A Brief History of Arsenal FC

A brief history of Arsenal

Arsenal FC is one of the world’s most popular teams, regardless of sport or nation. They were founded in 1886, and have as rich a history as any professional club.

A Brief History of Arsenal FC


In 1886 a group of workers from the Woolwich Arsenal Armament Factory decided to form a soccer team, calling themselves the ‘Dial Square’. The moniker references the large sundial featured on the entrance to their factory.

Not long after, on December 11th of that same year, the team played their first game; a 6-0 win over Eastern Wanderers, setting the stage for the success to come.

Soon after that first match, the team decided to change the name to ‘Royal Arsenal’ and attracted players from Nottingham Forest. That club, formed twenty years earlier, was even kind enough to give the new-comers a batch of jerseys, and Arsenal wore red for the first time.

The team moved from stadium to stadium in those early years, and changed the name again during the 1889-90 season, to ‘Woolwich Arsenal’.

Eventually, in 1903, the team managed to gain promotion into the First Division, the former top-flight of English Football. The team struggled financially, leading to struggles on the field, and eventually even relegation.

That is when former Fulham chairman Henry Norris took control of Arsenal. He moved the team to the soon-to-be-famous Highbury in 1913,
and the team soon dropped the ‘Woolwich’ in their name and became Arsenal FC.


After the First World War, the FA decided to expand the First Division and accepted the Gunners into their ranks. Arsenal have never again been relegated.

The Chapman Era

Henry Norris appointed Herbert Chapman as manager in the summer of 1925. There was no way of knowing it, but that appointment changed the club forever.

The ’24 season saw the team almost relegated, but Chapman turned things around fast. In his first year, the team finished in second place, their most successful season ever at that point in time. In two years, he led the team to their first FA Cup Final, losing to Cardiff 1-0 in the end.

Arsenal only had to wait another three years before winning the competition for the first time, in 1930. He then further exceeded expectations by leading the team to its first League title, winning the First Division in 1931. 1932/33 yielded no silverware, but it resulted in another second-place finish in the league, and an FA Cup Final, which was lost to Newcastle.

Chapman wouldn’t settle for second best and won another League title with the Gunners the very next season. However, this story would end tragically.

In January 1934, after watching an Arsenal Third Team match against Guildford City nursing a cold, Chapman’s condition quickly worsened. Soon afterwards, pneumonia set in. During the early hours of January 6, 1934, Herbert Chapman died at his home in Hendon aged 55.

After a period of mourning, Arsenal celebrated their former manager’s life by lifting another League title. New manager, George Allison, delivered two more after that to make it three consecutive years winning the league.

Before World War 2 broke out, the team added yet another league title, and one more FA Cup to boot.

Post-War Arsenal

The first year after the war was difficult for the club, finishing in 13th place. However, they proved their worth the next season, winning the First Division again, and won another FA Cup in 1950, over Liverpool.

1952/53 saw Arsenal lift another league title, barely scraping by Preston North End on goal difference. However, this was to be the last silverware the Gunners would lift for 17 painful seasons. In fact, at the end of the 1960s, the team reached two straight FA Cup Finals but lost both.

In three decades after World War Two, the team hadn’t risen to the heights experienced under Herbert Chapman, but further successes were just around the corner.

Ups and Downs

The team felt very confident going into the new decade, with their youth teams ravaging the other club’s, followed by two consecutive Cup finals. In fact, the 1970/71 season was the best in the club’s history to that point.

On the last game of the season, Arsenal needed a win or scoreless draw to clinch their first League title in 18 years. The problem being that they had to travel to White Hart Lane to fight it out with their fiercest rivals, Tottenham Hotspur.

A late header won the game, and by extension the league title. Five days later the team came from behind to beat Liverpool in the FA Cup, winning a double for the first time in Arsenal history.

Success eventually waned, with the team reaching another Cup Final, this time to Leeds, and finished in fifth place. The next year they placed second, before coming 10th, 16th, and 17th in the three following years.

