Arsenal are one of the biggest, best and most successful clubs in English football. Founded back in 1886 they also have some pretty serious history behind them and have been in the top flight for more consecutive seasons than any other side. As such, it is unsurprising that over the years they have had many truly outstanding players pull on their famous red shirt.
In this article, we take a look at some of the very best footballers to have appeared for the Gunners. Lists such as ours can often fall into the trap of ignoring greats of the past and tend to give too much priority to those of the past 20 years or so. We want to avoid that, but equally it is not always easy to accurately judge players that very few living people have seen perform. That said, there is enough written evidence, not to mention cold, hard stats, to include at least a few Gunners who may not be familiar to younger fans.
Irish centre back O’Leary played for Arsenal between 1975 and 1993, showing incredible longevity. Whilst he did appear briefly at the end of his career for Leeds United, who he would go on to manage, O’Leary was essentially a one-club man. An elegant defender who read the game well, he merits his place on this list due to being Arsenal’s record appearance maker, playing 724 times for the Gunners.
Henry needs little introduction and whilst he last played for Arsenal over a decade ago, many Gunners probably count him as their favourite player. He is the club’s record scorer with 228 strikes from 377 games and also managed to land the Premier League Golden Boot four times. 74 league assists show just how creative he was too and, more than the goals, it was Henry’s elegance and panache, combined with great skill and pace, that made him so well-loved.
Bastin plied his trade before the Second World War for the most part and so there is only very limited footage of him playing. Moreover, few alive today will remember his performances too well but for a long time, the Englishman was Arsenal’s record goalscorer. He netted 178 times overall for the club and remained their record scorer from 1947 until Ian Wright surpassed him (with a hat-trick) in 1997.
And talking of Wrighty, how could we ignore Arsenal’s spiky, effervescent striker? We couldn’t, and the Gunners’ second-highest scorer of all time is well worth his place on our list thanks, not least, to his 185 goals from just 288 games. His enduring passion for the club and exciting style of play also mean he was a shoo-in for this article.
Liam Brady was a cultured, elegant attacking midfielder whose left foot could quite possibly open a tin of beans – or whatever your preferred turn of phrase is! He “only” played for the Gunners from 1973 to 1980, moving to Juventus, then Sampdoria, Inter and Ascoli before ending his career with West Ham. He “only” scored 43 league goals but anyone who saw him play remembers how beautiful he made the game.
Perhaps Arsenal’s greatest-ever captain, Adams is behind only O’Leary in terms of appearances for the club. He turned out 672 times and was with the club between 1983 and 2002, amazingly captaining the club from the age of 21 until he retired 14 years later! A brilliant leader and a magnificent, brave, defender, Adams led his club to four top-flight titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. He was also the Player of the Season three times and won the PFA Young Player award in 1986/87.
Drake netted 44 goals for Arsenal in 1934/35, including 42 league strikes, of which seven came in a single game against Aston Villa. All three of those are records, whilst the English striker is joint-fifth in terms of overall Arsenal scorers. He scored 139 times in just 184 games for the Gunners, representing the side between 1934 and 1945; his career was interrupted, of course, by the war.
Fabregas remains Arsenal’s youngest scorer, bagging against Wolves in the League Cup in 2003 when he was just 16 years and 212 days old. Fabregas somewhat controversially ended his career with Chelsea (having left Arsenal for his native Barcelona) but that should not change the fact that he was superb for Arsenal. His slick passing and creativity mean he lies second in terms of Premier League assists, with only Ryan Giggs ahead of him.
Arsenal have had some great goalkeepers over the years but Seaman has to have been the best. The Rotherham man made more than 400 league appearances for the club, putting him sixth on the all-time list. A superb all-round goalkeeper, his organisational abilities were superb and he won league titles and FA Cups under both George Graham and Arsene Wenger.
Dutch ace Bergkamp took artistry to a whole new level and is one of the most technically gifted, exciting players to ever play for the Gunners. Playing as a second striker he netted 120 goals in 423 outings and provided a huge number of assists, defence-splitting passes and magical moments to take the breath away. He made everyone around him look better and was simply a joy to watch.
Like Henry and Bergkamp, Vieira was a member of Arsenal’s incredible Invincibles team of 2003/04. Indeed, he was a key member, with his combative style the perfect match for the grace and attacking brilliance of many of the other players in the squad. The French World Cup and Euros winner made over 400 appearances for the Gunners. We won’t mention the red cards but he was a true box-to-box giant, who was a winner at both ends of the pitch.