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History of Arsenal F.C.

Arsenal Football Club, as one of the most successful clubs in English football, has a long and detailed history.

Early years

Arsenal were founded as Dial Square in 1886 by a group of workers employed by the Dial Square workshop at the Royal Arsenal, an armaments factory in Woolwich, south east London. They were led by a Scotsman, David Danskin, who purchased the club's first football, and amongst their number was former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Fred Beardsley, who would later obtain a set of red kit from his old club, thus giving Arsenal the colours they still wear today.

Dial Square played their first match on December 11, 1886 against Eastern Wanderers on an open field in the Isle of Dogs, which they won 6-0. The club were renamed Royal Arsenal soon after, reportedly on Christmas Day. Royal Arsenal first played on Plumstead Common, then moved around a variety of grounds – first the Sportsman Ground for a single season in 1887, and after that the Manor Ground, Plumstead; Royal Arsenal then moved to the nearby Invicta Ground in 1890, before returning to the Manor Ground three years later. In the meantime, in 1891, the club had turned professional and changed its name to Woolwich Arsenal.

In 1893 they were the first southern team admitted to the Football League, a move partly caused by the refusal of other southern teams to play them after they had turned professional. The club initially entered the Second Division, along with future giants Liverpool and Newcastle United.

Woolwich Arsenal played in the Second Division for eleven seasons, before being promoted to the First Division in 1904. Arsenal's first spell in the top flight was blighted by financial problems; despite the early-20th century boom in football the club's geographic isolation, playing in the relatively underpopulated area of Plumstead meant attendances and thus income were low. The club were close to bankruptcy before being bought out by businessman Sir Henry Norris in 1910. Desperate to improve the club's income, Norris tried first to merge Woolwich Arsenal with Fulham, but when that was blocked by the Football League, Norris looked to move the club elsewhere. In 1913, the same year as getting relegated back to the Second Division, Woolwich Arsenal moved from south east London to Arsenal Stadium (often referred to as "Highbury") in north London, reportedly spending £125,000, a huge sum for the time, on preparing the ground for the pitch to be laid. Arsenal's move away from the area precipitated Charlton Athletic's move to professionalism.

Now known as "The Arsenal", having dropped the "Woolwich" from its name in 1914, the club rejoined the First Division in 1919, despite finishing fifth in 1914-15, the last season of competitive football before the First World War had intervened. The First Division was being expanded from 20 teams to 22, and the two new entrants were elected at an AGM of the Football League. One of the extra places was given to Chelsea, who had finished 19th in the First Division and had thus been already relegated. The other spot could have gone to 20th-placed Tottenham Hotspur (also relegated), or to Barnsley or Wolves, who had finished third and fourth in the Second Division respectively. The League decided instead to promote fifth-placed Arsenal, for reasons of history over merit, much to the chagrin and longstanding enmity of Tottenham, Arsenal's local rivals. It has been alleged that this was due to backroom deals or even outright bribery by Sir Henry Norris, although no firm proof has ever come to light; though as a footnote, Norris left the club in 1929 having been found guilty by the FA of financial irregularities, for which he was banned from football for life, though these were not related to the promotion controversy. Arsenal have remained in the top division since then, and as a result hold the English record for the longest unbroken stretch of top-flight football.

1930s to 1960s

In 1925, Huddersfield Town manager Herbert Chapman took over at The Arsenal, having been offered a then-record salary of £2000 by Norris. Chapman reformed many of the club's practices, including modernising the training and physiotherapy regimes, and changing the team's colours, adding white sleeves to the red shirt. It was also during Chapman's era that the club lost the definite article from its name, becoming just "Arsenal", and he was reportedly behind the renaming of the local Tube station, Gillespie Road, to Arsenal.

At the same time, Chapman had a large transfer budget by virtue of Arsenal's improved revenue from their new stadium and an injunction from Norris that there was to be lavish spending. This allowed the club to buy new players, including such greats as David Jack (purchased for a record £10,890), Eddie Hapgood, Cliff Bastin and Alex James (signed for £8,750). Such spending earned the club the 'Bank of England' nickname. In addition, Chapman took advantage of a 1925 change in the offside rule that reduced the number of men required behind the ball, reforming his team into a WM formation. Success wasn't immediate, however. Arsenal reached the 1927 FA Cup final, but infamously lost 1-0 to Cardiff City, after Arsenal's goalkeeper Dan Lewis let a harmless-looking shot slip through his arms and into the net; it was the only occasion in history that the FA Cup has been won by a club from outside England. Three years later, in 1930, Arsenal reached the final again, this time against Chapman's old club Huddersfield Town. The match was notable for being "buzzed" by the enormous German airship Graf Zeppelin, but Arsenal were not distracted from their task; they won 2-0 with goals from Alex James and Jack Lambert, to bring home the club's first major trophy.

