Established in 1886, Arsenal F.C. are one of England’s most prestigious and successful clubs with a long, colourful and fascinating history. The North London club have won the English Premier League a total of thirteen times, the F.A. Cup twelve times and also boast a duo of League Cup wins and a continental trophy from the competition now known as the Europa League. Arsenal’s goal scoring record is currently held by French club legend Thierry Henry, with 175 competitive goals for the Gunners, and the record number of appearances belongs to defender David O’Leary who racked up 558 outings in an Arsenal shirt. Arsenal have enjoyed many fierce rivalries during their time as a professional football club, whether it be with Manchester United during the late 90s and early 00s or their passionate bouts with East London’s West Ham United. However, the Gunners most enduring and meaningful rivalry is undoubtedly with fellow North Londoners, Tottenham Hotspur. Matches between Arsenal and Spurs have long been a highlight on any football fan’s calendar and the fixture has given rise to a host of classic confrontations, with the rivalry burning as fiercely as ever to this day.Originally formed under the name Dial Square, Arsenal was founded by Royal Arsenal, a group of munitions workers in Woolwich, London and in 1893, the club changed their name to Woolwich Arsenal and finally joined the football league proper. Arsenal’s beginnings in munitions have earned them the affectionate nickname ‘The Gunners’, a moniker still widely used to this day. Since many of the club’s initial group of players joined from Nottingham Forest, the Gunners started life wearing spare Forest kits, thus beginning the club’s long standing tradition of wearing red coloured shirts for home games. Despite winning promotion to English football’s top tier in 1904, Woolwich Arsenal’s early years were not without struggle and the club were forced to declare bankruptcy in 1910 due to a mixture of the munitions workers’ financial troubles and declining attendance numbers at games caused by the increasing number of other football clubs beginning to establish themselves in the country’s capital. Happily, the club was saved by two local businessmen who renamed the football club ‘The Arsenal’ and relocated them to their long-term home of Highbury where they would stay until the next millennium. With their fortunes successfully reversed, Arsenal (the ‘The’ in their name was eventually dropped) quickly became a financial powerhouse and the club were soon able to afford the services of then-Huddersfield Town manager Herbert Chapman who would go on to revolutionise the club and lead them to their greatest period of sustained success.
The 1930s saw Arsenal experience their first real period of domination within English football, with the decade bringing the club five League campaign wins and two F.A. Cup trophies. With star strikers such as Cliff Bastin and David Jack at their disposal, the North London club quickly registered their first national trophy win in the 1930 F.A. Cup competition, an accolade swiftly followed by back to back League wins, as Herbert Chapman continued to take Arsenal to the top of the English game. The 1930/31 season also marked the first appearance of a foreign player in an Arsenal shirt, Dutch goalkeeper Gerry Keyser. The Gunner’s momentum was to be tragically shaken however, when Chapman suddenly passed away in 1934 from pneumonia. Herbert Chapman would, naturally, never be forgotten by Arsenal fans and his work at Highbury ensured that even after his death, the club’s footballing successes continued, as the Gunners completed the 1933/34 campaign with a League trophy and ended the decade as a force to be reckoned with, collecting two more League titles and an F.A. Cup win. After the suspension of the football league due to World War II, Arsenal continued to gather trophies and by 1953 had become English football’s most successful ever side in terms of silverware.
Sadly, Arsenal’s period of prosperity would not last indefinitely. The Second World War had taken its toll on the Gunners, both in terms of the amount of players who tragically lost their lives in the conflict and due to the costly repairs needed to repair the damage German bombs caused to club’s Highbury home. These setbacks marked the beginning of a barren period in Arsenal’s history, as they failed to register a significant trophy win for eighteen long years and were forced to compete with an aging squad, unable to afford the substantial replacements needed. Notably however, wartime periods had a habit of bringing football clubs together and where long-time rivals Tottenham had been permitted the use of Highbury in the wake of World War I, Spurs duly returned the favour in the second conflict. By the end of the sixties, Arsenal fans had begun to see a light at the end of the tunnel thanks to new manager Bertie Mee who led the club to the first piece of European silverware in their history during the 1969/70 season (the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup) and followed that up with the first League and F.A. Cup double in the 1970/71 season. The Gunners continued through the decade with improved results and although they struggled to collect more trophies, the club were far more competitive than during the previous decade thanks to figures such as Pat Jennings and Liam Brady – both now considered club legends. Former double-winning player George Graham returned to take over as manager in 1986, subsequently leading the club through another period of glory which included two League titles, two League cups, an F.A. Cup and a European Cup Winners’ Cup. Before Graham could build upon his Arsenal legacy further however, he was dismissed due to accusations of bribery in the signings of several players.
In 1996, the Gunners replaced George’s successor, Bruce Rioch, with Frenchman Arsene Wenger. Wenger had previously enjoyed successful managerial spells with A.S. Monaco in France and Nagoya Grampus Eight in the Japanese league but his arrival at Highbury marked his first foray into English football. His arrival would also herald the dawn of a brand new era of success for the London club. The nadir of Arsene Wenger’s reign so far came during the 2003/04 season, in which Arsenal not only won the Premier League but also remained unbeaten for the whole campaign. The team, subsequently known as The Invincibles, contained such iconic footballing figures as Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera and Dennis Bergkamp and would go down in history as one of English football’s most cohesive and effective sides. In 2006, Arsenal relocated from their home of Highbury to the newly built, state of the art Emirates Stadium, a move that epitomised the Gunners’ consistent on-pitch success and financial fortunes. As well as a period of sustained success, Arsene Wenger also introduced a more youth-focused approach to his recruitment philosophy, bringing in a number of talented diamonds in the rough and shaping them into world-beating megastars. Household names such as Robin Van Persie, Cesc Febragas and Aaron Ramsey were all signed by Wenger in their formative years and gradually introduced into the first team, eventually going on to become integral players for the North London club.
More recent years have seen a shift towards an increasingly balanced approach, mixing fresh faces with established, big-name talent and Arsene opened his chequebook to bring in world class players such as Mesut Ozil – the German playmaker from Real Madrid – and Alexis Sanchez – an attacking winger from Chile who found his opportunities limited as Barcelona. Despite these signings, big trophies have somewhat eluded the Gunners as of late, however they have maintained a remarkable consistency in the league that has earned them a constant presence in the UEFA Champions League and they mount strong title challenges year upon year. With the retirement of Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, Arsene Wenger became the Premier League’s longest serving manager and he continues to lead the Gunners in their quest for glory.