LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Arsenal

Record FA Cup winners with no title win since 2004

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

London’s most successful football club have revived under Mikel Arteta to reclaim their place in the Premier elite. Arsenal put in a credible title challenge in 2023-24, finishing in the same runners-up spot as the season before. A kinder rub of the green and deeper pockets might have seen the title head to Holloway for the first time since the club moved into the Emirates Stadium in 2006. 

Neck and neck with the wealthiest club in the land, Arteta’s men would have been many neutrals’ favourites to have pipped City for the league crown in 2024. Given the talent at Arteta’s disposal, however, and the entertaining way he uses it, Arsenal should be there or thereabouts at home and abroad while the club’s former midfielder remains in charge.

Perhaps just as satisfyingly for the Gooners who follow Arsenal, the club is now way ahead of their bitter north London rivals, even though Tottenham built their own stadium with a slightly higher capacity than Arsenal’s. 

Under Arsène Wenger, Arsenal had competed in Europe’s premier club competition almost every season over the course of two decades while paying for the £390 million Emirates opened halfway through. Wenger delivered remarkable consistency but the golden period straddling both centuries ended with the narrow defeat to Barcelona in the controversial Champions League final of 2006.

Arsenal gained their fame in the pre-war era under Herbert Chapman. Founded in Woolwich, the club first comprised workers from the local munitions factory, hence nickname, the Gunners, and cannon badge. Moving to Highbury, north London, before World War I, Arsenal were transformed under Chapman. 

Bringing his title-winning experience from Huddersfield and taking advantage of the new offside law in 1925, Chapman created a revolutionary WM formation and bagged trophies galore. Top players also helped – Alex James, Cliff Bastin – and even after Chapman’s sudden death in 1934, the Gunners continued to win titles. High fitness levels, floodlights, Chapman thought of everything, even renaming the nearest Tube station Highbury.

The next great Arsenal side was under former club physiotherapist Bertie Mee in the early 1970s, the high point being the double win of 1971. Mee’s assistant, former reserve team coach Don Howe, had been equally influential in the triumph, redeploying former Chelsea striker George Graham as a creative inside-forward, and bringing John Radford in from the right wing to spearhead the forward line.

Reaching two League Cup finals in the late 1960s, Arsenal lifted the Fairs Cup in 1970, spanking a Cruyff-led Ajax 3-0 at Highbury in the semi-final. Two goals that night came from local teenager Charlie George, hero of the North Bank, who had made his debut on the opening day of the season.

As the 1970-71 campaign went to the wire, Don Revie’s Leeds were in the driving seat in the league, while Arsenal had needed a last-minute penalty against Stoke to take the FA Cup semi-final to a successful replay. 

The title was settled on a dramatic Monday night at, of all places, Tottenham, where 100,000 were locked out of White Hart Lane. An official attendance of 51,992 squeezed into the ground, mostly to see Spurs stop Arsenal winning or gaining the goalless draw needed to edge out Leeds for the league crown.

With the game, and the title, on a knife edge, three minutes from time, a Ray Kennedy header slipped in off the bar. Arsenal had now set off a hornet’s nest, Spurs desperately charging forward to level the score. A 1-1 outcome would not only have gifted Leeds the league at the expense of Arsenal but preserved Tottenham’s own achievement of being the only club so far that century to have done the double, exactly ten years earlier in 1960-61. 

Arsenal held on thanks to a heroic display from goalkeeper Bob Wilson before the fine whistle – and a league crown won at Tottenham– eventually came. Now the Gunners needed to win the FA Cup five days later to do the double. Up against Bill Shankly’s Liverpool, Arsenal took the last game of a gruelling 64-match season to extra-time at a swelteringly hot Wembley.

Mee’s team in yellow and blue fell behind early in added time, only for George Graham to bundle in an equaliser. On 111 minutes, a lank-haired Charlie George hit a powerful strike from just outside the box, his supine celebration as iconic as the goal itself, almost certainly the most memorable in Arsenal history for its skill, its significance and its scorer. 

Arsenal were now only the fourth team to have done the Double, the second since Aston Villa in 1897 – and, of course, the first since Spurs in 1961.

