Arsenal fans have witnessed a long list of legends grace Highbury and Emirates Stadium over the years as one of England’s most successful football clubs. Their successes have seen an array of the game’s brightest and best players thrill in north London across Arsenal’s history.
No player has ever featured more often for the Gunners than David O’Leary, who made 722 outings in their famed red jersey. While Thierry Henry is an unquestionable legend with five club records at Arsenal for the 228 goals the 1998 World Cup-winning Frenchman produced.
|Managers:||Arsene Wenger (1999-2007, 2012)|
|Years at Arsenal:||1999-2007, 2012|
Arsenal signed Henry from Juventus in August 1999 for £11m as the forward had fallen out of favour in Turin. He had lifted the World Cup with France on home soil just a year earlier, too. Yet when he arrived at Highbury under Arsene Wenger, he considered himself a ‘nobody’.
The next eight years would see Henry go down in history as one of the Premier League’s all-time icons and an undisputable legend of Arsenal. The attacker, known affectionally in north London as The King, also briefly returned on loan from New York Red Bulls aged 34 in 2012.
His two stints with Arsenal saw Henry score a club-record 228 goals over 377 games across all competitions. The Frenchman’s haul also resulted in club records for Premier League and overall league goals with 175 plus in the Champions League with 35 and in Europe with 42.
Henry had everything in his locker to be one of the best forwards of a generation and also set Arsenal records with his appearances in Europe (86) and the Champions League (78). The forward had the pace and power to run defenders ragged and to dominate along the attack.
Arsenal further won the Premier League title in the 2001/02 and 2003/04 terms with Henry leading their attack. While his efforts helped the Gunners to lift three FA Cups and reach the 2005/06 Champions League final. He further secured four Premier League Golden Boots.
|Managers:||Bruce Rioch (1995-96), Arsene Wenger (1996-2006)|
|Years at Arsenal:||1995-2006|
Arsenal broke their club record to sign Dennis Bergkamp from Inter Milan for £7.5m in June 1995 under Bruce Rioch. Yet the forward’s start to life in north London would not be perfect as his mentality came into question. But the Dutchman would prove his critics were wrong.
Bergkamp would go on to bless the Premier League for 11 years before retiring in 2006 as a legend of Arsenal. The attacker’s sublime technique and graceful poise also produced one of the division’s all-time best goals as he swivelled around Nikos Dabizas and stroked a shot in.
The outstanding display Bergkamp produced at St James’ Park in March 2002 was a touch of genius. Yet it was also a sign of the player he became under Wenger’s watch and just one of an array of sensational moments he produced throughout his iconic career in north London.
Everything Bergkamp attempted in an Arsenal jersey oozed class and confidence and was at the heart of Wenger’s attacking plans. Such was his legendary status in the game that Marco van Basten and Johan Cruyff even came out for his testimonial match upon retiring in 2006.
While Bergkamp bowed out after a glittering career featuring three Premier League titles at Arsenal. He also helped the Gunners win four FA Cups over a spell at Highbury that featured 120 goals in 423 games. The Dutchman struck his 100th goal for the club in his 296th outing.
|Managers:||Terry Neill (1983), Don Howe (1983-1986), George Graham (1986-1995), Bruce Rioch (1995-96), Arsene Wenger (1996-2002)|
|Years at Arsenal:||1983-2002|
Almost two decades passed with Tony Adams at the centre of the defence at Arsenal. The centre-half also spent 14 of his 19 years at Highbury with the captain’s armband and made 669 appearances. Only O’Leary with 722 has ever featured more often for the Gunners yet.
Adams further lifted 10 major trophies through his glittering career in the English capital. He helped add four top-flight titles, three FA Cup crowns, two English Football League Cup titles and a European Cup Winners’ Cup title to Arsenal’s trophy cabinet, plus two Charity Shields.
The defender’s incredible record as the ultimate one-club man and status as an undisputed legend of the club saw Adams earn the nickname of ‘Mr Arsenal’, as well. But it was not just the trophies or games he amassed that saw the club product get a place among their greats.
