Arsenal have been fortunate enough to have had several excellent managers during their long, illustrious and trophy-laden history. All Gunners will be hoping that Mikel Arteta can do enough to earn his place among them but he has a long, long way to go yet. Winning the FA Cup in 2020 was a nice start, as was finishing second in the Premier League and qualifying for the Champions League in the 2022/23 season.
However, Arsenal’s best-ever managers won multiple trophies and enjoyed lengthy spells at the club. But just who are the crème de la crème and what did they do to merit inclusion on our list of Arsenal all-time greats? In no particular order …
Arsene Wenger, 1996-2018
Wenger managed the Gunners for almost 18 years, during which he guided the Arsenal to more than 700 wins. Not bad for a man that pretty much nobody in England had heard of, who arrived from Japanese football having previously managed with limited success in France. He was in charge of over 1,200 games, an incredible tally, and he delivered huge amounts of silverware whilst playing an exciting, attacking brand of football.
Major Trophies Won
- 3 League titles – 1997/98, 2001/02, 2003/04
- 7 FA Cups – 19978/98, 2001/02, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2013/14, 2014/15, 2016/17
- European honours – losing finalists in 2000 UEFA Cup and 2006 Champions League
Wenger will no doubt have regrets that he was unable to guide Arsenal to Champions League success. Indeed, during his tenure they all too often went out at the Round of 16 phase, but he went so close in 2006, losing 2-1 to Barcelona despite playing most of the game with 10 men.
The club won so much during the tenure of the French boss but above all else they will be remembered for the incredible, Invincibles season of 2003/04. They went all 38 league games unbeaten, winning 26 and drawing 12 to win the Premier League title. They are the only side in English football history to go unbeaten through a top-flight campaign of more than 22 games (Preston were unbeaten in the first year of the Football League but this was only 22 matches).
They also made the semi final of both domestic cups that year too, so were not all that far away from winning a treble too. Wenger did guide Arsenal to the double, however, in 1997/98 and 2001/02. In addition, the club’s record under the Alsatian in the FA Cup was nothing short of dazzling. Wenger’s Arsenal won the world’s most famous domestic cup competition seven times: only four other clubs have bettered that tally in their entire history!
Between 1998 and 2005 Arsenal enjoyed eight seasons where they finished no lower than second. Those were the true Wenger glory years, bringing all three of his Premier League titles and four FA Cups, including two doubles. Wenger’s final years at Arsenal were rather lacklustre but anyone who doubts or questions what he did for the club would be better off questioning themselves!
George Graham, 1986-1995
Scottish boss George Graham took charge of Arsenal for 460 games and his overall win percentage of 48.91% is well behind that of Wenger (57.25%). However, Graham brought the club their first league title in almost 20 years and, in their famous win at Anfield, delivered one of the most amazing nights in the club’s history.
Major Trophies Won
- 2 League titles – 1988/89 and 1990/91
- 1 FA Cup – 1992/93
- 2 League Cups – 1986/87 and 1992/93
- 1 European honour – 1993/94 Cup Winners’ Cup
Aside from the surprising league and cup double of 1970/71, when Graham was an Arsenal player, the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s largely passed with little glory in north London. Graham was appointed on the 14th of May 1986 at a time when the club had not won a major trophy since the 1979 FA Cup and hadn’t won the league since 1971.
In many ways, he turned Arsenal around and whilst they had a reputation as being a defensive team – famed for their “1-0, to the Arsenal” chant – they were more attacking than many give them credit for. Indeed, when the Scottish boss ended the Gunners’ wait for the title, they were only crowned champions thanks to goals scored!
In the most incredible of endings to a season, Arsenal won the final game 2-0 at Anfield with a goal in stoppage time that is part of club folklore. This meant they ended the campaign with the same points and the same goal difference as the Anfield side, pipping Liverpool to the title having scored eight more goals than the Merseysiders. That is the only time goals scored has settled the title, with Graham’s “boring” Arsenal the top-scorers in the First Division.
The former Arsenal, Man United and Chelsea player would go on to bring much more silverware to the club. Another league title followed in 1990/91, with Graham claiming a domestic clean sweep with an FA Cup/League Cup double in 1993. He also brought Arsenal their first, and thus far only major (UEFA-sanctioned) European trophy.
Herbert Chapman, 1925-1934
There are a number of former Arsenal bosses we could have included along with the two above but Chapman just about gets the nod ahead of Tom Whittaker, double-winner Bertie Mee and George Allison. Chapman died suddenly in 1934, aged just 55, and perhaps that is why he is remembered so fondly by Arsenal fans. He took charge for more than 400 games, winning almost exactly half of them.
Major Trophies Won
- 2 League titles – 1930/31 and 1932/33
- 1 FA Cup – 1929/30
The League Cup and European competition had not yet been created when Chapman was in the Arsenal dugout. That, and his untimely death, mean he won less silverware than Graham or Wenger but he would surely have delivered more glory otherwise. He was, like Wenger, a pioneer and is often considered to be the first “modern” manager, taking far more control at a time when the board often had a large say in team matters. Much loved by fans of all the clubs he played for and managed, Chapman is a true Arsenal icon.