This success was the first in a decade in which Arsenal were the dominant club in England. Under Chapman they won the First Division for the first time in 1931. The following year, Arsenal reached the FA Cup final again, but lost controversially to Newcastle United: Arsenal led 1-0 with a Bob John goal, but Newcastle's equaliser came after a long ball had gone over the goal line, and out for a goal kick; Newcastle winger Jimmy Richardson nevertheless crossed the ball back into play and Jack Allen levelled the match for the Magpies; Allen scored again in the second half to win the match 2-1. Arsenal's pain was compounded by the fact they had only just been pipped to the League title by Everton.

Arsenal bounced back the following year, winning their second League title in 1933. However, tragedy struck out of the blue, when Chapman died suddenly in January 1934 from pneumonia. However, under caretaker manager Joe Shaw, they retained the title that season, and new full-time manager George Allison oversaw the completion of a hat-trick in 1935. Such was Arsenal's dominance that in November 1934, seven players in the England side that beat World Champions Italy 3-2 (in the so-called "Battle of Highbury") were on Arsenal's books, a record that still stands.

Arsenal's dominance of the decade was sealed with a second FA Cup victory in 1936 and a fifth League title in 1938. However, with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, all first-class football in Britain was suspended. Arsenal Stadium was requisitioned as an ARP station, with a barrage balloon operating behind the Clock End. The stadium continued to operate as a football ground for Arsenal and armed forces teams, often with two or three games on it every day. During the Blitz, a 3,000lb bomb fell on the North Bank stand, destroying that stand's roof and setting fire to the scrap that was being stored on the terrace. Arsenal played their subsequent wartime home games at White Hart Lane, courtesy of their local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. After the war, the Arsenal board presented the Spurs board with a cannon as a gesture of thanks.

The war had cut short the careers of many of the club's star players, and upon the league's resumption in 1946-47 the club finished a disappointing 13th. Allison resigned and was replaced by Tom Whittaker. Whittaker enjoyed immediate success with the club, winning the League in 1948, the FA Cup in 1950 and the League again in 1953.

After that, the club's star began to wane, and the next fifteen years were devoid of any success or silverware; apart from finishing 3rd in 1958-59, Arsenal usually figured around mid-table. Nor did the club have much luck in the FA Cup – after reaching (and losing) the 1952 final, Arsenal would not get beyond the quarter-finals for another nineteen years. England legend Billy Wright managed the club between 1962 and 1966 with little success, although it was under his leadership that the club made their debut in European competition, in the Fairs Cup after finishing 7th in 1962-63. In his final season, Arsenal finished 14th, their lowest position in 36 years, and the lowest-ever attendance at Highbury was recorded (4,554). The only Arsenal player to figure in England's 1966 World Cup-winning squad was George Eastham, who didn't play at all during the tournament.

1970s to mid-1980s

After Wright's dismissal in the summer of 1966, the club appointed physiotherapist Bertie Mee as his successor, a move which brought surprise to some, not least Mee himself. Nevertheless, Mee's appointment brought a brief period of glory. Arsenal's youth team had won the FA Youth Cup in 1966, and players such as Charlie George, John Radford and Ray Kennedy graduated to the first team. The team's early signs of promise included reaching two successive League Cup finals in 1968 and 1969, although they lost both times; the first to Don Revie's Leeds United 1-0; the second was an infamous upset – Arsenal losing 3-1 to Third Division side Swindon Town.

Nevertheless, Arsenal finished fourth that season, which won them a place in Europe, which led to the club collecting their first silverware in seventeen years and their first European trophy, the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. After beating Ajax, one of the strongest teams in the world at the time, in the semi-finals, Arsenal staged a famous comeback against Anderlecht in the final. After falling behind 3-0 down in the first leg, Ray Kennedy got a late away goal to give the Gunners a glimmer of hope; in the second leg in front of a packed Highbury, Arsenal won 3-0 with goals from John Radford, Eddie Kelly and Jon Sammels, to win the tie 4-3 on aggregate.

The highlight of this period was the club's first FA Cup and League Double win in 1970-71. Arsenal had started poorly, losing 5-0 to Stoke City in September, but recovered to put a strong run-in to the title in a tight race with Leeds United. Arsenal won the title by beating deadly rivals Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at White Hart Lane, on the last day of the season with a goal by Ray Kennedy. Five days later, Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley; after falling behind 1-0 in extra time, substitute Eddie Kelly equalised, and then Charlie George scored the winner.

