Tony Adams, 1988

Tony Adams, 1988 (Rob Bogaerts | Wikipedia)

Arsenal was founded way back in 1886, originally as Dial Square. They have undergone several changes of name in the nearly 138 years since their formation in October of that year but one thing that has remained almost constant is the high calibre of player the club have attracted.

The Gunners are one of the most successful football teams in England and boast an impressive 13 top-flight totals – hopefully that will become 14 in May2024! But we are not looking at the best Arsenal players ever here, nor the ones who have won the most silverware with the club, though there is certainly plenty of crossover into both of those areas.

Instead, we are looking here at which players have made the most appearances for Arsenal. Over the years the club have had some incredibly loyal servants who have dedicated almost their entire careers to Arsenal. Here are the three to have represented the club the most …

Most Appearances for Arsenal: David O’Leary

David O'Leary
Marcel Antonisse | Wikipedia

Irish centre back David O’Leary has played for the Gunners more times than any other player. O’Leary was actually born in London, in May 1958, but moved to Dublin as a small child. He initially had trials for Man United but signed for the Gunners in 1973, making his full debut two years later.

He spent almost his entire career at Arsenal, not leaving until 1993, 20 years after he joined, to go to Leeds, for whom he played just 10 times. O’Leary was the perfect defender and established himself as a first-team regular from a very young age. He played 68 times for his country, by which we mean Ireland of course, but it is his 722 (according to the official Arsenal website) outings for the Gunners that interest us here.

O’Leary was a graceful defender, calm on the ball, who always seemed to have more time than almost anyone else on the pitch. His reading of the game and positional sense were superb and all in all he made the game look rather easy at times.

He was named in the PFA Team of the Year three years out of four from the 1978/79 campaign, missing out in 1980/81. He helped the Gunners win the FA Cup in 1978/79 and the League Cup in 1986/87. He also won two league titles (1988/89 and 1990/91) and two more major domestic cups (the FA Cup again in 1993 and the League Cup the same year) but by the time of Arsenal’s great teams under George Graham he was nearing the end of his career and his influence was reduced, with Tony Adams, Steve Bould and then Martin Keown above him in the pecking order.

This is illustrated by the fact that after the 1986/87 campaign only once did he make more than 30 league appearances in a season for the Gunners. Even so, he should be remembered for his best years with the club in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was among the classiest defenders in the world. Moreover, from an Arsenal point of view, that record of over 700 appearances is sure to stand for many years to come.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams
Jade Moulds | Wikipedia

The career of Adams, nicknamed Mr Arsenal, overlapped with O’Leary and the two were on the books at Arsenal for around a decade together. However, their careers were at opposite ends of the spectrum during those years and they didn’t actually partner each other as often as one might have expected. Adams made his Arsenal debut in 1983, three years after he joined on schoolboy terms, but only really cemented a place in the starting XI in the 1986/87 campaign.

From there he really went from strength to strength and was made club captain at the tender age of 21, at the start of 1988. He was a very different player to O’Leary, although he undoubtedly learnt a lot from the older man. Adams was far more vocal than the Irishman, and more of an all-action defender.

It would be unfair to think of Adams as unstylish but he wasn’t as elegant as O’Leary. However, his bravery, strength and aerial ability were second to none, whilst he was faster than many think and read the game well. He also chipped in with the odd goal, scoring 49 times for the Gunners.

His 669 appearances (again, according to the club, with some sources putting the figure at 672) spanned 19 seasons with the Gunners, taking in the most successful years of both Graham’s time as boss and Arsene Wenger’s. Adams won four top-flight titles with Arsenal, as well as three FA Cups, two League Cups and, in 1994, the European Cup Winners’ Cup. He is one of six club legends honoured with a statue outside the Emirates.

George Armstrong

George Armstrong
Chillercody | Wikipedia

Most Arsenal fans will be familiar with the two players listed above but the player with the third-most appearances for the Gunners is not quite so well known. Known as “Geordie”, George Armstrong made 621 appearances for the club, just two more than Lee Dixon (Nigel Winterburn is next with 584), between 1961 and 1977.

The County Durham native spent the vast majority of his career in north London but also had brief spells with Leicester, Stockport and Mjølner (in Norway). He died far too young, at the age of just 56, in 2000, and was part of the coaching staff at Arsenal at the time, having returned in 1990.

He was a fine winger in his day and held the record for Arsenal appearances for many years, until O’Leary went past him. He was a hugely energetic player and an excellent crosser of the ball. He was the club’s player of the season in 1970 and was part of the side that won the double in 1970/71.