The team rebuilt and stabilized their league form, coming in eighth in 1976/77. Arsenal’s real successes were in the FA Cup, with the team going to the final in 1978, 79, and 1980.

They won the Cup only once, in 1979, losing each of the other two finals by 1-0.

The George Graham Revelation

The team again fell out of relevance in the early 1980s, but reclaimed the imagination of a nation in 1986, when George Graham took over as manager.

In his first year, he lead the team to their first League Cup triumph, beating Liverpool 2-1, but Arsenal lost the next final to Luton Town.

Graham is probably most famous for winning the League in the 1988/89 season in very dramatic fashion. Going into the final game Arsenal and Liverpool were the only teams who could have won the title, but Liverpool lead by three points in the standings. The Reds had the advantage on goal difference as well, meaning the Gunners had to win by two goals.

With the team winning 1-0 late in the game, it looked like Liverpool would claim the trophy, until Michael Thomas stepped up and scored the late, great goal. It was Arsenal’s first league title in 18 years.

Two years later with the help of a new goalkeeper in David Seaman, Arsenal again captured the league title, their second under Graham’s charge.

In fact, he won a sort of double, winning the FA Cup and League Cup in 1993. However, he was sacked as manager in 1995.

The Invincibles & Arsene Wenger

The next long-term manager for Arsenal was appointed in October 1996 and was their first boss from outside the UK. Arsene Wenger, formerly of Monaco and Grampus Eight, came to the club as a relatively unknown manager, but would again revolutionize the team.

Arsenal finished third in the standings, and the next year their French manager really showed his worth. After trailing Manchester United by 11 points in the table, the team fought back and won the title with two games remaining in the season. At the end of May, they added an FA Cup, sealing their second double, and first since 1971.

Along with winning soccer, Wenger also brought in a revolutionary training and dietary regime for his players. Many of the changes he made at the club have since been replicated all over the UK, and the world.

He would have to wait until the 2001/02 campaign to raise more silverware, but it came in the form of another double. Arsenal sealed the FA Cup by beating Chelsea in the final just days before beating Man U at Old Trafford to win the league.

It was Wenger’s second, and Arsenal’s third, but the best was still to come.

The Gunners grabbed the FA Cup again the next season but failed to win the Premier League. They made up for this miss by going the entire next league season without losing.

The 2003/04 team was named ‘The Invincibles’ by winning the league without losing a single match. In fact their overall league unbeaten run totalled 49, spanning three seasons.

Wenger added the 2005 FA Cup to his trophy case, but Champions League glory was still elusive. He even reached the Final in Paris in 2006, but despite scoring first, Arsenal lost to Barcelona in the final.

Just months later Arsenal officially moved from Highbury, where they had been for the better part of a century, to the newly-constructed Emirates Stadium.

The Emirates Era

Since that move in 2006, the team has been unable to match the highs of Wenger’s early years. To pay for the new stadium, Arsenal were forced into selling many high profile players for several years.

Thierry Henry was perhaps the biggest blow, but players like Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, and Robin Van Persie have also departed the club since the move. The exodus has been mimicked by the relatively few trophies attained since the move.

While the team never fell out of the top-four, they never really challenged for the title and were even unable to claim a Cup.

Eventually, Arsenal did pay off their stadium debts and are currently one of the world’s most financially viable teams. They have even begun to compete for silverware again.

After the purchase of Mesut Ozil in 2013, the team won the FA Cup Final against Hull City, their first since 2005. Alexis Sanchez made a blockbuster move to the Emirates the next season, and the team again won the FA Cup.

2015/16 was marred by bad play and disunity among the fans. Despite having plenty of money to spend, the team was still unable to make a concerted effort to win the league, finishing ten points behind Leicester City, despite winning second place.

2016/17 brought another FA Cup victory, this time over Chelsea, but a fifth-place finish in the league, meaning no Champions League for the team for the first time under Arsene Wenger.

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