Tradition, flair and loyalty – these are the core values which encompass the footballers who represent Arsenal Football Club, and which have solidified the Gunners’ reputation as one of English football’s finest.
With a considerable standing in the game, Arsenal have attracted star talent from Britain and abroad to create a style of football synonymous with the North London club. In no particular order, here are some of the most celebrated Arsenal footballers of all time.
Spending the entirety of his established playing career at Highbury, central defensive stopper Tony Adams amassed almost 700 appearances in the famous red of Arsenal. Adams succeeded in a period of the club’s history which was defined by stalwart defenders, and he was probably the best to do it. The tall, commanding centre half is a fine example of the Gunners’ productive youth setup, leading a solid defence of Dixon, Winterburn and Bould to four league titles as Arsenal skipper. Throughout Adams’ 19-year career, the back line which he marshalled was considered to be the greatest of its time, providing the platform for the club’s most recent golden period.
Tony Adams’ 672 Arsenal appearances is bettered only by his former teammate David O’Leary.
At the other end of the pitch as Arsène Wenger’s Gunners dazzled their way to legendary status in N5 was the ‘Non-Flying Dutchman’ Dennis Bergkamp. With grace and technique, the forward ended an 11-year association with the Gunners in 2006 as one of the greatest Premier League players ever, in spite of the league’s relative infancy. Bergkamp regularly hit double figures after his transfer from Inter Milan, bagging over 100 goals in total – most of which were scored with extreme finesse and a degree of impossibility. Bergkamp’s visionary style of play was perhaps the driving force behind one of the most watchable English teams of all time, sparkling domestically and challenging on the European stage.
It’s hard to achieve legendary status at two rival clubs, but that’s exactly what Northern Irish goalie Pat Jennings accomplished in North London. Joining Arsenal at the age of 32, Jennings retained the Gunners’ number one jersey for eight years to the dismay of his former side Tottenham Hotspur, having been allowed to make the switch to Highbury in 1977 by an oblivious Spurs. Few goalkeepers have made such a notable and prolonged impact on English top flight football as Jennings, featuring over 1,000 times for Watford, Spurs and Arsenal – where he picked up his final career winner’s medal at the 1979 FA Cup Final.
Robert Pires racked up almost 300 appearances for the Gunners in just six full seasons of Premier League football. The Frenchman played in almost every match after earning a first team place in Wenger’s tactical plans in the early 2000s, wowing Highbury crowds with outrageous skill and goalscoring ability from a variety of attacking positions. As part of the famous Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ team of 2003-04, Pires was a special footballer. The way he moved the ball. The way he picked a pass no one else could see.
Yet it was all over in a flash for Pires on one of the sport’s greatest stages, substituted after just 18 minutes in the 2006 Champions League Final as Barcelona rallied to defeat the Gunners 2-1. In spite of a less than harmonious departure following that match, Pires is considered among Arsenal’s finest of the modern era.
In a first Gunners spell from 1999 to 2007, Thierry Henry gave an education in finishing to the millions of Premier League TV viewers. Now immortalised in statue form outside the Emirates Stadium, Henry is possibly the greatest Premier League striker ever. His unrivalled strike rate of 228 goals in 377 Arsenal matches sees him top the club’s all-time scoring charts, netting 30 goals or more for five consecutive seasons between 2001 and 2006 – including 39 in the successful 2003-04 campaign. The 123-cap French international later played for Barcelona and NY Red Bulls before a brief but memorable return to the Emirates in 2012, adding a further two goals to his Arsenal tally.
Arsenal’s joint third highest appearance-maker of all time with 621 matches, Manchester-born defender Lee Dixon was another member of Arsenal’s formidable defence during the George Graham and Wenger years. Brought to Highbury in a double transfer alongside back line partner Steve Bould from Stoke City, Dixon mastered the art of no-thrills defending in the right-back position. After winning a number of domestic and continental honours under Graham, Dixon and his aging defensive teammates were revitalised under Wenger to lift two Premier League titles before the English international called time on a respected 20-year playing career in 2002.
