Arsenal Legends List – Even More Definitive Than Last Time!

Back in May I posted My Arsenal Legends list. I’ve been meaning ever since to review and update it. I’ve had quite a few suggestions of who should be added – I don’t think anyone suggested I should take anyone off!

As I said before, this only includes those who’ve played for Arsenal, so no Wenger or Chapman. My criteria for legend status are either a huge contribution over an extended period and/or being responsible for at least one defining moment in Arsenal history. Thus not all the Invincibles get in, nor all members of Double teams. I have to admit that my knowledge of the 80-odd years of Arsenal history before I was born is not perfect, but I’ve tried not to load the more recent years too heavily at the expense of earlier glory – this is certainly not the ridiculous ‘official top 50’ from, that includes people likes Kanu and Wiltord far above more worthy names.

Talking of Wiltord, he did get a vote or two to be included as a legend for his winning goal at Old Trafford in 2002, but I’m sorry, that’s not enough for me. It was a mis-hit shot against a useless goalkeeper, and in general Wiltord was average on a good day.

There were other suggestions to add such as Willie Young, Freddie Ljungberg, Paul Merson and Jens Lehmann, who I would label as Cult Heroes rather than legends. They are remembered as much for their character and other attributes as for what they achieved on the pitch – though I’d say Merson is close purely on the playing side. But they belong in a list with Perry Groves and John Jensen, not with Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Ljungberg had one great season but was a limited player; Lehmann was one of the Invincibles, but we’ve had many better and more reliable keepers over the years.

Ray Parlour is also a little in the Cult Hero class, but he had longevity to back up his legend status.

Here are a few others I considered and rejected for various reasons:

Marc Overmars, Gilberto, John Lukic, Emmanuel Petit – all contributors to great sides, but not enough to be granted legend status in their own right.

Frank Stapleton – not enough contribution for long enough, even leaving aside his tarnished reputation after leaving.

Kenny Sansom – great contribution for several years, but not in a great side. Close, though.

Cesc Fabregas – nah. Excellent player, of course, but handled himself poorly in his desire to leave and in any case his best years are only just starting. Not an Arsenal legend.

Joe Baker – gifted centre-forward, condemned to perform in a poor 1960s side. Four years at Arsenal and 100 goals in 156 appearances – that’s a great strike record, but he needed to stay longer to count as a legend in my book.

Pat Jennings – I loved Pat, but he didn’t win a lot with Arsenal and is perhaps too much of a Tottenham legend to be an Arsenal legend as well.

Peter Storey and Eddie Kelly – two more who were very close to inclusion on the list, but just didn’t stand out quite enough for me compared to their colleagues in a great team.

Sol Campbell – the only great defender signed by Arsène Wenger. Only made 135 appearances for Arsenal though (plus 11 in his short-lived comeback in 2010), which I’m not sure is enough to be considered a legend. The whole ‘moving from Tottenham’ thing puts him more in Cult Hero territory than legend.

Jock Rutherford – Arsenal’s oldest ever player and great-grandfather of new Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford. Lost a chunk of his career to WW1, or would have made the list.

Those are some I left out. Included now are Joe Shaw, Joe Hulme, John Radford and Alan Smith. I know Smith is not universally popular, but then neither is Ian Wright, for example – but objectively I think he probably deserves a place.

There’s some subjectivity here of course, both in who is included and what level I judge them at. Should Cliff Bastin and Patrick Vieira be Gold status? Maybe, but did they do anything as iconic as Charlie George or consistently perform for the same length of time as Tony Adams? Someone had a go because I only rank Michael Thomas as Silver, but can one moment of being in the right place at the right time (and executing a neat finish of course) be considered as legendary as winning the League in three different decades or being record goalscorer and regularly getting a standing ovation from away fans just for coming over to take a corner? Charlie George, like Thomas, is most famous for one moment, but it was a bigger moment (the Double in those days was considered almost impossible) and is Arsenal through and through, so gets the top honour.

Further update 26 Aug: Based on comments received, I’ve upgraded Cliff Bastin to Gold and included Don Howe.