Adams was an inspirational force behind Arsenal’s successes as he orchestrated the backline and led by example. The centre-half was forever up for the fight and showed true leadership in his desire to compete. So, it was natural that he took on the captaincy at just 21 years old.
|Managers:||George Graham (1991-1995), Bruce Rioch (1995-96), Arsene Wenger (1996-98)|
|Years at Arsenal:||1991-1998|
A tearful Ian Wright pleaded with Crystal Palace to accept a £2.5m bid from Arsenal to seal a transfer in September 1991. He had helped guide the Eagles into the top-flight and cement a place in the division. But, at 27 years old, the striker’s legend was still to unfold at Highbury.
Wright proved George Graham was right to break the bank to get him from Crystal Palace as the striker went on to become Arsenal’s all-time top-scorer before Henry surpassed his tally. The London native penned 185 goals in 288 games during his seven years with the Gunners.
He remains the Gunners’ second-best goalscorer and still holds a record for the most League Cup goals with 29. Wright was one of the best strikers of his day and had a knack for scoring that few in England could rival with a sublime skill to produce exquisite and powerful strikes.
But Wright was more than just one of the finest goalscorers of the English game, he was also one of its biggest characters. His celebrations were as theatrical as his goals were unique. He also had the Gunners fanbase hailing his name right away with a hat-trick on his league bow.
Goals in an Arsenal shirt and fans signing ‘Ian Wright, Wright, Wright’ went hand-in-hand as the ‘one-nil to The Arsenal’ era began. While the end of the 1990s finally saw the striker lift the silverware his efforts deserved with a second FA Cup title and, finally, a top-flight crown.
|Managers:||Arsene Wenger (1996-2005)|
|Years at Arsenal:||1996-2005|
One phone call made all the difference in 1996 between Patrick Vieira leaving AC Milan for Ajax and joining Arsenal. Wenger later revealed in 2015 that the Frenchman was already in Amsterdam ready to join the Dutch giants when he called and convinced him of the move.
“I had a big hand in [signing him], yes,” Wenger told Arsenal Player. “I did it from Nagoya, I think he trusted me because when I called him on the phone, he was in Amsterdam to sign for Ajax. He was in Holland, he was there to sign but I knew his agents.
“I spoke to Patrick and said: ‘Please, stop. Come to Arsenal.’ They were waiting at a hotel to go to the headquarters of the club to sign and I could just stop it. The next morning, he flew from Amsterdam to London. My whole history could have changed [without signing Vieira].”
Arsenal’s modern history as one of the Premier League’s most successful clubs could also be very different without signing Vieira. The £3.5m move added a true midfield powerhouse to the Highbury engine room, who would also go on to become captain in the summer of 2002.
Vieira had the aggressive bite and enthusiasm for the role that took Arsenal to another level and reshaped them under Wenger. The 6 ft 4 brute dominated the division and stamped his authority right away. He would eventually leave as a three-time winner with four FA Cups.
|Managers:||George Graham (1990-1995), Bruce Rioch (1995-96), Arsene Wenger (1996-2003)|
|Years at Arsenal:||1990-2003|
No goalkeeper has ever yet featured more often for Arsenal than club legend David Seaman. He amassed 564 games for the club during a 13-year stint at Highbury that further returned three top-flight titles, four FA Cups, one EFL Cup and a European Cup Winners’ Cup trophy.
Yet the Highbury fanbase chanted ‘We all agree, Lukic is better than Seaman’ in the months preceding his arrival from Queens Park Rangers as John Lukic guarded Graham’s net. But the former Gunners boss spent £1.3m in the summer of 1990 and declared ‘Seaman is the best’.
It would prove to be one of the best bits of business that an Arsenal boss has ever overseen. Seaman won the hearts of the Highbury fanbase in no time as he conceded only 18 goals as the Gunners won the 1990/91 First Division while his all-round ability was always on display.
The shot-stopper was the ideal goalkeeper with Seaman displaying superb reflexes, brilliant positional awareness and endless courage between the sticks. No matter how in control of a game Arsenal were, he remained alert and poised to pull off the sensational when called on.
|Managers:||Bertie Mee (1973-76), Terry Neill (1976-80)|
|Years at Arsenal:||1973-1980|
Arsenal’s academy is famous around the world for its record of producing some of the most talented prospects. But few players from the Gunners’ revered production line can compare themselves to Liam Brady. The midfielder first joined the club on schoolboy terms in 1970.
His first three years with the Gunners convinced Bertie Mee to hand ‘Chippy’ his senior bow at 17 years old. The youngster’s talents were already evident as he established a partnership with 1966 World Cup winner, Alan Ball. Brady then later took over from his mentor in 1976.