The star of the 1970s Arsenal side, Liam Brady is held in high regard by Arsenal supporters despite winning only one trophy as a Gunners player. Possessing all the necessary attributes of the finest playmakers in football history, Brady was an assist king as well as providing a goalscoring touch during his 7-year stint in North London. The attacking midfielder also represented Ireland 72 times as one of the most gifted footballers of his nation. Before departing for the bright lights of Serie A in 1980, Brady won the 1979 FA Cup Final with Arsenal.
It’s rare to score so many goals past opposition defences, rile up swathes of rival fans and remain as popular as Ian Wright is. Born in Woolwich, ‘Wrighty’ scored goals at a rate few fellow Londoners could even dream of. The prolific centre forward bagged dozens of goals for fun with Crystal Palace before his club record transfer to Arsenal in 1991. Using his pace and intelligence in front of goal, Wright immediately lived up to expectations and became the Gunners’ all-time top scorer within his seven seasons in North London – a record which stood until Thierry Henry surpassed him in 2005. The loveable Match of the Day pundit won his fair share of honours with Arsenal, such as a Premier League and FA Cup double in the 1997-98 season.
Of Arsenal’s ten highest goalscorers of all time, Ted Drake is the only man to feature on the list with under 200 appearances for the club. His fantastic goals per game ratio was built on his unprecedented 1934-35 season with 44 goals. The keen cricketer also holds the impressive record of most goals scored in a single English top division match, bagging seven against Aston Villa in December 1935.
Drake’s scoring numbers are even more significant given the Second World War brought a halt to his playing days, but Arsenal did miss out on one of the English game’s earliest geniuses in management. Drake later coached Chelsea for almost a decade, winning a first league title for the West London club to become the first winner of England’s top flight as a player and gaffer.
Perhaps Arsenal’s best player of the early 20th century, outside left Cliff Bastin’s decorated football career lasted nearly 20 years with Arsenal. The Gunners’ status in English football was forged upon the five titles won by a side spearheaded by Bastin between 1930 and 1938, with three consecutive league championships during this period. In a tactic made popular in the 21st century, Bastin would often cut in off the left wing to score as he quickly topped Arsenal’s goalscoring charts with 178 in all competitions.
Few English clubs have been influenced by as many fabulous Frenchmen as Arsenal, from management to on-pitch flamboyance. But in the case of midfield controller Patrick Vieira, his media reputation is deemed that of an abrasive ‘hard man’ in the beautiful game. While Vieira did leave a trail of destruction on his way to three Premier League titles and four FA Cup victories, the tall central midfielder dictated football matches with elegance as he connected Arsenal’s play in a way which the team has sorely missed since Vieira’s 2005 exit.
Remembered for some of the most iconic Premier League moments, Vieira captained the Gunners until his move to Juventus which ended almost a decade of service to Arsenal.
Robin Van Persie
An audacious finisher and dead ball expert, Robin Van Persie replaced fellow Dutch hero Dennis Bergkamp with ease at The Emirates. Having featured as a winger with first club Feyenoord before joining Arsenal, Van Persie had the technique of a wide player matched with the relentless centre forward’s instinct which allowed him to quickly settle in the Premier League.
In spite of his goals tally increasing with each season, ‘RVP’ was unable to convert his deadly goalscoring form between 2008 and 2012 into sustained domestic honours for the North London club. Nevertheless, a young Van Persie scored his penalty in the shootout FA Cup Final triumph of 2005 and was named on the bench for Arsenal’s 2006 Champions League Final defeat.