That same seminal year of 1971, a 15-year-old from Dublin, Liam Brady, signed schoolboy forms for Arsenal. As the double side broke up, this visionary midfielder with the sublime left foot began to sparkle in the mid-1970s. Again, it was no coincidence that Don Howe had returned as coach, under former Arsenal centre-back Terry Neill as manager.

The high point came just before Christmas 1978, when Brady eviscerated Tottenham at White Hart Lane, a 5-0 whitewash featuring a pinpoint curling shot from the Irishman after his own inch-perfect interception outside the box. 

The season culminated in the second of three cup finals the Gunners made in consecutive fashion, this one decided by a ding-dong last five minutes in which Manchester United clawed back Arsenal’s 2-0 lead, equalised, then fell to a dramatic clincher by Alan Sunderland in the dying seconds. 

A year later, following another gilded display against the Italians in the semi-final of the Cup Winners’ Cup, Brady moved to Juventus, donning the revered No.10 shirt and picking up two Serie A titles.

By then, George Graham had moved into coaching, first working miracles at Millwall. In 1986, he replaced an outgoing Don Howe to return to Highbury as manager. It was Graham who nurturing a young centre-back, Tony Adams, making him club captain, Graham who set in stone a back four of Dixon-Adams-Bould-Winterburn that provide the solid foundation for a transformative decade, well into the Wenger era, and Graham who ushered in the young midfield talents of David Rocastle, Paul Davis and Michael Thomas.

Following a League Cup win in 1987, a first trophy since that FA Cup triumph of 1979, young right-sided attacker Paul Merson broke into the team. By the 1988-89 campaign, an entirely new-look Arsenal was putting together long unbeaten runs in the league, without the distraction of Europe post-Heysel.

All came down to the last game. In a slightly similar scenario to 1971, Liverpool had just won the FA Cup and were looking the do the Double. Arsenal had led the league for most of the season but had fallen away to allow in the Reds to line up a second straight title. In a rearranged fixture following the Hillsborough disaster, leaders and challengers faced each other on a Friday night at Anfield, visitors Arsenal needing nothing less than a win by two clear goals to dispatch the league crown to north London.

In the most dramatic end to a season in a century of league football, the hosts were playing out time with Arsenal ahead at 1-0, enough for three points, not enough for the title. Well past 90 minutes, Michael Thomas ran onto a gorgeous chip from Alan Smith to gallop through the Liverpool midfield and tuck the ball away. 

Following his somersault celebration and general mayhem, there were 38 seconds left on the clock once a stunned Liverpool took the restart. Arsenal had won their first title since 1971, when manager George Graham was integral to the team.

While chaotic, given the two-point deduction for a brawl with increasingly bitter rivals Manchester United, and the prison sentence served by Tony Adams for drink-driving, Arsenal’s title win of 1991 was perhaps even more impressive, with only one defeat all season and 18 goals conceded in 38 games. Another of Graham’s wise buys, goalkeeper David Seaman would later be established as England’s No.1.

Later that same year, with the Premier League and Champions League soon to bring untold riches to the game, Arsenal paid a then club record £2.5 million for Crystal Palace striker Ian Wright. Hitting a hat-trick on his debut, the popular striker would finish top league scorer that season, the first of seven prolific campaigns at Highbury.

Despite Wright’s goals and regular silverware – both cups in 1993, the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994 – all was not well at Arsenal. George Graham had been caught accepting envelopes of cash from a players’ agent and was banned for a year. It took Arsenal a while to find a replacement for the Scot who had delivered two league titles and three cups – in the end, they had to go all the way to Japan to find it in Arsène Wenger, a relative unknown to English fans.

Inheriting Graham’s solid defensive unit, with captain Tony Adams a mainstay, and classy Dutch World Cup star Dennis Bergkamp a more recent arrival, the first French coach in the English game opted for the Gallic flair of Patrick Vieira and Nicolas Anelka and was rewarded with a double in 1998. 

Another came in 2002, this time spearheaded by the incomparable Thierry Henry. Reunited with his former manager at Monaco, Henry started slowly but then sparked into life as a world-class striker. Now with an outstanding left-back in home-grown Ashley Cole and top-quality centre-back in Sol Campbell, controversially signed form Spurs, Wenger’s Arsenal had upgraded George Graham’s one.