Name Reason Status
Joe Shaw Fifteen years a player; 49 years at Arsenal; title-winning caretaker manager Bronze
Cliff Bastin Boy wonder and goalscoring record holder for decades Gold
Alex James Star of the best club side in the world in the 1930s; the Messi of his day Gold
Joe Hulme Four titles, 333 appearances; only man to play in Arsenal’s first four FA Cup finals Bronze
Ted Drake Still holds the record for top flight goals in one game (7); 136 goals in 182 games Bronze
Charlie Buchan Herbert Chapman’s first captain and tactical sounding board, the early version of Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff inventing total football Bronze
David Jack ’30s superstar; first Arsenal player to captain England Bronze
Eddie Hapgood Almost ever present in a decade of ’30s triumphs Silver
George Male With Hapgood, the Dixon and Winterburn of their day; scouted Charlie George and stayed at Arsenal till 1975 Silver
Jack Kelsey World class when the rest of the team weren’t Silver
Joe Mercer A great at Everton before WW2, led Arsenal through their second period of dominance, 1947-53 Silver
John Radford Senior striker for several years and a big hand in early ’70s success Bronze
Don Howe Player, coach and manager; coached the ’71 Double winners Bronze
George Graham Played his part in a Double and managed Arsenal to two more titles, European glory and an unprecedented cup double Silver
Frank McLintock Inspirational captain of ’71 Double side Gold
Charlie George Iconic goal and celebration to seal the first Double Gold
Ray Kennedy Towering goal to win the league at WHL; mature beyond his years and sold too early Silver
Bob Wilson A hand in all three Doubles as player and coach; perfect gentleman Silver
George Armstrong Record appearance holder for years; served Arsenal for decades Bronze
Pat Rice Five FA Cup finals in 10 years; even more success as managerial No 2 Silver
Ray Parlour Knew he wasn’t the greatest player, but delighted in the team’s triumphs all the more because of it Bronze
Liam Brady The King of Highbury; probably in Arsenal’s top three best ever Gold
David O’Leary Still the appearance record holder Bronze
Tony Adams Arsenal’s greatest captain? Probably. Titles in three decades Gold
Anders Limpar Saved us from terminal boredom in the later Graham era Bronze
Michael Thomas Anfield ’89: say no more Silver
David Rocastle Amazing talent; life tragically cut short Silver
Ian Wright One man goalscoring machine Silver
David Seaman The man behind the legendary back four; Arsenal’s best ’keeper? Silver
Alan Smith Top scorer in two title sides and Cup Winners’ Cup winning goal Bronze
Nigel Winterburn Member of the greatest back four ever assembled Bronze
Lee Dixon Member of the greatest back four ever assembled Bronze
Steve Bould Member of the greatest back four ever assembled Bronze
Martin Keown Fifth member of the greatest back four ever assembled Bronze
Patrick Vieira Great captain; foundation stone of the great Wenger teams Silver
Robert Pires Flat footed, ran like a duck, but easily transcended those minor issues Silver
Dennis Bergkamp Unbelievably skilful; possibly the most unbelievable Arsenal signing Gold
Thierry Henry The best Arsenal player ever? Well, if it wasn’t Dennis . . . Gold

Follow me on twitter: @AngryOfN5 or just go on there and argue with me about this list!


28 thoughts on “Arsenal Legends List – Even More Definitive Than Last Time!

  1. Cannot agree with you about Cesc. He will surely be a Barca legend, but when I look back at the last few years before he left, he was central to everything the team achieved. Definitely cannot blame Cesc for not winning titles.

    • That’s the problem: With him, and perhaps because Wenger mistakenly built the team around him, the team achieved nothing. I realize it could also be said about Brady (3rd in 1981 was higher than we ever finished with him) that the team got better (or at least finished higher) right after he left, but at least Brady won an FA Cup. (So did Fabregas, but it was as a rookie and he was hardly a reason.) Saying “Get over Brady” would be sacrelige; saying “Get over Fabregas” should be required.

  2. You’ve had some rather awful posts lately but thumbs up on this one! Insightful articles like this is what we need not the type that revolves around Spurs!

  3. Well son its obvious to me and any Gunner over 70 that you naturally favour people you remember. Well I understand but there are so many ommissions that I had to send my corrections. I suggest that you add to the GOLD…..Ted Drake who was a class above Charley George and performed at a higher level. Eddie Hapgood.probably the greatest fullback of all time and long time AFC and England top man. Jack Kelsey.still our best goalie ever in a crap side too .Stopped us going down. Bob Wilson…the best servant from our double years and onwards. David Jack… can you leave out a legend? Fancy not including Cliff Bastin argueably the greatest winger AFC has ever had. Steve Bould …he was the missing link and taught Adams how to defend properly.

    Silver….Eddie Kelly, Kenny Samson, Doug Lishman, Dennis Compton, Jimmy Logie, George Eastham, Peter Simpson,

    Bronze……Danny Clapton, Derek Tapscott, Don Howe and many more.

    • I noted that there is a danger of going with more recent players at the expense of the previous generations, but I have included some of those you mention.