However, Mee's Arsenal failed to prolong their Double success, and there followed a string of near-misses. The following season (1971-72) they lost the centenary Cup final to Leeds 1-0, and finished as First Division runners-up in 1972-73. After that, the club's form declined sharply, finishing 16th in 1974-75 and 17th in 1975-76, their lowest in more than forty years, which prompted Mee's resignation. Tottenham manager Terry Neill, a former Arsenal player, was appointed in his place (despite his less than sterling record in charge of Spurs).

Under Neill, Arsenal moved back into the top of the table, inspired in part by the emergence of Irish superstar Liam Brady. Although they could not challenge the League dominance of Liverpool at the time, towards the end of the decade they proved their mettle in the FA Cup. Arsenal reached three finals in a row (1978, 1979, and 1980). They won just the one, though, beating Manchester United 3-2 in the 1979 final; Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton had put Arsenal 2-0 up, but with five minutes to go, United scored twice to level the match. Extra time loomed, until Alan Sunderland scored late on to secure a famous victory.

Arsenal went on to lose the following season's FA Cup final to West Ham United, and the Cup Winners' Cup final on penalties to Valencia the same year. After the departure of Liam Brady to Juventus, the team entered another barren period for the first half of the 1980s. Initially, the side continued to finish in the top four, but only finished 10th in 1982-83. After a shock defeat in the League Cup at the hands of Walsall in November 1983, Neill was sacked. Neill's successor, Don Howe, a long-time servant of the club, fared a little better in the League but still couldn't get the side anywhere near a trophy. After hearing rumours he was to be replaced by Terry Venables, in 1986 Howe resigned.

The George Graham years

In the summer of 1986, Millwall manager George Graham, a former Arsenal player, was appointed as Howe's long-term replacement, and it was a beginning of a new golden era at Highbury. Arsenal's League form immediately improved, and in his first season in charge, Arsenal won the League Cup, in a campaign marked by comebacks. After going 2-0 down on aggregate in the second leg of their semi-final against Tottenham, Arsenal scored twice to force a replay; in the replay Spurs went 1-0 up, only for Arsenal to come back again with late goals from Ian Allinson and David Rocastle to win. In the final against Liverpool, after going 1-0 down, two Charlie Nicholas goals brought Arsenal their first League Cup triumph, at the third attempt.

Despite losing the League Cup final the following year (a shock defeat to Luton Town), Arsenal steadily improved. Graham combined tight defensive discipline, embodied by his young captain Tony Adams, with quality players in midfield and attack such as David Rocastle, Paul Merson and Alan Smith, and at the end of his third season (1988-89) the club won their first League title since 1971 in dramatic fashion. Arsenal played title rivals Liverpool at Anfield in the final match of the season, needing to win by two goals to secure the championship. Liverpool had already won the FA Cup and were chasing the Double. Alan Smith scored for Arsenal early in the second half to make it 1-0, but Arsenal still needed another goal. With only seconds to go, midfielder Michael Thomas surged through the Liverpool defence to score and win the title for the Gunners.

Another league title came in 1991, with Arsenal losing just one out of 38 league fixtures, although they had 2 points deducted in October 1990 after ten of their players were involved in a brawl with Manchester United players in a match at Old Trafford. The £2.5million addition of Crystal Palace striker Ian Wright in October 1991 further boosted the squad. Arsenal then became the first side to win the FA Cup and League Cup double in 1993, beating Sheffield Wednesday both times; in the League Cup final Arsenal won 2-1 in normal time thanks to a Steve Morrow goal; the FA Cup final ended 1-1 and went to a replay; Arsenal won that 2-1 with a late, late headed goal in extra time from Andy Linighan. However, they only finished 10th in the inaugural Premier League that season, and scored fewer goals (40) than any other team in the division.

1994 saw the club win their second European trophy, by beating Parma 1-0 in the Cup Winners' Cup final with a goal from Alan Smith. But the following February, George Graham was sacked after nearly nine years in charge after he was discovered to have accepted an illegal £425,000 payment from Norwegian agent Rune Hauge following the 1992 acquisition of Danish midfielder John Jensen. Assistant manager Stewart Houston took charge until the end of the season, and although Arsenal finished a disappointing 12th in the Premiership they did reach the Cup Winners Cup final again – only to lose 2-1 to a last minute goal from the halfway line by Real Zaragoza midfielder Nayim.

The interregnum

Bruce Rioch, who had just guided Bolton Wanderers to a League Cup final appearance and promotion to the top division after a 15-year exile, was appointed as the club's new manager for the 1995-96 season. He (briefly) broke the English transfer record by paying Internazionale £7.5million for Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp, and the new signing formed an impressive partnership with Ian Wright.