Wenger sought to change the culture of heavy drinking and junk food at the club, promoting a healthy diet, pasta and vitamins, and significantly improved stamina levels. By doing so, he revolutionised English football on a more than tactical level – although his teams were attractive to watch, at odds with the dour approach towards the end of Graham’s reign.

Unbeaten from Christmas, Arsenal won every game but three drawn ones out of 21, to canter to the league title. After Adams and Dixon bowed out, Arsenal stuttered slightly in 2002-03 – which meant only winning the FA Cup – but swept all before them the following season. 

Nicknamed ‘The Invincibles’, Arsenal went through the 2003-04 campaign unbeaten, incoming keeper Jens lehmann an ever-present and Henry hitting 39 goals in all competitions. It was a remarkable achievement, particularly as top foreign stars were now flocking to the Premier League. 

Ominously, Wenger’s seemingly invincible Arsenal were bundled out of the Champions League by Chelsea, whose newly found oligarch money had bought them £100million-plus worth of talent and, by 2004-05, José Mourinho. The days of Wenger’s near-dominance were numbered.

Though welcoming another fast, flair player from across the Channel, Dutch striker Robin van Persie, Arsenal were now shipping goals. Mourinho’s Chelsea won the title, Arsenal’s title, by a country mile in 2005, conceding only 15. Wenger’s team let in 35.

While concentrating on the league, in all this time, Arsenal had made relatively little progress in Europe. This changed with the arrival of Cesc Fàbregas, a boyhood teammate of Lionel Messi at Barcelona’s celebrated La Masia academy, whom Wenger persuaded to switch to Arsenal while still only 16. He quickly became the youngest player in an Arsenal shirt.

Given significant midfield responsibility at such an early age, the Catalan grew into the role. For a Round of 16 game at Real Madrid in 2006, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham could only watch as an injury-hit Arsenal flew at the hosts, a mesmerising Henry goal enabling his team to become England’s first to win at the Bernabéu. The pass fed to him came from Fàbregas.

Facing many of his old Barça teammates in the final in Paris – although Lionel Messi was out injured – Fàbregas spent much of the game plugging gaps as Arsenal were reduced to ten men following a controversial early red card shown to keeper Lehmann. Although the Gunners had taken the lead, fatigue told as crucial substitute Henrik Larsson turned the game for Barcelona. 

Weeks later, after Henry had signed a new contract rather than join the newly crowned European champions, Arsenal unveiled the impressive new Emirates Stadium and waved goodbye to the Highbury era – although its heritage façade remained in place. From now on, however, Wenger had to work within fairly strict financial limitations. A budget-conscious Arsenal continued to please without picking up major silverware. Vieira, Henry and Ashley Cole were all offloaded to balance the books.

Champions League qualification invariably spelled defeat, once too often in high-profile clashes with Barcelona. When Robin van Persie left for Manchester United in 2012, it was perceived that he was going to a bigger club.

Just as talk turned to Wenger’s continuing position, his side won two FA Cups in a row, 2014 and 2015, each time inspired by imperious Spanish playmaker Santi Cazorla. First joined by German World Cup winner Mesut Özil from Real Madrid then Alexis Sánchez from Barcelona, Cazorla was the lynchpin in what again seemed like a major team of international standing once more. 

With swift Brits Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, Arsenal showed flair and purpose. Missing, though, was enough steel and consistency to put in a credible title challenge.

True, the season started with a shoot-out win over Chelsea in the Community Shield at Wembley, only two months after a surprisingly gritty victory against the same opponents at the same venue for a 13th FA Cup. The in/out debate on Wenger fractured Arsenal support to the point of fisticuffs – he eventually bowed out in 2018 after 21 seasons.

A long-term injury to Cazorla, the capricious form of Özil and sale of Sánchez all took their toll. Wenger’s farewell paved the way for Unai Emery and his side, spearheaded by Alexandre Lacazette, to put together impressive runs of form – but it was never quite enough. 

In search of a first European trophy since 1994 – pre-Wenger, it was that long ago – the Gunners notched memorable wins over Napoli and Valencia to line up a Europa League final clash with Chelsea in Baku. Losing manager Emery was soon paving the way for Mikel Arteta, and further European disappointment.

Even a record 14th FA Cup against Chelsea in 2020 failed to generate consistent league form, or even lead to European silverware.

