Arsenal Football Club may have been founded as Dial Square, away from their present north London base, and with the intention of rebuffing the lure of professionalism, but the club's subsequent history includes some flattering constants. FIFA.com delivers the tale of a side that has spent a record 90-year uninterrupted period in the English top flight and consistently challenged for major trophies.
Birth of an institution
Dial Square were founded as a workers' team by the employees of an armaments factory in Woolwich, and debuted with a 6-0 victory over Eastern Wanderers in 1886. They swiftly became known as Royal Arsenal and, after flitting from home to home across south-east London, began to excel in local tournaments. They were overwhelmed in their first two seasons in the FA Cup, however, and therefore elected to turn professional. This decision was frowned upon in the capital and the side was banned from regional competitions by the London Football Association.
Woolwich Arsenal, a name they had now adopted, reacted by becoming the first southern club to join The Football League, although this prompted some of the club's disgruntled players to disband and form their own team. After surviving bankruptcy and stricture over their move to Highbury in north London, Arsenal (the Woolwich was dropped in 1914) were promoted to the top tier for the second time in 1919, and have remained there ever since.
Making of a legend
Arsenal were transformed into a heavyweight by Herbert Chapman, who assumed the reins in 1925. A pioneer both on and off the pitch, the Yorkshireman guided the Gunners to five First Division titles and two FA Cups during the 1930s; dominance indebted to attacking luminaries Joe Hulme, Jack Lambert, David Jack, Cliff Bastin, Ted Drake and especially Alex James.
Arsenal claimed one league prize apiece in the 1940s and 1950s, while the following decade proved a forgettable, trophy-less period. The north London giants nevertheless responded emphatically at the start of the 1970s. First, Bob Wilson, Frank McLintock, George Graham and Charlie George thrust them to Inter-Cities Fairs Cup glory in 1970. Then, one year later, Bertie Mee's side became only the second in the 20th century to do the First Division and FA Cup double, emulating arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
The remainder of the 1970s proved unfruitful for Arsenal, save for a triumphant 1978/79 FA Cup campaign that was indebted to goalkeeper Pat Jennings, defender David O'Leary and Liam Brady, an elegant, inventive midfielder. However, two magnificent, albeit hugely contrasting, sides emerged over the ensuing two decades.
The first was launched following the 1986 appointment of George Graham, who constructed a formidable, enduring backline comprising Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn. Along with playmaker David Rocastle, emerging winger Paul Merson and striker Alan Smith, they helped Arsenal become league champions in 1989, although the conquest's headlines belonged to Michael Thomas. Indeed, they needed to beat Liverpool by two goals at Anfield on the final day of the season to pip their hosts to the trophy on goal difference. Improbably, the Gunners achieved this when, with almost the last kick of the game, the midfielder sealed a 2-0 victory with arguably the most dramatic goal in the history of the English top flight.
Arsenal regained the First Division title in 1991, and lifted the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1994 after a solitary Smith goal sunk Parma in Copenhagen. With goalkeeper David Seaman complementing a resolute defence, the team received chants of "boring, boring Arsenal" from opposition fans, and "1-0 to the Arsenal" from their own supporters, whose principal source of excitement was prolific striker Ian Wright.
However, if achievement had come at the expense of art under Graham, the outfit managed by Arsene Wenger since 1996 has become revered for its capacity to thrill. With the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, Freddie Ljungberg, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires at his disposal, the Frenchman guided Arsenal to Premier League and FA Cup doubles in 1998 and 2002, and another league crown in 2004.
Arsenal finished second to runaway winners Chelsea in the 2004/05 Premier League title race, and ended the ensuing campaigns in fourth, fourth and third respectively. Wenger's side reached the UEFA Champions League final in 2006, and were less than 15 minutes away from their meridian when goals from Samuel Eto'o and Belletti snatched Barcelona a 2-1 victory. Having lost experienced stars such as Vieira and Henry, the Gunners now boast a squad awash with exciting young prospects.
A modern, bowl-shaped arena, the Emirates Stadium was erected at a cost of £430m and inaugurated in July 2006. A 60,355, all-seater venue, it is the second biggest in the English Premier League and replaced Highbury, which is also located in Holloway and had been Arsenal's home since 1913.