      • Phil….you have done a lot of great work and my comment above was to encourage you to rethink some of your under estimations given to our old greats. I can only ask but its based on the fact that I saw most of them and can compare. Some like Joe Baker would have been GOLD any day but for the fact our team then was crap. He was our one bright spark until Eastham.

      • Thanks for your comment again. It’s a difficult one, because I didn’t see anyone before the ’70s and watching a couple of minutes of grainy footage isn’t honestly going to give me much of a clue.
        I think also we may be on slightly different wavelengths regarding definition of legend. For example, I’m not saying that Joe Baker wasn’t a great player, world class even on a par with Bergkamp and Henry, but the fact is he didn’t win anything with Arsenal and was only there 4 or 5 years. I’m not solely judging who was the best, but who had the greatest influence and changed the history of Arsenal in some way. Perhaps Joe was solely responsible for keeping Arsenal in the top flight and as high as mid-table for those years, so deserves something for that!
        However, for ones I haven’t personally seen I can only really go on the bald facts of appearances, goals (if applicable), trophies won and reputation. Most people won’t agree 100% with my choices or rankings, but I still think this is a far more representative view of Arsenal history than the frankly ridiculous vote they had on!
        Another factor is the Wenger success from 98-05 – without that the list would be less modern-heavy, but I think by general consensus the football played for those years was the best we’ve ever seen and raised the standard throughout the English game.

  4. vieira will never be a legend he wanted toleave every summer plus now an city all he does is bad mouth arsenal and steal our top players

  5. I totally agree with you re:Cesc, was never and will never be an ARSENAL legend, Giles Grimandi has a better chance than he has, in my opinion

  6. Or alternatively……………………….. Arsenal’s worst players
    1 George Wood (or that fella who let in 4 v Charlton – can’t remember his name)
    2. Igor Stepanovs
    3. Chris Whyte
    4. Peter Nicholas
    5. Gus Caesar
    6 David Hillier/Ian Selley
    7 John Jenson/Inamoto
    8 Glenn Helder/Gervinho
    9 Lee Chapman
    10 Peter Marinello
    11 Marouanne Chamkah/Frannie Jeffers

  7. I can’t complain much about this list. I only wish we had more footage of the 1930s players so we could really see how good they were. That a 1934 England squad had 7 Arsenal players and beat recent World Cup winners Italy (with Inter Milan’s Giuseppe Meazza, for whom the San Siro is actually named) gives us an idea, but not enough. At least by the Bertie Mee era, we have plenty of colour footage, and we can see his players roughly the way those in the stands did.

    Too bad Mee broke up his Double side so soon. Even in 1980, Charlie George and Ray Kennedy weren’t yet 30. Can you imagine those two, properly handled, in the same side as Brady, Stapleton, Rix, Sunderland, Willie Young and Jennings? It would have been so good as to be sinful, and nobody (as I did when I first became aware of the Arsenal legend from my U.S. vantage point, not yet having seen the Dec. 23, 1978 Spurs derby) would look at Brady and say, “But he only won one FA Cup, so what’s the big deal?”

  8. I think Bastin and Mercer should be gold.

    Bastin was a major player in every major honour that Arsenal won before the second world war – 5 league titles, 2 FA Cups and 5 Charity Shields. He wasn’t a bit part player but one of the stars of the team and one of the most skillful. Admittedly we don’t have much footage of him but the facts and figures are there to see. 33 goals from the wing in one season, capped by England throughout the decade.

    As for Mercer, well of McLintock is considered gold then so should Joe. When he (and Ronnie Rooke) joined Arsenal they were going down. The following year he captained the team to the title. Reading what other players said about him he was inspirational. Was it a coincidence that his retirement was followed by the club’s most fallow period since the 1st world war?

    • I agree with both Bastin and Mercer. If I’m not mistaken, Mercer also became the first man to both captain and manage top-flight-winning sides, doing the latter with Manchester City in 1968.

  9. Don’t know enough about the old gunners as my fanship began in 1970/71 ! All the players I ever knew have already been mentioned in some list or an other but good luck with your efforts , you know of course that no two people will agree with you !

    • On second thought, yes, he wasn’t probably as talented as the modern stars like Bergkamp/Henry, a cult hero status would suit him better, but I suppose this is up for debate!

  10. Cliff Bastin, Liam Brady, Tony Adams, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry all deserved of a statue for legends and hopefully one day Jack Wilshire in my opinion

  11. David Rocastle was absolute class, one of the few players who would have got into that Invincibles side, as quoted by Steve Bould. Two league titles, a league cup and a league cup final loss. Would also have got many more England caps, had Robson not favoured Waddle and Steven.
    Playing in a period where Arsenal were not expected to win trophies, Rocky was magic, worthy of Gold IMO

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