 Promising but inconsistent with a young side in 2021-22, Arsenal hit the ground running in 2022-23, notching up five straight league wins and going on a long unbeaten run either side of the Qatar World Cup. In home-grown Bukayo Saka, they had a versatile player of genuine pedigree, matched by Norwegian prodigy Martin Ødegaard.

Arteta lacked strength in depth and a more flexible calendar. A vital fixture with title favourites Manchester City was shoehorned into a midweek time slot with the inevitable consequences. But with top signings Declan Rice and Kai Havertz moving over from London rivals, Arsenal always looked like gliding into a top-four place again as 2023-24.

It was almost more. With only one defeat and a 1-0 win over City under their belts, Arsenal topped the table in December but two crucial losses over the Christmas holidays pegged them back. Hitting their stride with eight straight wins in the new year, including four 5-0 and 6-0 wins of sublime class, Arteta’s team looked like genuine league winners.

A bruising defeat to Bayern in the Champions League quarter-finals, with a late one to Aston Villa in between the two legs, took the wind out of Arsenal’s sails. Liverpool buckled in a three-horse title race but City seemed to win their games in hand with ease, and it was a sky-blue vest that was chesting the tape come May.

This should not belittle the extent of Arteta’s achievement, recreating an Arsenal as entertaining and as credible as the one in the Wenger era two decades before. In Ødegaard, Rice and Saka, he has elite players capable of dismissing Chelsea 5-0 without a second thought. Up against a petro-state in England, the Basque may yet find greater glory in Europe.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

The 60,000-capacity Emirates is a superb modern football ground, albeit one nicknamed ‘The Library’ for its hush in comparison to Highbury, vacated in 2006. The move was sensitively handled: the grand art-deco stands, designed by Archibald Leitch and opened in 1913, are still visible away to the east. 

The Spirit of Highbury (1913-2006) memorial features photos of the original Gunners team and every Arsenal player up to the time of the move, accompanied by a statue of Thierry Henry and a monument to ‘The Invincibles’ of 2003-04. A likeness of Herbert Chapman surveys the new stands, while Tony Adams strides victorious by the Ken Friar Bridge.

Pictures of stars are complemented by quotes, one fan recalling boozing with Alex James in Piccadilly before ‘he played a blinder’ the next day. Another says: ‘Much to dad’s delight, and now mine, I said my very first word: ‘Bergkamp’’. Inside, the four stands (East and West along the sidelines, North Bank and Clock End) have four tiers of seating, Executive and Club Level between two banks of ticketed seats at the top and bottom.

Seats are comfortably padded but those in the away sector – a lower-tier corner between the South Stand (Clock End) and East Stand – are torn between standing for a better view and sitting down for comfort.

For all that, the Emirates is an impressive football arena, suitable stage for Brazil on several occasions and still with an imperious feel after more than a decade of use.

getting here

Going to the ground – tips and timings

The closest station, Drayton Park rail at the end of the Danny Fiszman Bridge, is closed at weekends. The nearest Tube stops, both a short walk from the Emirates, are Holloway Road (Piccadilly line) and the next stop of Arsenal. Often these are closed around match times due to overcrowding – or too unbearably packed for comfort. Holloway Road is usually exit-only after the final whistle.

One solution is to head for Finsbury Park, less than 10min from Arsenal station via Gillespie Road and St Thomas’s Road, for the Victoria and Piccadilly lines, and overland rail services. In the opposite direction, via Drayton Park then Holloway Road, Highbury & Islington Tube is a 10-15min walk.

The sat nav code for the Emirates is N5 1BU. The streets around the Emirates are subject to match-day controlled parking zones, with residents having to display permits in order to park. Short-stay parking is possible at the nearby Sobell Leisure Centre (N7 7NY, booked by phone on 020 7125 0039, ref number 62399) on Hornsey Road.

The alternative is to park at the end of the Piccadilly line, at Cockfosters, and ride in.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Membership (full £39/season, lite £34/season, direct debit £34/£29, discounts for under-16s) is usually the only way to buy match tickets – general sale is rare.

The main ticket office (Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm, Sat 10am-2pm) is on Drayton Park. There’s also a match-day box office by The Armoury store on Hornsey Road. Purchasing online or over the phone (Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm; UK 0344 277 3625, international +44 207 649 9003) incurs a levy of £1.65/£1.85.