The arrival of Terry Neill as Arsenal manager in 1976 also saw Brady reach new heights as he became the complete midfield player. Brady had the perfect blend of vision, power, balance and poise to give himself the time on the ball to pick out the perfect pass almost every time.
But his legend at Arsenal ended on a shock note in 1980 when Brady announced that he was moving to Juventus. The midfielder was the Gunners’ absolute talisman at Highbury and was instrumental to their 1979 FA Cup title during the club’s run of reaching three straight finals.
|Managers:||Arsene Wenger (2000-06)|
|Years at Arsenal:||2000-2006|
The month of July 2000 saw Arsenal edge Real Madrid for a £5m deal with Marseille to sign Robert Pires fresh off of helping France win Euro 2000. Wenger was instrumental to the deal having transformed the careers of his compatriots Henry, Vieira and Nicolas Anelka already.
It also saw Wenger add another of France’s 1998 World Cup winners to the Arsenal dressing room who, like Henry, would become a club legend. The winger helped the Gunners achieve their top-flight title dreams in 2002 and 2004, along with FA Cups in 2002, 2003 and 2005.
Pires was the perfect partner for Henry on the left wing at Highbury for six seasons with his dynamism in attack. Donning the Gunners’ iconic No7 shirt, the forward had a perfect blend of bravery, passion and skill. He also ensured the club did not miss Marc Overmars for long.
Overmars’ departure had hurt the Highbury faithful but Pires more than filled the boots the Dutchman left behind. He was a playmaking revelation with the instincts of a centre-forward to bamboozle defenders all across Europe. His teammates would also even bow before him.
Arsenal’s players bowed at Pires’ feet after his instrumental role in their FA Cup and Premier League double in 2001/02. The Frenchman’s season had ended through an injury but he was central to everything they won and France also sorely missed Pires at that year’s World Cup.
|Position:||Forward, attacking midfielder|
|Managers:||Bertie Mee (1969-75)|
|Years at Arsenal:||1969-1975|
The FA Cup final in 1971 summarises everything Charlie George was to Arsenal as he fired a 20-yard thunderbolt home. It secured the Gunners a 2-1 win against Liverpool and their first double deep in the 111th minute at Wembley after Graham had only equalised in the 101st.
It also produced one of the most legendary images in Arsenal’s history as George fell to the ground with his arms aloft. The local lad born and raised in Highbury had taken the team he supported and watched as a child to the top as fans lauded his name and what he delivered.
George put aside his slender stature to weave through defences at his will and delivered the 1969/70 European Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in his debut season at 19 years old. His confidence was unlike anything that Mee’s teams had seen before and characterised who George was.
But an injury at the start of the 1970/71 term and the arrival of Ray Kennedy forced George to move into a deeper position on his return. Yet his scintillating vision ensured he adapted well. It also led to his heroics in the 1971 FA Cup final before niggling injuries would take their toll.
|Managers:||Bertie Mee (1975-76), Terry Neill (1976-83), Don Howe (1983-1986), George Graham (1986-1993)|
|Years at Arsenal:||1975-1993|
There is no doubting O’Leary as an Arsenal legend with the Gunners product boasting a club record of 722 appearances. The centre-back spent almost two decades in the first-team fold before joining Leeds United in 1993. By then, he had also won the league and FA Cup twice.
O’Leary also lifted the EFL Cup title twice and is Arsenal’s all-time leading appearance maker in the tournament with 70 games. While his 558 league appearances are also a club high but his status as an Arsenal legend is not just down to the vast volume of appearances he made.
The unassuming defender joined Arsenal as an apprentice in 1973 and made his senior bow just days after turning 17. His youthful exuberance would help guide the Gunners clear of a relegation fight before O’Leary’s calming nature saw his side play the ball out from the back.
O’Leary remained loyal to Arsenal as those around him departed for pastures new and took over the captaincy in the early 1980s. His spell as their skipper was short-lived but Graham’s arrival at the helm saw the centre-half regain his stature as one of the best in England then.
While O’Leary would not always go on to be a mainstay of Graham’s plans, he often found a way back. And in 1993, the defender bowed out of Highbury in truly fitting fashion by lifting the FA Cup after defeating Sheffield Wednesday with O’Leary lifting the trophy at Wembley.