Arsenal fan and youth team product Peter Storey would make over 500 appearances for the Highbury club between 1962 and 1977, representing the club with the utmost commitment. In fact, Storey would often take that dedication to the next level with hard tackles and excessive allegiance to the Arsenal badge. Most old FA Cup highlight reels will probably include a crunching challenge from the defensive midfielder, who was also used as a right-back in the early days of his career. The pinnacle of Storey’s spell with the Gunners was the league and FA Cup double of 1971, with the Englishman appearing 62 times and scoring 8 goals over the course of the season.
Like so many of Arsenal’s golden generation of players in the 1990s and early 2000s, legendary goalkeeper David Seaman is yet to be properly replaced at The Emirates. Coached by the esteemed ex-Arsenal goalie Bob Wilson, Seaman held the number one jersey for over a decade for club and country – sporting a variety of memorable hairstyles and goalkeeper kits which makes the sight of Seaman diving between the posts all the more nostalgic. A penalty-saving specialist, no keeper has featured in more Gunners matches than Seaman.
Released and later re-signed by Arsenal, Martin Keown’s journey to Gunners glory is like no other. To bring an end to a few trophyless campaigns, Arsène Wenger arrived in 1998 and immediately selected Keown and Tony Adams as his defensive pairing to great effect. Despite his age, Keown won three Premier League titles in his 30s and is remembered for his conventional but effective defending techniques alongside Adams.
With a ball at his feet and the pristine turf of the Emirates Stadium lying before him, Cesc Fàbregas was simply enchanting in his eight seasons as an Arsenal player. Thrust into the limelight at a young age, the Spanish midfield maestro was a first team regular within a year of his move to England. From cheeky lobs on the pitch as Arsenal’s architect in the middle to lobbing a slice of pizza at Sir Alex Ferguson, those first years in a Gunners shirt were special. Fàbregas was eventually given the armband and arguably carried the team in the latter years of his Arsenal stint, scoring 19 times in the 2009-10 season and creating an abundance of chances for his teammates. The Catalonian-born sensation appeared to be a perfect fit for Barcelona and signed for his boyhood team in 2011.
With the most league, FA Cup and League Cup appearances of any Arsenal player, David O’Leary’s record of 716 matches in the red of Arsenal is unmatched. Forever an Irish hero with iconic moments on the international stage, O’Leary is equally immortal in the history of Arsenal Football Club. The centre back was one of the greatest in his position in the final years of the old First Division, counting seven domestic trophies in an excellent honours list. Moreover, O’Leary defended with charm as well as performing convincingly against the best opposition strikers.
Another member of Arsenal’s renowned back four of the 1990s to feature on this list, left-back Nigel Winterburn made the position his own over 13 consistent seasons in North London. The first pick of managers George Graham and Arsène Wenger, the superbly reliable Winterburn was largely limited to club football with just two England caps but ensured his talents were not wasted with Arsenal. Bought for £350,000 from Wimbledon in 1987, Winterburn excelled in over 500 matches for the Gunners and won league titles in both the First Division and Premier League eras.
An Arsenal caretaker manager in 2019, the impact of super Swede Freddie Ljungberg is still felt in North London to this day. And not only on the red side, with his deflected winner against Spurs in a 2003 derby amongst a number of famous victories for the Gunners over their rivals. However, the winger’s magic rarely required the help of a deflection, netting 72 times between 1998 and 2007 to finish his Arsenal career as one of the Premier League’s most notable foreign imports. Voted as the league’s player of the season in the 2001-02 campaign, Ljungberg was central to Arsenal’s last successful period under Wenger and regularly provided the ammunition for top marksman Thierry Henry.
County Durham-born Arsenal veteran George Armstrong was the archetypal wide player, known for whipping dangerous balls into the box from either flank over 16 years with the Gunners. Due to the long period of time Armstrong spent with the club and the dependability of his performance level, he pulled on the famous red shirt 621 times which places him behind only David O’Leary and Tony Adams in the club’s all-time appearance records.
Under the tutelage of boss Bertie Mee, Armstrong achieved great domestic success with top flight and FA Cup winner’s medals in Arsenal’s double-winning 1970-71 campaign.