Matches are divided into three categories, A-C. For members, prices in the Upper Tier for category A games are £74.50-£95.50, £43-£55.50 for Category B and £30.50-£38.50 for Category C. In the Lower Tier, it’s £64-£70.50, £36.50-£40 and £26-£28.50. If any become available, prices are roughly the same for non-members, Category C prices somewhat lower at £18.50-£24 and £16-£17.50.

For league fixtures, away fans now pay a flat £30, over-65s and under-19s £16, under-17s £10.

Members can also make use of the ticket exchange and ticket transfer systems. The club offers match-day hospitality packages from £450/head, with a three-course buffet. For all ticket enquiries, email boxoffice@arsenal.co.uk.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Armoury, one tier down from the Dennis Bergkamp statue on Hornsey Road, is the flagship outlet for Arsenal merchandise. On the other side of the ground on Drayton Park, there’s another store at Highbury House, and there’s one right beside Finsbury Park Tube station.

All have the same opening hours of Mon-Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 10am-4pm, varying on match days.

Gooners don’t lack for Arsenal-branded curtains, Rubik’s Cubes or jigsaw puzzles. There’s also a neat little section of genuine collectables (signed prints, players’ shirts) – at prices to match. Several books cover different aspects of club history, including self-penned volumes by Herbert Chapman and Cliff Bastin.

Perhaps tempting fate, Arsenal’s home kit for 2023-24 resembles the classic top of the Invincibles campaign, with gold touches. For the change strip, yellow, of 1971 and 1989 legend, is back but somebody has decided to take a felt tip to it and draw over it while holding it in their mouth. This is meant to represent the winding routes through Islington fans have to take to reach the ground… Third choice is dark green with navy sleeves.

tours & Museum

Explore the ground inside and out

By the Ken Friar Bridge, the Arsenal Museum (Mon-Sat 10.30am-6.15pm, Sun 10.30am-4.15pm; matchdays until 1hr before kick-off, £10, seniors £8, under-16s £7, under-5s free) is full of memorabilia that’s both evocative (the Arsenal tariff board offering Bovril Per Cup for 4d, the centre spot from the last game at Highbury) and informative (a chalkboard showing Chapman’s WM formation). Stats, film clips, interviews and anecdotes abound.

The 60-90min self-guided audio tour (9.30am-5pm Mon-Sat, 10am-3pm Sun; £22, seniors £17, under-16s £14, under-5s free) in nine languages (including Chinese, Japanese but not Russian) also includes museum admission. 

Picking up your headset from The Armoury store, roam a numbered trail in your own time, following the route a player might take, through the hospitality areas (where the flowers are always the visiting team’s colours), changing rooms, down the tunnel onto the pitch, with the roar of the crowd in your earphones, to finish in the press area.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The nearest pub is the Drayton Park, opposite the ‘ARSENAL’ sign on Danny Fiszman Bridge – and always packed with lively home and away fans on match days. On the same side of the stadium, a 10-15min walk down Aubert Road then left down Avenell Road brings you to Highbury, and the age-old haunts of Arsenal fans a little further away on Blackstock Road. On the corner with Elwood Street, the memorabilia-stuffed Gunners still does a roaring trade, with large projection screens, a pool table and beer garden.

Other pre- and post-match choices sit on and off the Holloway Road, near the Tube station. Towards the Seven Sisters Road, The Coronet is a Wetherspoons set in a 1940s cinema. Five minutes away down Tollington Road, The Tollington Arms packs with Arsenal fans on match days thanks to eight plasma screens, a front terrace and decent pub food.

Behind The Coronet and even closer to the Emirates, El Comandante (10 Annette Road) is a bizarre yet welcome find, a traditional Gooners pub crossed with Latin and left-wing leanings, red being the common theme. It’s lively and bags of fun, with live music often thrown in.

In the other direction on Holloway Road, towards Highbury & Islington, The Horatia offers big-screen sport, scores of American craft and Belgian beers, and a menu of hot dogs and burgers, selection more limited on match days.

If you’re coming via Finsbury Park, then the spacious Twelve Pins is Irish and sport-focused, a 2min walk from the Tube station.

CITY

LOCAL CLUBS

AWAY DAYS