed from Kettering in 1927, spending 17 years with Arsenal. Won 30 England caps; Ted Drake, powerful and brave centre forward signed from Southampton. Good in the air and possessing a powerful shot, he won five caps for England; Cliff Bastin, goalscoring winger who joined from Exeter in 1929. Known as “boy Bastin” due to his youthful appearance. 21 England caps.
Perception: A well-drilled, functional set of players schooled in the ways of legendary manager Herbert Chapman. Sometimes accused of over-caution, but their quality was never in doubt.
1950-1953: George Swindin, Jack Kelsey, Laurie Scott, Walley Barnes, Alex Forbes, Leslie Compton, Joe Mercer, Freddie Cox, Jimmy Logie, Peter Goring, Reg Lewis, Dennis Compton, Lionel Smith, Ray Daniel, Cliff Holton, Doug Lishman, Don Roper, Joe Wade, Arthur Milton, Arthur Shaw.
Manager: Tom Whittaker
Achievement: Football League champions 1952-53, runners-up 1951-52; FA Cup runners-up 1951-52.
Five year league record: 5 – 2- 1 – 12 – 9
Key men: Joe Mercer, wing half who was a popular figure in the game, joined from Everton after the second world war at the veteran stage of his career; England international, five caps; Walley Barnes, Welsh full back (22 caps), joined from Southampton in 1943. A versatile player; Alex Forbes, Scottish international wing half who won 14 caps for his country. Went on to become a successful coach.
Perception: An ageing team possessing a strong defence. Frequently called “lucky Arsenal” by the media.
1970-71: Bob Wilson, Pat Rice, Bob McNab, Peter Storey, Frank McClintock, Peter Simpson, George Armstrong, George Graham, John Radford, Ray Kennedy, Charlie George, Eddie Kelly.
Achievements: Football League Champions, FA Cup winners. Football League Cup runners-up 1968 and 1969, Inter Cities Fairs Cup winners 1970. FA Cup finalists 1972.
Five-year league record: 4, 12, 1, 5, 2
Key men: Frank McClintock, veteran skipper; George Graham, strolling midfielder who went on to manage the club; Ray Kennedy, powerful striker who linked up well with John Radford and was later converted to midfield by Liverpool; and Charlie George, precocious local lad whose Arsenal career never lived up to the second half of 1970-71.
Manager: Bertie Mee
Perception: Functional, consistent and determined, refusing to give up in the title race with Leeds.
1997-98: David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Patrick Vieira, Steve Bould, Tony Adams, Ian Wright, Nicolas Anelka, Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmar, Ray Parlou, Emmanuel Petit, Giles Grimandi, David Platt.
Manager: Arsène Wenger.
Achievement: Premier League champions 1997-98; FA Cup winners 1997-98.
Five-year league record: 5 – 3 – 1 – 2 – 2
Key men: Marc Overmars, two-footed winer with pace and tremendous acceleration. Dutch international signed from Ajax, he spent three years with the club before joining Barcelona; Patrick Vieira, Senegalese born midfielder full of power and aggression, joined from AC Milan. 107 caps for France; Dennis Bergkamp, highly-skilled Dutch legend who joined Arsenal from Inter Milan in 1995. Top scorer in the double-winning season of 1998. 79 caps for the Netherlands.
Perception: Emerging power built on Wenger’s innovative methods, some of which changed English football for ever. Wonderful to watch.
2001-2005: Jens Lehmann, David Seaman, Ashley Cole, Lauren, Sol Campbell, Martin Keown, Kolo Toure, Oleg Luzhny, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Fredrik Ljungberg, Ray Parlour, Edu, Gilberto Silva, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord, Nwankwo Kanu
Manager: Arsène Wenger
Achievements: 2001-02 Premier League winners, FA Cup winners; 2002-03 FA Cup winners; 2003-04 Premier League champions; 2004-05 FA Cup winners.
Five year league record: 1,2, 1, 2, 4
Key men: Thierry Henry, pace and intricate skill in abundance and a phenomenal goalscorer; Robert Pires, a versatile midfielder/forward who had six good years with the club, rated by fans among the top six players to have represented Arsenal; Sol Campbell, former Tottenham centre half who had a massive physical presence in the Arsenal side.
Perception: Unbeaten in the Premier League 2003-04, the last great side produced by Arsenal and Wenger. Excellent footballing team who earned the tag “invincibles”.