Arsenal reached the League Cup semi final and finished fifth in the Premiership at the end of 1995-96, securing a place in the following season's UEFA Cup and giving hope for an eventual title challenge. But in August 1996, just before the start of the new season, Bruce Rioch was sacked by the club's board of directors after a dispute over transfer funds.

Assistant manager Stewart Houston was once again put in temporary charge, remaining at the helm for a month, before resigning to take over at QPR. Youth team coach Pat Rice held the fort for several games, before making way for the 44-year-old Frenchman Arsène Wenger, who had guided AS Monaco to the French league title in 1988.

Wenger's Arsenal

With the advent of Arsène Wenger as manager, Arsenal rebuilt their squad with a crop of French players who were seemingly unknown in the UK. These included Nicolas Anelka, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira, in addition to Dutch winger Marc Overmars. Wenger melded the new arrivals with some of the "old guard", retaining Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown and Steve Bould, and keeping Pat Rice as assistant manager. The team immediately improved under Wenger's management, coming third and achieving a UEFA Cup place in 1996-97, with six minutes left in the last game of the season.

Wenger got his first silverware, and became the first foreign manager to win the English league, the following season, when he steered the side to their second double. Arsenal overcame an 11 point deficit to overtake Manchester United; a 4-0 home win over Everton on May 3 won the title with two matches to spare. On May 16, Arsenal beat Newcastle United 2-0 in the FA Cup final to complete the double.

Despite the signing of Fredrik Ljungberg in 1998 and Thierry Henry a year later, a more barren period followed for Arsenal over the next few years, though they came close several times; they blew a winning position in the 1998-99 Championship, losing it on the final day, and lost the last ever FA Cup semi-final replay to Manchester United in extra time, after a Dennis Bergkamp penalty miss in normal time. They also lost the 2000 UEFA Cup Final on penalties to Turkish side Galatasaray after a 0-0 draw, and, controversially, the 2001 FA Cup Final to Liverpool, after leading 1-0 but succumbing to two late Michael Owen goals. In addition, in 2000-01, Arsenal made it to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 1972, but were eliminated on the away goals rule by eventual finalists Valencia.

Arsenal bounced back in the 2001-02 season; the Gunners were the only team to score in every game of the Premiership season, and went unbeaten in domestic away games, as they won a third League and FA Cup Double. They ended the season on a 13-game winning streak, finishing seven points ahead of runners-up Liverpool, and secured the title in the penultimate game of the season with a 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. The previous weekend, Arsenal had wrapped up their eighth FA Cup success, beating Chelsea 2-0.

In 2002-03, Arsenal became the first English club in more than 20 years to retain the FA Cup, with a 1-0 victory against Southampton. Their joy was soured by the fact that they narrowly missed out on retaining the Premiership title after suffering a 3-2 defeat at Highbury to Leeds United, after having led eventual winners Manchester United by eight points at one stage.

The 2003-04 season was a record-breaking one for Arsenal, as they won the Premiership unbeaten (26 wins, 12 draws, 0 defeats), finishing a clear 11 points ahead of second-place Chelsea. They became only the second team to do so, the first being Preston North End in 1889. However, their rivals for the title gained revenge in other competitions – Arsenal were defeated in the Champions League quarter-finals and FA Cup semi-final by Chelsea and Manchester United, respectively, in successive matches. Faced with the potential collapse of their season, Arsenal recovered from being 1-0 and 2-1 behind to Liverpool in their next league match to win 4-2, thanks to a Thierry Henry hat-trick, and went on to win the league with a 2-2 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur, mimicing their success in 1971.

Arsenal were unable to retain the title in 2004-05, finishing second, 12 points behind a record-breaking Chelsea side. However, the Gunners did stretch their unbeaten run to 49 consecutive matches, an English league football record; the record was equalled with a dramatic 5-3 win over Middlesbrough (Arsenal having trailed 3-1 shortly after half-time) and then surpassed with a 3-0 win over Blackburn Rovers, before it was ended with a 2-0 away defeat by Manchester United. This defeat arguably upset the team's form and they fell away from title contention before recovering with a late flourish to finish second, sealed with a 7-0 drubbing of Everton. Champions League glory eluded them again, with the club getting knocked out 3-2 on aggregate by Bayern Munich in the second round. However, Arsenal did not end the season without any silverware – they came away with the FA Cup, winning 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 draw against Manchester United.

Weakened by the sale of skipper Patrick Vieira to Juventus in the summer of 2005, Arsenal have had a lukewarm start to the 2005-06 season, mainly thanks to their poor away form in the League (they have only won one away match all season). As of December 21, 2005, Arsenal are eighth in the Premier League, with 26 points from sixteen games, although they finished top of their Champions League group, and are through to the semi-finals of the League Cup.

Comments

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